Friday, June 19, 2015

The New Library Outreach Is Complete - Off To City Hall

The final community outreach effort by the consultant architects and others working on the plan to improve library facilities at Lions Park is now complete.  I've written about previous meetings HERE and HERE.  Last night fewer than three dozen residents attended the final workshop to hear about the progress made so far and to provide input to the consultants as they prepare to offer their findings and recommendations to the Costa Mesa City Council sometime in July.
Recreation Manager Travis Karlen kicked off the evening right on time by introducing consultants Steve Johnson and Jim Favaro, who took over from there.

Favaro gave a recap of the earlier meeting, reminding us why this project was launched - the shortage of library space - and spoke about the poor condition of the two existing buildings in question, the Neighborhood Community Center and the Donald Dungan Branch Library.  He also provided us with a timeline of progress so far.
Johnson took over and led the discussion about the alternatives - to renovate or rebuild each of the facilities.   He talked about the relative costs of each step, whether renovating or rebuilding, and provided a sequence of events that could be followed.  Each of the images below shows phases that could be taken.  

In order, the first project - building the new 2-story library building adjacent to the existing NCC could happen and the entire process could stop there.

The next phase would be the rebuild/renovation of the existing Donald Dungan Library into a community meeting facility - and the process could stop there.
The third phase would be the completion of the parks/parking changes.
All three projects, when completed, would cost over $34 million, building in factors for cost increases over the time period.
Some significant assessment of the parking situation has been done.  The results, with the addition of 15 spaces near the Historical Society building and adding a few more spaces along Park Avenue, actually resulted in a net increase of 1 space over the current number.
This chart shows the cost estimates to build/renovate each building/project.  The "Total Project Cost" includes the furniture, fixtures and technology infrastructure necessary to complete the projects.
These two images are artist renderings of a possible look to the new library building.  The first one is viewed from Park Avenue.
 This view is from approximately the location of the airplane at Lions Park.
A dozen members of the public stepped up to the microphone to offer opinions or ask questions covering a wide range of issues.  Library supporter Art Goddard was the first to speak and he expressed concern about the anticipated cost of this project as viewed by the consultants.  He expressed concern that the community would lack the will power to move forward with such an expensive endeavor and looked to the consultants for ideas about a scaled-down project, utilizing the existing buildings.  He phrased it as "Option Zero" - where much less would be done and still improve our library situation.  The answer given was that the financial threshold was so low - $100,000 - and the change of use  from a meeting room to library was viewed by the government regulations as so significant that major changes to the building - the NCC - would be mandated.

Resident Kathy Esfahani expressed concern about the loss of the use of the NCC by long-time user groups and was told that the City  had "granular data" on how the facility was used.  Earlier we were told that it was only used to about 1/3 capacity about 1/3 of the time.   Steve Johnson told us that the four major users of the NCC were consulted during their planning process.  We were also advised that the City had much more meeting space available around town that was being significantly under-utilized.  The plan would be to end up with about 8,000 square feet of meeting space between the two new proposed buildings.

Uber-activist Beth Refakes - who attends more meetings than anyone else I know and takes great pains to make carefully-crafted observations, comments and suggestions, addressed several issues.  Speaking about the open space on the plans, she observed there had been moves afoot to use space in Lions Park as a skate park and/or sports field.  She wondered about the costs.  She observe that the proposed design was not compatible with other nearby buildings - citing The Triangle and The Courtyards, right across the street.  She opined that the relocation of the recently-refurbished airplane would be a bad idea.  Johnson agreed and that was off the table at this point.  She also observed about the NCC that she attends meetings there frequently and it's "always busy".  She also observed about the shortage of parking NOW, and that some of the nearby neighborhoods have resident-only parking.

CEO Tom Hatch sat quietly in the audience with others, listening to the presentations and the questions.  He heard others ask about how long the project might take - two years was the answer, assuming certain mileposts could be met.  A question was asked about the budget - the financial target for this project - that was originally given to the consultants, because early conversations led us to believe it might be in the $5-7 million range.  The answer was that they were just working at the direction of their client - the City.  Others expressed concern about the building design - not meeting their personal preference.  A question was also asked about alternative sites being considered for the community meeting facility... none were.

 At the end of the meeting Hatch wrapped it up by making several observations, some of which seemed relevant and others just seemed kind of off the wall.  He spoke of his gratitude to the members of the community who participated in this process.  He was surprised at the cost projections, which took him off into a kind of stream-of-consciousness exposition of capital projects and sales tax.  He explained that sales tax - primarily from South Coast Plaza and the car dealerships - account for 46% of the current budget revenue, and that it could be a capricious (my word) source if income.  He emphasized that we shouldn't plan on it always being there - and cited the economic downturn earlier in the past decade.  He mentioned that this budget will set aside 6.5% of the General Fund budget for Capital Improvements, then talked about the needed repairs and replacement of Fire Stations.  He said we set aside $1.6 million toward Fire Station #1, but that it would need $7-10 million to rebuild it.

