The names of the donors who’ve committed money for a downtown library have long been a closely guarded secret. But that could change after July 1 because state officials have requested verification of donor commitments by that date in order for the city to hang onto a $20 million state grant that’s crucial for the library construction.

Or maybe not. Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jerry Sanders, said the San Diego Public Library Foundation has been exploring ways to keep the donors’ names private while still complying with the state’s wishes.

To do so, the foundation initially looked at turning over the donor agreements to a bank and having the bank submit a letter of credit verifying that it would lend money based on those agreements, Laing said. But the foundation decided not to go that route; Laing didn’t know why.

She didn’t know if there’s another way library boosters could verify the commitments in a way that would satisfy the state while not publicly revealing the donors’ identities.

“It truly is between the foundation and the state librarian, unless it becomes a situation where we have to step in,” Laing said.

The city recently said $27.5 million had been committed — out of at least $65 million needed in private donations — for construction of the library. But only $3 million has been publicly pledged. The city said another $10 million had been committed for operating expenses.

The California state librarian requested “donor agreement letters” or other verification of private commitments back in February, as part of the state’s agreement to push back a deadline for a $20 million state grant. Susan Hildreth, the state librarian at the time, said she was “concerned about the viability of local funds that are committed to this project.”

Laing said someone in Sanders’ office has seen the donor agreements — though the library foundation retained possession of them. “They were legitimate and they were updated,” Laing said. “They weren’t five-year-old pledge letters.”

Laing said the boosters don’t want to reveal the donors’ identities so they’re not hit up for donations if the library project falls through.

She referred me to the library foundation for questions on how boosters plan to comply with the state requirement. The foundation’s chairwoman, Judith Harris, hasn’t returned any of my calls over the past few months. But if I hear back, I’ll post more.

This is a big week for the project we’ve taken to calling the schoobrary. The San Diego Unified school board will vote tonight on whether to sign a nonbinding letter of intent to pay $20 million to lease two floors of the library for a charter school, the latest plan to save the project. A City Council committee will consider the issue Wednesday.


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