UPDATE: ‘Angry’ Council to Insist KCLS Board Drop Library Consolidation Plans
A “very angry” Burien City Council insisted in a letter Tuesday (Nov. 29) [download PDF here] that King County Library System trustees back away from yet another attempt to close and consolidate North Burien libraries.
After suggesting changes to make its wording stronger, council members directed City Manager Mike Martin Monday night to send that letter to the five trustees and library system Director Bill Ptacek.
The trustees are scheduled to consider at their monthly meeting today (Tuesday, Nov. 29) the proposal to close the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries and consolidate those services in a new facility.
The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the King County Library System’s headquarters building in Issaquah (read more about that here).
Councilman Gerald Robison expressed “puzzlement” and “outrage” with the process used by library system staff for finding changing conditions to justify their recommendation against upgrading the two libraries.
And Councilman Jack Block Jr. said it is time for the King County Council to assume direct oversight of the largely unaccountable board of trustees and library staff.
Bond issue funded local improvements
A 2004 capital improvements bond issue, approved by voters throughout the county library system, included funds to build a new and larger White Center Library and to improve the Boulevard Park library.
But since 2007, Ptacek and his staff have slowed the pace for beginning these projects – and since 2009 have been coming up with reasons not to proceed with them.
One roadblock, according to Ptacek, was that both libraries would be too close to the Seattle City limits if Seattle annexes the remaining North Highline unincorporated area.
Last winter, however, Seattle backed away from the city’s earlier plans for annexation.
Then, in late June, library system trustees voted 3-0 to place the consolidation proposal on hold until the question of whether Burien will annex North Highline is resolved.
Burien voted to proceed with annexation in October, and submitted its plan to the King County Boundary Review Board earlier this month. A hearing on that plan by the board is scheduled for early January.
Library staff tries again
Yet in mid-November, library system staff again raised the consolidation proposal. Ptacek noted that it may take at least a year for the question of annexation by Burien to be settled, and that construction costs are favorable in the current economy.
“Why the rush to get this done now, when we’re still working on annexation?” Robison asked in a direct challenge to library system staff at Monday’s meeting,
He added that the staff still hasn’t made public even how much the land for a new library building would cost.
“It just stinks to high heaven,” Robison said. “It’s outrageous. It looks like a plan to shut down libraries in North Burien.”
Councilman Jack Block Jr. noted that while the library system is building a new parking facility for Bellevue Library patrons, “many lower income people don’t have cars in White Center and Boulevard Park.
“Yet the King County Library System proposes to cut neighborhood services for people there, making it more difficult for them” to utilize libraries.
Library only zones?
Block urged his fellow council members to re-zone the two North Burien library locations for libraries only.
He also proposed asking the King County Council to consider oversight of the library system board of trustees, which is not elected and operates free from direct public oversight.
“It does not make sense for taxpayers to pay for two new libraries” less than two miles apart,” Councilwoman Rose Clark said. A consolidated library likely would be built within that distance from the two-year-old Burien Library.
Clark also said it is “reprehensible” that while Burien has a representative on the library system board of trustees – Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak – she doesn’t keep the city and the council informed about these actions.
In approving the letter to the library system, Mayor Joan McGilton concluded, “We angry. We’re very angry.”
Burien Planning Commissioner Greg Duff, who opposed Krakowiak in the general election, said there are “inconsistencies in the program review” by library system staff.
“What have they done with the money?” Duff asked. “They sold it to the citizens under the guise of rebuilding the White Center Library and remodeling the Boulevard Park Library.”
The Burien City Council needs to develop a strategy to represent the interests of Burien before the trustees, “which we don’t have now,” he added. “We won’t take this lying down.”
Barbara Dobkin, president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council, expressed concern that the board of trustees is discussing the fate of the North Burien libraries “so far away from our community….
“Hopefully you will continue to support us” on this issue, Dobkin said.
And Liz Giba, who recently was elected a North Highline Fire District Commissioner, criticized the library system staff for operating in near secrecy.
“If it wasn’t for Rachel [Levine, president of the White Center Library Guild], we wouldn’t have known about this coming before the board. Suddenly there’s this new plan and new resolution, and we get to go to Issaquah [to oppose the pending action] again tomorrow night.”
UPDATE 11/30/11: Below is the text of the council’s draft letter, dated Nov. 29, 2011 (download full PDF of it here):
November 29, 2011
The Honorable Richard Eadie
President, Board of Trustees King County Library System
960 Newport Way NW
Issaquah, WA 98207
Dear Judge Eadie:
We learned recently that you and your colleagues will consider closing the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries to build a single facility at some other location. We are surprised and disappointed since you tabled the same proposal once already after an outpouring of public opposition. We know of nothing that has occurred since then that should cause you to change that position. We urge you to reject the idea, again, for the same reasons.
In our May 27th letter to you, we encouraged your Board to delay making this decision until the question of annexation of the North Highline area was resolved. Since then, the City has in fact voted to advance annexation and filed a formal “Notice of Intent” with the Boundary Review Board. In our letter we also wrote that if annexation does not occur, we would work with you to find a solution that is acceptable to our community.
When you asked for our community’s support in passing the $172 bond measure you advanced in 2004, you promised that both of these libraries would be improved, not closed. Now, contrary to your promise, virtually all public testimony and the wishes of the Burien Council, you are considering just that.
The King County Library Board is the only special district in the state whose members are appointed, not elected and you might have the ability to impose your will on the residents you are taxing, without their consent, on this matter. Nevertheless, we ask you to consider whether this extraordinary privilege requires yet greater deference to the wishes of your patrons, our residents, who were promised one thing and now are being told they must accept another.
Also consider the fact that both the Boulevard Park and White Center libraries are within Burien city limits; it is self-evident that the city of Burien should be deeply involved in this decision. For example, you may not be aware that one of the paramount reasons for annexation is to improve access to resources such as the libraries for our residents in general and our youth in particular. Advancing consolidation without addressing this issue is a major step backwards.
You might have the authority to make this decision unilaterally, but from the perspective of good governance, that would be a very bad idea. Please reject the idea, again, and please keep the commitment you made to the voters.
Burien City Council
King County Library System Board of Trustees
King County Executive Dow Constantine
King County Councilmember Joe McDermott
North Highline Unincorporated Area Council President Barbara Dobkin
King County Library System Director Bill Ptacek