Monday, January 29, 2018

What Is So Transparent About City Hall's Transparency?

Ruthless social pressure on the matter of aspirin. 
Not to complain, because who would ever want to do that? However, meaningful input can sometimes be appreciated, especially by those who are making it. But if you are the recipient of that sort of thing? Not quite so much. Or at least that has often been my experience. Other people's ideas are rarely quite as satisfying as your own. What follows are mine.

A while back I exchanged a series of emails with Sierra Madre's City Manager about the Library Survey Postcard, which makes its appearance this week. Hopefully that is true and the long wait has finally come to an end. The cause of our correspondence was a comment that had been left on this blog a couple of times. Whoever made it was pretty persistent, so I figured I should finally follow up. This is what the commenter asked:

I get tired of asking but how many bids did the City get to bring the Library up to code? And, what is the amount of those bids. There has to be more than one bid to know anything at all. If it's just one bid how do we really know the truth?

All in all not a bad question. I forwarded this to the City Manager, and here is how he responded:

We’ve been asked this question a few times, here are the main elements which inform cost: electrical survey, engineering structural analysis, engineering and property condition assessment, ADA analysis and report, Library Facility Master Plan (this includes elements of ADA, accessibility, building condition, and structural analysis).

The estimate for bids will be different based on the how many projects we bid at once and which items are urgent and which can be phased in overtime. The estimate from the "Master Plan" report is $1.398 million.

Each of these should be available online in easy to access format soon.

I took that to mean the answer is no, and that there would only be one set of numbers, which are available as part of something something called the "Library Facilities Master Plan." That, along with a lot of other information (some of which IMHO is not quite as vital as those who wrote it had hoped it would be), can be found on the city's website under the somewhat loaded word "Transparency." You can get to that by clicking here.

Now I would encourage you to go and read this stuff for yourself. Not only to get information you might or might not agree with, but also as a life lesson in how difficult transparency can often be. Rarely is information as clear or precise as we'd hoped, and there are reasons for that. Human fallibility being foremost amongst them. It is why God put erasers of pencils. Or, for that matter, also gave us matches.

It is also why basic information might be labeled "transparency." Not only because transparency defines a rational understanding of a situation, but also because in the end there is so very little of that in life. Then again, if this information was transparent, and only dealt with truth distilled down to its purest essence, how much would you need?

That said, and if you are pressed for time, here are most most essential numerical elements for the existing library. This is how much money the city would get if they sold that property. Either some of it, or all of it.


Here is how much you would have to spend to fix the current Library. Please note that if you sold both parcels of that property you would not be able to spend all of the money raised on the current Library. This is because the new property owner would likely bulldoze the place to make room for the luxury condominiums necessary to maximize his (or her) profits.


By "Minimal Investment" I am going to assume the Library solons actually meant to say "adequate repairs necessary to make the place compliant with safety and ADA requirements." Of course, this is not what they are so energetically trying to sell here, and that they acknowledged the place can be fixed at all must have caused them at least a little pain. Perhaps they need a Howard's aspirin.

So the good news is the "fix the current library" part is fairly transparent. Sell the back lot for $1.45 million and you'd have more than enough to make the place both safe and compliant with the many demands of a few dozen intrusive state and Federal bureaucracies.

I knew you'd be relieved to hear that. Even if it is the result of only one single bid, and with few opportunities for your questions, opinions or input.

Where things get rather non-transparent, and troubling, is with the lack of transparency on how much it is going to cost to turn the YAC into Sierra Madre's new Library by the Pool. And do you know why that is? I had no idea, so I asked the City Manager.

Tattler: Is there a similar "master plan" (or any kind of cost estimate) associated with moving the Library to the YAC and building on that additional space? I believe the reason I get asked this is some people are analytical. I think they're uncomfortable with the survey card which is more intuitive. I can see why the city would want to build a consensus before getting into the actual numbers, but I suspect you will get a number of "no move" results because some feel that without numbers they're being denied important information.

