PLEASANT HILL (KPIX 5) — The Pleasant Hill public library is popular – one of the busiest in Contra Costa County – but it’s old and outdated and a new library will be built across the street in about 18 months time. But it’s what will happen until then that has everyone so fired up.
The new library will be built on an adjacent vacant lot on Oak Park Boulevard with funds raised from a sales tax initiative, