Irvine Mayor Steven Choi’s central vision for Irvine’s Great Park includes the construction of a 200,000 square foot central library, and the library was a central theme in his State of the City address in late February. What’s missing from this vision — any detailed plan for paying for this structure. Choi told the Register it might cost $100 million; others suggest a library of this size and scope is closer to $200 million. And Choi plans to pay for it without using tax dollars.
So just how is this library going to be built?
We sent a public records request to the City asking for any and all emails, memos, minutes of any meeting that details the development, construction and financing of this enormous library a couple of weeks ago; the city contact us saying they needed more time. Which means either there are so many records, the city needs more time, or their isn’t much and they need more time to find it.
Choi wrote a glowing piece about the Library in the Register (which seldom presented the same such platform for the three previous mayors). Choi wrote:
Let me tell you my vision to truly transform more than 1,300 acres into a Great Park that we can all admire. And let me do so through my explanation of what a great Metropolitan Central Library would mean to so many, at such a place.
A library should be the heart of a city. It is where the best and the brightest, of all ages, gather to learn, to imagine and to teach. See the soccer player coming from the nearby playing fields to do his homework, or the high school student looking for the perfect study area, or the professional who has the next big business idea. It is a place that you never forget, so it becomes a place that you always return to.
When you walk into a library that serves as the heart of a city, you feel the energy beneath your feet and the wings of opportunity. You know that the place you have come to is the place you were meant to be.
However, a library that is the heart of a city needs to be in a place that is bigger than any one piece – bigger than a library, bigger than athletic fields and arts facilities and bike trails and meeting places. A library needs to be in a place that is truly home to everyone.
So, the library that I envision at the Orange County Great Park will be the kind of place that explains not only who we are as a community, but what we can become. My vision requires only new priorities, not new taxes. The Great Park that I know is ready for us to build together … and enjoy forever … will be like the books you find in this library.
Choi admits to the Register he’s not sure how much it would cost. But he did go on a fact finding mission to four such libraries. As far as the how much it might cost, I guess he forgot to ask about those facts. From the story:
Irvine would fund it from excess property taxes that would have normally gone to the county library system, as well as community fundraising. Naming rights to the library itself could also be sold, Choi said.
He proposed creating what would be called the Irvine Library Foundation, which would augment any other funding efforts. Similarly, the Foundation for the Great Park (known as the Great Park Conservancy) aims to support the park’s development through fundraising.
A large portion of the funding would come from an agreement the city made with the county and its library system a year ago to cap Irvine’s annual property tax contribution. Any property tax growth above 2 percent – affected by new home sales, home values being reassessed, etc. – would stay with Irvine, Choi said. Once the library is built – several years, if that, from now – Choi said he envisions the county operating it though through a cooperative model.
He doesn’t know how much it will cost, speculating that it could cost $100 million, but says the foundation would be launched early in the process to get a jump on making the library happen. Choi said no Great Park funds would pay for the library because there aren’t enough funds there.
He and a few others – an architect, a Great Park staff member and a library consultant group – went on a fact-finding mission last year to tour several Southern California libraries. “We have a pretty good idea what we’d like to do,” he said in a phone interview a day after delivering his State of the City address.
So if the library’s construction is estimated at $100 million, conservatively, what about the stuff that goes inside the library? Books, tables, chairs, shelves, lights, computers, audio/video equipment, function rooms and furniture, copy machines, books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, and staff to run the place. No estimates at all on that. You think someone with a PhD in Library Science might actually have a clue on costs. Dr. No becomes Dr. I-Don’t-Know.
An aside, I laughed out loud at his suggestion the professional goes to the library for his next big business idea. Ha! Never happens (but you will find them at Starbucks). The librarian would sush the “a-ha” moment. And other reports suggested the library could have a Starbucks or a foodcourt. Funny, most libraries forbid any sort of food and drink. And we already have a place full of books and periodicals and a coffee shop in Irvine; it’s called Barnes & Noble.
If Choi’s plan to finance the library without new taxes is going to generate enough revenue to build a $100 million library and enough revenue to sustain it, keep it current, and staff it, then frankly the better idea is to expand the county library in Irvine to accommodate more people and provide more resources. How about a grant to the IUSD schools — elementary through high school — to expand library resources, add staff and expand a school libraries hours of operation so these school libraries become closer to how a college library functions. And with that much revenue for a library, the public employee pension crisis Council Jeff Lalloway keeps harping about (in his comparison of Irvine to Costa Mesa) would be totally resolved.
Is there a place for a library at the Great Park. Sure. There was a plan for a small one that focused on area history, the base’s history, our argicultural past, and other “local” topics.
Until the Mayor delivers some actual detail about how much money this would cost, how it will be financed, and how it would be sustained over time, then his vision for a grand library at the Great Park is nothing more than folly.