City Manager: The estimate(s) for the move will not be as in-depth as the Library Master Plan, but they do provide a good frame of reference for a range of what actual costs will be. In addition to the space and parking analysis we also know what the square footage cost for construction is and can use that to gauge what an addition/retrofit of the community center would cost. As you stated, we don’t want to put a lot of money into a plan to move if the community desires the library to stay at its current location.

The short answer here apparently is "No." Which unfortunately takes us back to one of our original questions. How can people be expected to share their opinions on that survey postcard if they first don't have all of the numbers upfront? Or at least one bid's worth of them?

You can't. At least not in an analytic and rational way. Of course, you could suspend all of that and go on just belief and emotion. Which is pretty much what you have been asked to do. Use the force, Luke.

But would that be "transparent?" As in "a rational and clear understanding of the situation?" Not all that much.

Meaningful Improvement

That is a term used above, and at first I was not quite certain what was meant by it. After some reflection, however, I have come to believe that what the Library Brain Trust is talking about here is space. Or, as they used to say on Star Trek, the final frontier.

Here is how the space controversy is described in a document called "What Are The Problems With The Current Library?" (link).

The current Library building was opened in 1955 and showcased a community room and even a movie projection closet! Just 5 years later the community room was turned into a children’s room to accommodate the burgeoning youth collection and programs. The lack of space has been keenly felt ever since. Attempts to extend the building or rebuild occurred in 1967, 1976, 1989, 1994, 1996, 2003- 2004, all failing from lack of funding. The only additions have been two small rooms at the front of the Library.

As mentioned in the Library Facility Master Plan, “lack of community space is the single largest hindrance to providing quality service. The Library contains no community rooms, no meeting space, no private study space, no open gathering space, and limited study areas. Library programs by default must take over the main reading room of the Library, displacing regular Library users. Even without programs, there is very little room for people. Conditions do not encourage quiet reading, study, or collaboration. Space constraints have put significant obstacles in the Library’s ability to update services.”

Alright. If space is what this is really all about, then maybe the problems are not quite as bad as some have suggested. We all have to deal with small inconveniences from time to time. I mean, if you don't like being at the library when a joyous round of Baby Rhyme Time is rocking the house, can't you just pack up your book and go read it at home? Put your feet up and pour a glass of wine, perhaps?

Is this space issue really worth the mostly unidentified expense and bother of razing the place and moving everything to an as yet largely unplanned and only partially constructed facility across town?

This week you will make your call.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

43 comments:

  1. How much have property values in Sierra Madre gone up since last April?

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  2. I might chose option C on the survey if I knew how much the parcel tax would be. $100 a year for 10 to 15 years is ok. $500 a year for 20 years would not be ok.

    Why don't they tell us that. I cannot make a intelligent choice without this information.

    Option D is the only logical choice without the real costs of choices A, B, and C. It is also the only choice that tells the city council that we do not want to be railroaded into the Friends of the Library's Master Plan.

    We should never sell land we will never be able to replace. That would be like having the goose for dinner.

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  3. The real reason S.M. politician's say so many words which result in NOTHING but hot air being vibrated by 'oil can harry' politician's - 'we will tell you want the truth is' and do not forget that.

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  4. I think that a list of itemized options, rather than asking me about my feelings, would have been a better choice for a survey.

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    1. I agree. You can't make an informed decision without all the facts including the COST.

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    2. Why do you want all these pesky facts? "Just trust me", says the City. What could possibly go wrong.

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  5. This is a public relations campaign designed to sell Sierra Madre on moving the library, selling the land and accepting as yet unspecified costs. Rather than making the decision themselves, city hall came up with this as a way of steering a predetermined decision making burden onto the residents themselves.

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    1. 7:53, well stated. I agree!

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    2. If the costs of the new library were low, we'd have the details.

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  6. It sounds like the small group of people who are into library events want to upgrade their party space.

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  7. This council did not inquire and collect all information from the Library Trustees, otherwise this public would have the necessary information needed to make a rational decision.
    As this item has been delivered in this presentation presentation, my decision is to turn the move down.

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  8. A chicken S**t survey can be twisted in any direction unsavory politicians get their way with the voting public with a kiss or lubed up before they stick it to them all at once in 2018, that's called rape.

