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Site Not Decided for Possible New El Cerrito Library

The campaign for a new El Cerrito library hopes to secure a suitable alternative site to the small lot occupied by the current, cramped library next to the BART tracks, campaign fundraising chair Gary Pokorny told the Rotary Club Thursday.

Those hoping to see a new and larger public library in El Cerrito are seeking an alternative location to the small lot that has long been home of the old library next to the BART tracks on Stockton Avenue, former El Cerrito City Manager Gary Pokorny told the El Cerrito Rotary Thursday.

Pokorny, who's heading up fundraising for the fledgling campaign for a new library, said a few options are being considered but that the focus of the El Cerrito New Library Campaign right now is building awareness of the need for a new library and generating support.

One thing is certain, he told the Rotary Club of El Cerrito at its Thursday luncheon at the Mira Vista Golf and Country Club.

"I'm here to make you aware of a real need we have here in El Cerrito, a need for a new library," he said, outlining what's wrong with the current structure, which was built in 1949 and renovated in 1960.

"It's old, fully used up, technologically challenged," he said. "It has inadequate parking, sits right under the BART tracks ... It's too small. The roof leaks, and when we had our heavy rains a couple of weeks ago, the basement flooded. There was a about three inches of water in the basement. Those are only a few of things that are wrong with that library."

Rebuilding on the current site is the not the preferred option, Pokorny said. The small lot and the library building are owned by the city, while the staff and most of the materials are provided by the 26-branch Contra Costa County Library system. Materials are provided also by the nonprofit Friends of the El Cerrito Library.

"It would be very difficult in the place where it is now," Pokorny said. "The footprint of that building is very small. And the BART tracks make it less than optimal. I suppose if you had a really creative architect, you might be able to do something with a two- or three-story building. The parking problem would remain."

Another problem for multi-story libraries is the need for more staff to oversee them, library planners say. 

"We haven't settled on a site yet," Pokorny said. "We have some ideas about what might be good, but there's no firm site yet. It's very early. The goal right now is raising awareness and getting people excited about the need, and talking to the council about it."

He urged those who want to see a new library to contact the City Council, especially during its formulation of the city's new Strategic Plan.

"They (the City Council) are going to be sitting down in January to set some priorities," Pokorny said. "... Talk to them. Let them know that you care about libraries and that a new library should be part of that process, should be a high priority for the city."

The council will hold a Strategic Plan study session from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Jan. 26 at City Hall to "finalize the vision statement and list of organizational goals, as well as develop goals and strategies," according to a city announcement. Those elements will then be put into a draft Strategic Plan to receive community input before being adopted by the council, according to the city.

The cost of a new library for El Cerrito is estimated to be $20-25 million, Pokorny said, and would require a bond for the land and building. Donations too would be needed for interior equipment and materials beyond what the county library could provide.

The new librarian of the El Cerrito Library, Liz Ruhland, also attended the luncheon and added a comment about the changes that contemporary libraries are undergoing as people read fewer books made of paper and make more use of digital materials. 

"There will be over time, slowly less need for stacks," she said. "Hopefully print books won't go away entirely, but public libraries are changing and evolving."

Modern libraries contain more space for programming, such as story times and other programs that foster early literacy, as well as lifelong learning opportunities for adults, including cultural programming, she said.

New libraries also incorporate group meeting rooms and more computing space, both for use of the library's computers and for patrons to bring their own laptops and tablets for a place to plug in and obtain Internet access, she said. 

Pokorny urged those who would like to be kept informed about the new library initiative to sign up at the El Cerrito New Library Community Campaign website to receive updates and the newsletter.

Brenda Willett December 23, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Why not in the vacant Safeway building, it's big and has plenty of parking?
Dorothy Coakley December 23, 2012 at 11:34 PM
I've thought about the vacant Safeway building, too. Its is centrally located and of course has plenty of parking, But I have heard (via its clerks) that Safeway initially moved from the site because the landowners set the lease too high. I'd rather that the city own the library property rather than lease. Wonder if the landowner would consider a sale? Eminent domain? Other options? Once again, thank you to Gary Pokorny for taking on this very important project. His presence gives me hope that a new library really will be built.
Paul D December 23, 2012 at 11:39 PM
The new librarian of the El Cerrito Library, Liz Ruhland, also attended the luncheon and added a comment... (edited a little) "Hopefully print books won't go away entirely, but public libraries are changing and evolving." Send the new librarian away before sending away the print books.
John Stashik December 24, 2012 at 12:36 AM
The Moeser-San Pablo site could be prime retail space. That generates tax revenue and jobs. Better to locate a new library elsewhere. Maybe near the community center, centrally located in EC.
Kathy A. December 24, 2012 at 01:54 AM
As far as I know, the only public land near the community center that will soon be unused is the Portola site -- and for the reasons Portola is not rebuilding there, that may not work. We really don't want to take out Cerrito Vista Park, do we? I really like the old Safeway site at Moeser/San Pablo as a potential library site. And I hear what John is saying about it being privately owned, and tax revenues and so on -- but it has been empty over a year. So has the old Guitar Center, and a few more places -- none of them is generating a lot of revenue for the city, much less providing jobs. Our current library is a mess; it can't go on that way.
Giorgio C. December 24, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Moeser-San Pablo site? I used to live around the corner from there and what I recall was a porn shop located next to a motel where I recall some rough folks inhabiting. Or am I mistaken?
Toni Mayer December 25, 2012 at 06:48 AM
Safeway has a long term lease on the San Pablo-Moeser site. I loved the possibility of that site before I learned that. Eminent domain is an intriguing idea, Dorothy. Hadn't thought of that. It would probably lead to a big expensive fight, though. The erstwhile Guitar Center building, formerly a Safeway long ago, is privately owned. At one of the library committee public meetings this summer someone suggested building on the old Mayfair lot near the Del Norte BART station. That has been empty for decades. It would be accessible by public transportation, which is a plus. I'm not sure who owns it. The lower pad at the Portola site has been mentioned, but it wouldn't be available until the new Portola has been completed and then Fairmount Elementary would have to be rebuilt, so that will take years. The lower pad doesn't have the geologic instability that the former school site does, so it's an eventual possibility, but I would like to see a new library sooner than that.
Kathy A. December 28, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Of interest to library-lovers: how libraries are updating themselves. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/us/libraries-try-to-update-the-bookstore-model.html?hp&_r=0
julian December 28, 2012 at 04:30 PM
The new library can serve many important roles but being a repository for books in this modern era is not one of them. We need to question the very function of a library.
Dorothy Coakley December 29, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Sorry, Julian. I disagree. Libraries are busy, active places and continue to be a source of quality print books for those of us who either can't afford to purchase everything we see or who believe that "recycling" information is ecologically significant. Online source are fine but not necessarily less expensive...and curling up with one's kids over "Hop On Pop" just isn't the same when its on an iPod! Build it and they will use it!

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