FOLLOWUP: More Details From Tuesday’s KCLS Board Meeting On Libraries

by Ralph Nichols

Proposed consolidation of the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries was deferred Tuesday (June 28) pending more information about a possible annexation by Burien of the North Highline unincorporated area.

King County Library System (KCLS) trustees voted 3-0 to delay until then action on a staff recommendation to proceed with building a new North Highline library and consolidating the two existing North Burien libraries in that facility.

Board of Trustees President Judge Richard Eadie and trustees Rob Spitzer and Jessica Bonebright voted to place the consolidation recommendation on hold. Trustee Jim Wigfall was absent.

Before the vote, Burien City Councilwoman Lucy Krakowiak, who is also a library system trustee, recused herself.

More than 20 persons, most of them residents of North Burien and the unincorporated area, addressed the trustees for over an hour, all asking that the White Center and Boulevard Park libraries continue serving their neighborhoods.

Astha Tada, representing the White Center Library Guild, submitted petitions with signatures of 1,793 Burien and unincorporated area residents requesting the trustees to make it so.

“They want their libraries to remain open,” Tada said.

Following public comment, Spitzer promptly interjected that “it would be premature to take action” at this time, and immediately made a motion for delay.

“I agree it would be premature … while [North Highline annexation] is still so up in the air,” including possible annexation by Burien, said Bonebright, who seconded the motion.

The action to delay occurred without any discussion by the trustees or library system staff of the proposed recommendation for consolidation.

No date was set for further consideration of this issue.

Immediately after the board’s action, Burien City Councilwoman Rose Clark thanked the trustees for deferring action, and asked them to advise the city at such time as they are ready to revisit this question.

About 50 people, including those who spoke, traveled from North Burien/North Highline to the KCLS headquarters building in Issaquah, where the meeting was held at 5 p.m.

One reason for consolidation cited in the staff recommendation to the trustees was:

“Regardless of whether North Highline is annexed to the City of Burien or Seattle in the coming year, the existing White Center Library would still need to be expanded, relocated or consolidated.”

But several comments by the public focused on the 2004 library system capital bond issue, approved by county voters, which included funding for major facility improvements in both White Center and Boulevard Park.

They urged the trustees to use these dedicated funds now and upgrade the two libraries.

Greg Duff, a former president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council and now a candidate for the Burien city council seat held by Krakowiak, was among those citing the still-untapped 2004 bond issue funds.

“So far we’ve seen nothing,” Duff said. “If you remove those two libraries, you’re lying to the citizens. If you take away our libraries, why should we ever vote for another bond?”

“Please keep your promises,” said Liz Giba, a member of the North Highline council. “A lot of people did not know” about the consolidation plan until the petition drive. After learning about it, White Center and Boulevard Park library patrons “are not very happy.”

King County Councilman Joe McDermott, whose District 8 includes Burien and North Highline, again asked trustees to wait “at least until we know what Burien does. The question really is about providing service … it is clear that there is interest there and it would be prudent to wait.”

McDermott also criticized a survey conducted by library system staff late last winter that indicated a preference for a new, consolidated facility among those responding.

“Consolidation was the only alternative,” he said. “I’m surprised your percentage wasn’t even higher” because people weren’t asked if they wanted to renovate the existing libraries and “not just whether they want a sexy, clean new library.”

Most public comments focused on the needs of many children and families in the neighborhoods and how losing the libraries would impact them.

Ian Dapiaoen, who works in White Center, said the “communities would be affected by the consolidation and closure of these libraries,” especially students whose families have limited options.

“Think about the youth who would have nowhere to go in a neighborhood without libraries,” Dapizoen asked the trustees.

He also said “it does not make sense to have a new library within a two-mile radius” of the new library in downtown Burien.

Virgil Domaoan, who lives in Boulevard Park and works with the White Center Community Development Association, questioned “how equitable” it is “to take two libraries away and replace them with one.”

Such an action would impact “a community of largely immigrant populations … that depends on public transportation,” Domaoan added. ““I’m urging you to make a decision that supports the youth … by improving the libraries that are there.”

Paul Montgomery, principal of Cascade Middle School, called the White Center Library “incredibly important to our community, incredibly important to our schools.”

“Our kids don’t have computers, they don’t have books,” like many students in more affluent communities served by King County libraries do, Montgomery said. “Think about equity issues of poverty and race.”

Tada added, “Without a doubt the librarians at neighborhood schools want them to remain open. These libraries are vital to their curriculum, they are vital to their students.”

Barbara Dobkin, the current North Highline council president, said “the students of our community use these libraries. The farther distance [of a consolidated facility] is not acceptable.”

Underscoring repeated references to the needs of many residents of the two neighborhoods, including elementary and middle school students, who rely on these libraries was the testimony of two Somali and three Vietnamese women from the area.

All five, speaking through interpreters, told trustees about the lack of computers and other educational aids at home, their dependency on public transportation, and how the loss of local libraries would negatively impact their families.

“A library is not a grocery store or a fast-food restaurant,” said Katherine Vogt of Boulevard Park, a former librarian there. “A library is a place that welcomes … it is a place of drams, a place of hope, especially for those who are poverty stricken.”

White Center Library Guild President Rachel Levine told the trustees, “You shold be proud that these people care enough about their libraries to come here tonight, as proud as you are of that wonderful award” the KCLS recently received for being named best library system in the U.S.

And Butch Henderson of Boulevard Park called proposed consolidation “a misguided effort to better serve both communities … I don’t understand the logic of taking two successful, esisting libraries out of these communities. I don’t get it.”

Krakowiak voted with the rest of the Burien City Council on June 20 for a resolution asking KCLS trustees to delay action on consolidation until after the annexation question is resolved.

Prior to casting her vote, she declared, “Libraries are very important to our communities and I support this issue wholeheartedly.”

Yet at Tuesday’s library board meeting, Krakowiak explained that, while she represents Burien interests as a city council member, she avoids conflicts of interest as a library system trustee by recusing herself from Burien library matters.

The Revised Code of Washington, however, limits its definitions of conflicts of interest involving elected public officials to financial conflicts, including monetary gain or influencing government contracts.

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