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  9. It's not just an issue with fuzzy costs, there's also fuzzy revenue numbers. The library property is supposedly worth $5,000,000. Well that certainly is a nice, round (and high) number. How did they come up with that? Who knows. The City's "transparency" page doesn't provide any backup or support for the $5,000,000 number. It doesn't even say who did the appraisal. In fact, the entirety of the appraisal info that the City is willing to let you see is included in this Tattle article.

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  10. The City Manager probably doesn't understand that we have been down this road before. Process, which in this case includes resident management, is not transparency and should never be confused.

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    1. 10:50a they already have bait boxes at the rec center. Rats are all over this city: the real ones and the political ones.

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  11. The $100,000 study paid for by The Friends of the Library could have just as eadily been applied to study the reconfiguration of the Library floor plan with a more updated space and meeting area.
    The basement space really never has been utilized effectively.

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    1. I understand that they would need to call an exterminator to get rid of rats in the basement. Good rationale to tear the whole place down, yeah?

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    2. Cityhall is afraid of rat traps. You never know who might get caught up in them.

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  12. If there was a will to take care of the library where it is, people would be clever enough to figure out how to do it.

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    1. That is where the city has not been on the level. They are looking to build a consensus for a new library without bothering anybody's pretty little head about the cost.

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  13. LETS GET REAL!
    The City of Sierra Madre can not afford to fix, repair, move the library, if so, ALL employee expenses will follow, The city council continues to make unkept promises, the water department is the cities cash cow - now the cash cows cash must be spent on water production & supply improvements, the books can be read on the internet, go get an internet account! The time is here, Washington is draining the swamp, now its time that the city of Sierra Madres swamp be drained, cut the expenses, starting with the old library! If you choose to get out of the heat - go visit the Pasadena library - Arcadia library or Monrovia library! We will never be able to afford what they have, All city pensions need to be exchanged for 401k's!

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  14. The city council doesn't need a financial analysis from residents. This is simply a location preference survey. After that preference is known then the financial implications can be analyzed in detail. I want to know how many red versus black shirts to make so I ask you your color preference because that will determine volume and final cost. You respond by asking me what the price difference is. But that isn't known until you make your color preference known. if you need to know the final cost before stating a location preference then you are missing the point of the survey. Until a preference is shown its all estimates. Anyone who makes a preference decision based on cost should be ignored. Cost is analyzed only after location preferences are made to see if the location preference is reasonable. If people dont want to move it then why waste time with a detailed cost analysis of moving it. The survey will show no one wants to move it. It must be repaired. the only source of funds is the adjacent lot. the adjacent lot will be rezoned for condo development and sold because that brings in the most money for the library. When people ask why it was sold they will be told "because people did not want to move the library and we needed money to fix it". Why is this so difficult to understand?

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    1. I would think that cost would play a role in helping to decide your preference. I mean, you don't buy a car based on the color alone, right?

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    2. I would have absolutely no problem with a straight location preference survey. (BTW, I prefer to leave the library were it is.)

      The problem is that the City injected cost estimates into the process, and rather than being fully "transparent", it appears that they are shading the numbers toward moving the library (over estimating the land's value, over estimating repair-in-place costs, and under estimating cost for YAC library). This doesn't look like a fair attempt to take the pulse of the community, rather it is a push-polling marketing piece in favor of moving the library.

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    3. 12:12 - I am not sure I understand what you are getting at. Take the financial considerations completely out of the mix and base my decision on what? The proximity of the new library location to the unicorn stables?

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    4. That's true. The city injected incomplete cost estimates into the process to push a move so it could sell both lots. It really should be a vote on either:
      1) keep it where it is and sell back lot to fix it
      2) move it and sell both the back lot and the library building/lot.

      Focusing on the costs of the move is an effort to distract you from the real decision which is a decision to sell property (1 or both lots).

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    5. The city injected incomplete cost estimates into the process to push a move so it could sell both lots. It really should be a vote on either:
      1) keep library where it is and sell back lot to fix it
      2) move library and sell both the back lot and the library building/lot and dedicate the money for some special purpose (debt paydown or water infrastructure improvements) so it doesn't get spent on raises for city employees.

