So a school district that is bribing employees to retire early to close a massive deficit and a city that can’t keep its branch libraries open for anything resembling normal business hours are together dead set on building a new huge schoobrary downtown.

If we wanted to list contradictions we could write all day long.

The school district, long hostile to charter schools, now sees the independent school administration system as the only way to inject a school (and tens of millions of dollars) into the beleaguered main library project. It is ironic that school officials would find traditional bureaucracy too rife with regulations and obligations to do anything special.

On the other side of town, City Hall, led by a weak mayor, pretends like it simply has no choice but to spend $80 million of downtown redevelopment money on this new huge edifice. The mayor finds absolutely no irony himself in the contention that the city can afford to operate this building only months after he recommended the city close several other libraries across the city. Never mind that he can’t even afford the number of employees he has.

We can keep going with this: The school district is contemplating horrendous cuts to operations — and even closing some schools — next year. Yet it pretends that it can help pay for this new magnificent building downtown.

I swear, it’s as if all of these people do not care if the new main library isn’t functioning once it’s built. They just want to see it built.

But let’s stop talking about money. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and talk about it on their terms: In the world where money isn’t an issue.

The library’s boosters want us to think at a supposedly higher level. They want us to think in the long term. Don’t support the library? Gasp! You must be some kind of knuckle-dragging, provincial anti-intellectual unable to see the forest through the trees.

We won’t remember the budget deficits 40 years from now, they say, but we’ll be happy we had courageous boosters like them push through this project.

Will we?

It’s not that simple. And, in fact, it might be the boosters who are the anti-intellectuals holding people back from getting the access to information that could really help our community grow.

For five years, I’ve been watching this project. Over that time, the justifications for it have stretched to new and different areas. Its costs have been explained away and hidden.

But as far as I can tell, three points have been the main arguments for building the grand library and they have been relatively consistent.

But three fundamental progressive goals fuel the effort:

  • I. It is needed to warehouse and showcase the stacks of archived materials and books that the current facility can’t fit anymore.
  • II. It is needed to provide a public meeting space and internet access to residents.
  • III. It will be an architectural marvel of which the city and its residents will be proud for years to come.

So first, let me ask, does anyone have a problem with this list? Is it incomplete or a mischaracterization?

There are other, less-noble justifications for the new library.

Those less idealistic, but sometimes more compelling, reasons for the new library include the new one rolled out by the Union-Tribune during the height of the financial crisis and reaffirmed last week (emphasis mine):

Even a short delay at this late stage could doom the new library, which promises to produce jobs, help revitalize downtown, create a civic statement which we as a city can be proud of, and give 300 students in a specialized charter school unique educational opportunities.

For those of you curious about this, the U-T has always loved the idea of government spending “to produce jobs” so go hunting for your hypocrisy elsewhere.

Former City Council President Scott Peters recently wrote that the library could be an “economic engine” for San Diego.

So before I move on, I want to ask again: Does anyone disagree that these are the main reasons and then ancillary justifications for building a new library downtown? There might be other motivations — some might simply want to be remembered as the people who built the structure despite the Neanderthals like me.

But if we can agree that these are all the main public justifications for the library, we can begin to have a sincere discussion about whether the library is indeed the main way to achieve those goals.

I’ll say right now, I don’t think it is. And over the next couple of days, I’m going to breakdown my arguments in this space and seeking your participation. I’m looking forward to it — it’s going to be fun.

SCOTT LEWIS

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