Nearly everyone who has made modern San Diego what it is, and isn’t, gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate a civic triumph more than 30 years in the making, one accomplished with tenacity and hope.

It took Mayor Jerry Sanders 12 minutes to introduce everyone on stage at the groundbreaking of the $185 million downtown library. They were city leaders, state leaders, school leaders and business leaders, past and present, all of whom helped cobble together support and revel in their success.

Sanders began by thanking Pete Wilson, who got the library off the ground as San Diego’s mayor in the 1970s and later became one of California’s U.S. senators and its governor. Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan, were the last to speak. They’re two of the city’s most prominent citizens and their $20 million donation to the library, only made public last month, made Wednesday morning possible.

In between, Sanders thanked the city’s school system, which also saved the day with $20 million to fund the building and put a charter high school on two floors. He thanked the state librarian, who allowed the city to extend deadline after deadline to keep the state’s $20 million contribution. And he thanked City Council members who believed a promise from boosters that the $33 million still needed to finish the library would come when it’s time.

But there are good reasons to believe the promise. The project has stayed alive through the tenures of six mayors, some of whose choices led to financial problems the city has yet to overcome. People who support it mean well, and believe in goals of increasing access to education and literacy. If the library succeeds, despite the odds it always has faced, then what can’t this city do?

Yet if the library fails, because the money doesn’t turn up, libraries become less important or some other reason, then Wednesday will stand as a moment where the city’s most prominent citizens and politicians celebrated before they reached the finish line or didn’t know what race they should be running.

And so 40 minutes after Sanders began speaking to a crowd that filled nearly two city blocks, the dignitaries gathered and dug their shovels in the ground. Jacobs turned to Sanders and joked, “The headline is going to be the mayor finally does some work.”

“Yeah,” Sanders joked back. “The mayor finally gets something done.”


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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