He mentioned other city-owned facilities, indicating the Mesa Verde Branch Library had immediate needs, but that the Senior Center was  OK for now.  Then he said something peculiar - that "if the City Hall remained where it is, it would require another $5-10 million to make it work for another 50 years".  I found myself wondering where that thought came from?

He then found himself talking about the Victoria Street widening project that was funded by bonds that were still being paid off at the rate of $1.2 million a year for the next four years, and suggested perhaps a library could be built using similar funding mechanisms.  He seemed to be saying we could just plan on paying that $1.2 million downstream after the Victoria Street bonds were retired.  He talked about "front-loading" the cost as much as possible.

An observation... Once again, veiled comments were made by the consultants that the placement of a new library situated as they showed it could some how magically resolve the problem of the homeless folks who currently infest the park.  When I arrived at around 5:45 there were more than 40 people stretched out on the grass throughout the park area.  When I left at around 8:30 there were fewer, but not many fewer.  There seems to be a thought that having windows facing the airplane section of the park will somehow discourage homeless folks from hanging out there.  However, there has never been any kind of anecdotal evidence to that fact.  In fact, I'm told by those close to the situation that the opposite is true - that homeless folks near the Historical Society building actually "perform" for the "audience" in that building from time to time.  I found it distracting to the discussion of the other issues.

The meeting ended with Karlen offering a tour of the Dungan Library building.  I didn't see if anyone took him up on it or not.  So, now we just wait to see what the consultants present to the City Council in a month or so.  It's hard to imagine that this meeting will not find itself in the budget discussions on Tuesday evening, when the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year Budget is approved.  We'll see.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

The NCC demolition/new library project is being presented to council sometime in July; yet $22 Million for this project is being requested for funding on Tuesday ($4M in year 15-16 with $18M being obligated in year 16-17).

Hatch clearly admits that the Mesa Verde Branch has immediate needs - yet these immediate needs are not addressed or requested in the 15-16 budget. We have a library problem - but is it a $22 Million dollar problem?

What is the point of paying for all these consultant presentations? Could the payment$ to these consultants for that Flying Nun rendition gone toward the immediate needs of the Mesa Verde Branch?

And what is happening to the city's emergency generator that is in "extremely poor condition" and "overheats, leaks fluids and is unreliable" where "any extended operation of the generator would likely lead to failure"? The $600,000 for replacement is NOT BEING RECOMMENDED AND IS NOT IN THE BUDGET. That generator is to guarantee that safety and communications operations can continue during a power outage or natural disaster.

But $3,687,350 in Park Development projects ARE being recommended.


6/19/2015 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous sandy genis said...

The funding mechanism used for Victoria was not technically a bond but a "Certificate of Participation" or COP. Under the California Constitution, bonds must be approved by the voters. COPs do not. The justification is that COPs buyers participate in a project's revenue stream. How do we get revenue from the Victoria widening? "Lease payments" whereby the city leases the facility to itself via a finance authority, i.e. the city council wearing a different hat. They did this to fund the new Newport Beach City Hall, and the mayor suggested we do this for capital improvements in CM.

6/19/2015 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

So, while a bond would require voter approval, three guys on the council could simply decide to obligate the city for decades - an irreversible debt on the taxpayers of the city. Isn't that special?!

6/19/2015 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Friendly Neighbor said...

While we are exploring ideas how about using the former Nike Town dome structure (of The Triangle) as a library? That building has been empty for years and it would be a nice statement for our city to have a library greeting all visitors as they enter our city, instead of a concentration of bars and liquor stores. I'm not proposing putting in a bar there and calling it a library, even though some people might like that idea better. I see a potential for a large empty building to serve a real need in our community, which might cost less than the proposal the other night. I know it would require zone revisions but our city is getting really good at that.

6/19/2015 02:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

The one important difference between a General Obligation bond and a C.O.P. is that all real property in the city - including private homes and businesses - is pledged under a G.O. bond (as if it were a mortgage), but not under a C.O.P. That's why voter approval is required for a G.O. bond. Of course, if there were a default under a C.O.P., the value of real estate in the city would plummet, but the title would remain with the owner.

Debt funding under C.O.P.'s is a serious matter and should not be undertaken without a general public consensus that it's necessary.

6/19/2015 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous It has to be said...

it is a nice idea, Friendly Neighbor, but you're too late. In May, the Planning Commission approved The Sutra Lounge to expand into that space:

6/19/2015 04:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Judy Lindsay said...

Friendly Neighbor, last I heard, the Sutra Lounge was moving into the old NIke spot.

6/19/2015 08:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Perhaps it would be better for Huntington Beach to streamline an avenue to the freeway rather than waiting for Costa Mesa to do it.

I'm a little curious what would happen once those old homes are torn down, and not all used space is for road, then are there more high density going up?

6/19/2015 08:42:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home