Seattle Press
Vote 'Yes' for New Libraries, but Look Out for Spoilers
Passing the library bond issue in November is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves to make Seattle a better place.

The measure calls for a new downtown library building in the same spot as the existing one, plus three entirely new branch libraries in Northgate, Delridge and the International District. Six other libraries would be replaced completely, and six others would be significantly expanded.

Every branch library in the city gets something out of the plan in the form of increased personnel, increased hours, collections or equipment. The total space in neighborhood libraries is doubled. Six million dollars is set aside for needs that will be identified in the future by input from the neighborhoods.

The library and the city learned from the defeat of the 1994 proposal. In the 1998 "Libraries for All" program, $64 million of the total is earmarked for neighborhood libraries, compared to $37 million in the 1994 proposal. The spread in 1998 is 35 percent neighborhoods, 65 percent central. In 1994 it was 25 percent neighborhoods, 75 percent central.

"Libraries for All" calls for an immediate 60 percent increase in the budget for buying books, and $1 million annual increases up to $5 million.

Overall, the plan calls for $234 million in spending over the next 10 years with $195 million from a city bond issue to be placed on the ballot in November, and $40 million to be raised by the Seattle Public Library Foundation.

The Central Library, heart of the city-wide system, is to be replaced, providing more room for books, people, and for staff to do their jobs. Current lack of space downtown means closed stacks for two-thirds of the collection. Seating areas are crowded, and many are in noisy or high-traffic areas. "People love their branch libraries," Deborah Jacobs explains. "But they know when they have to go downtown because they need research or reference materials."

The service area within the Central Library makes the branches work. As the branches expand and grow, central services require more space.

Overall, the proposal is a reasoned and careful approach to improving the city's library system. Neighborhood input has been substantial. And the library board has worked to avoid the mistakes that sunk the 1994 proposal.

The proposal should have no trouble attracting the support of a large majority of people in Seattle. Two hazards lie ahead that shouldn't be there at all.
1. The levy has to get a 60 percent super-majority to pass. The super-majority requirement is an unfair, undemocratic measure that turns the basic principles of American democracy upside down. 'No' votes count for more than 'yes' votes. The minority dictates to the majority. It is more difficult to pass a school bond than it is to build a prison or raise legislative salaries. The 60 percent requirement puts a weapon in the hands of foes of public education to prevent local communities from improving their schools. Every community and school district that has ever floated a bond issue and every citizen and every legislator who cares about good schools and libraries should be working to repeal this bizarre impediment to democracy.
2. The other hazard is the misguided and misleading petition drive to fund an alternative library proposal through councilmanic bonds. The real library proposal doesn't need a signature campaign. It was placed on the ballot by a vote of the City Council. Paid signature gatherers have been hitting the malls and street corners recently asking people to 'sign here for a new library.'

Sponsors of the drive have not returned phone calls from The Seattle Press and they don't give out any literature when they are getting signatures. But reports in other papers indicate they are spoilers, seeking to punish the city for subsidizing the Nordstrom parking garage. I'm sorry if this doesn't make any sense to you. It doesn't make sense to me either. The danger is that if the petition gets on the ballot it could confuse enough voters who want a library but don't see the crucial difference between councilmanic bonds and city-backed bonds for the Libraries for All Program. The super-majority requirement kicks in right here, giving the spoilers a razor to hold at the throat of the public library system.

Councilmanic bonds would have to be repaid out of the city's general fund, meaning that money for potholes, building inspectors and neighborhood planning, police and fire protection would probably have to be cut to fund the library. But petition drive organizers don't have a ghost of chance of winning, and that's not their goal. They really just want to be a spoiler.

The people behind this drive are clearly trying to confuse voters and cause problems for the library bond issue. It's a stealth attack on the library, and if you see one of those petitions out there, we urge you not to sign it.