      Focusing on the costs of the move is an effort to distract you from the real decision which is a decision to sell property (1 or both lots).

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    6. 12:12p I think it’s easier to just close the library.

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  15. Guess what? Sierra Madre needs to recognize its modest size and modest ability to meet the needs of the people in one library space: stacks, electronics, meeting space, children's reading room, etc.

    Here is my solution: ADA retrofit the library where it sits. Use the back lot for parking as needed if ADA parking needs to be increased closer in. Add an elevator shaft to the rear if needed for ADA with parking.

    Forget about the meeting space there: use the City Council chambers for library-type cultural events needing an "auditorium."

    Leave the YAC alone. It is a physically active recreation space, built up so as not to take ground level green space for building or parking. The main open building is the only location in town where you can house evacuated residents in case of emergency, adjacent to the swimming pool showers and toilet facility needed for substantial numbers whether they be residents or emergency personnel.

    Money for this if the lot in back is not sold? Grants, matching funding, take a look at what's out there. The most recent librarian came to us with good credentials but grandiose notion of what could be done with Sierra Madre's limitations. He had worked in Irwindale, a most anomolous area with huge economic base and tiny population. Nothing normal about that and the transfer of ideas to our limitations and needs was illogical.

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    1. Adjacent to the swimming pool showers and toilet facilities? The Pool has been rented out. We can’t just take over the Pool Showers and toilet facilities in an emergency. However, I do agree, leave the YAC alone and leave the lawn alone. Don’t cut it up for parking.

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    2. Just a few months, prior to his death, I ran into Bill Sullivan Sr. I mentioned City Hall and Bill went ballistic! He said there was a City Bench that needed repair. He volunteered to hire someone and pay for the repair but the City refused his offer. City said we can’t take work away from the City Employees. Only those on the approved list could repair the bench at no doubt two or three times the cost.
      I’m imagining that is the way it is going for any Library cost estimates. Only those on the approved list can place bids on the needed repairs. I suppose they will be two or three times above a reasonable cost/bid. Anyway, that was a good lesson I learned from Bill Sr.

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    3. Remember a few years back when somebody proposed hiring private security for a Chamber of Commerce Santa Claus event? Instead of paying off duty Sierra Madre cops almost 5 times the cost? The police association had a live cow, and the always compliant city council squashed it. Same thing.

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    4. 2:07, I remember the proposing of private security and it didn’t happen. Didn’t know the Police Association had a cow! Thanks.

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  16. How many visits did the library receive last year? How many books checked out?

    I bet the numbers aren’t worth the cost of maintaining the library. Too much competition from other resources and better neighboring libraries.

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    1. The library claims 700 a day. That is about 5 percent of the city residents every day or 80 people an hour. I don't believe that for a minute. Hogwash.

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    2. I use the library. Have always loved libraries. Ours has pretty minor usage, and it will only decrease. It's absolutely crazy to spend a bunch of money on it.

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    3. that Place gets used these days as much as a telephone booth, or a one-hour film lab

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  17. Keep the library where it sits.
    Make adjustments to meet todats standards. Meeting room, study area, all can be done in the library with good insight.
    The ADA is for the bathroom, the ramp is already outside of what is being used as office area.
    The sale of the back lot will give the financial means to upgrade.
    Sierra Madre has NO blue curbs for assisted parking, put two at the beginning of the ramp.
    No extra tax or bond, period.

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  18. 1:18pm. Right. We need to stop renting out the swimming pool facilities so that we can prepare for the "Big One", we are over due on the San Andreas fault.
    Those darn city contracts!

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  19. The Library is Sierra Madre's white elephant. A lot of people get weepy when they think about it, and are upset at the thought of it ever going away. But do they actually go there? Take out a book and read it? Very few do.

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    1. Sell the library and develop the property sensibly, then put all the money down on the water bond debt. Then ask for the friends of the library to raise funds for a smaller more relevant library service at the YAK. Hell, put it on the community garden plot that gives out unlimited free water all year long and is only used by 6 people regularly

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