Christmas is as much about dreams and fantasy as delivering hard goods — in other words perfectly matching San Diego’s decades-long approach to making civic promises with no cash to back it up. 

But there will be no lumps of coal, Santa Scott will deliver!

And I do have some genetic predisposition to being Santa Scott. My father Barney Barnett (he preferred “Barney” to “Irwin,” go figure) was a toy designer, and his office was located in the Toy Center building on 5th and Broadway in Manhattan. The same space his father — a salesman for Huffy bicycles, among other things — occupied before him.

Dad’s most famous achievement, prior to fathering me of course, was the licensing of the Etch-A Sketch. So I have come by my Santa credential honestly.

Santa Scott will deliver a Main Library by Christmas (2009). It will however take a bit of cooperation by my elves (City Council).

Putting aside for a moment whether in this electronic age (despite the energetic lobbying of the Friends of the Library Blue Hairs) we need a large depository for books, and ignoring the legitimate issues raised by Scott Lewis on how earmarked library funds can be actually be used to pay down ball park debt — freeing up city general revenues, and the fact that the city will need to come up with millions in additional operating costs. Forget all this. We have beat this horse into dog food. Let’s get something done. 

My Main Library memories (nightmares) started in the early ’80s when Maureen O’Conner “Mayor Mo” made a new main library a major goal of her administration. As I recall, she was focused on the old Sears site in Hillcrest which instead became the very successful Ralphs/Trader Joe’s/residential complex.  (I believe her last gasp was talking about a Lane Field library — across the street from Broadway pier — before she left office. Maybe some dear reader will check my historical main library memories?)

Jump forward to the mid ’90s. I had been recently installed as ED of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Susan Golding, elected in 1992 also made a new main library a major goal. She targeted the parking garage site just north of the then Great American tower. CCDC bought it for a couple million. The city of San Diego only had to come up with about $60 million (supposedly) to build it. It was then that I on behalf of SDCTA started asking pesky questions like:

“Will it really only cost that much, since the parking structure was designed to have a hotel built on top of it — not a library.”

You see books are VERY heavy (as I know by the 30 boxes of mine I lug around every time I move) and it became clear that major re-engineering/reinforcement of the garage would be required. 


“Where will the funds for the approximately $5 million annual debt service come from?” (Susan Golding said she would use tobacco settlement dollars. Those were recently allocated on a pension bond.)

The price had gone over $100 million, when John Moores successfully convinced the City Council to build the new library across the street from the proposed ball park on the site of a police vehicle maintenance yard.

This is the current $180 plus million dream library (cultural arts/meeting center/kid friendly/ballpark over-flow parking extravaganza) which in all likelihood will be at least 20 percent more expensive to build in its current form. But none of that really matters since all we have is $118 million!  $80 million of which former Mayor Murphy (who apparently did not mind the Main Library bad Karma) and the past City Council “encouraged” CCDC to put up. Then there is the $20 million state library grant (Thank you Lori Black!) and reportedly another $18 million from private sources.

So mixing the dream and fiscal reality — we CAN have a new Main Library built by Christmas (2009). But it needs to be a $118 million project.  Not $180 million (or $225 million)

If the City Council wants it achieved, they should direct staff to redesign and build the project including: architecture, engineering, environmental, and all “soft costs”: furniture, fixtures, etc for $118 million. Not a penny more. (Just get architect Rod Quigley to knock off a few floors.)

Just getting it done and not having to go through years of endless ongoing debate will in itself be worth it. Just Do it! Unless there is another $100 million sitting out there I am not aware of, forget fantasy and get real. Merry Christmas.

Love Santa Scott (Next blog: all new city streets — without raising taxes or diverting funds from other city services!)


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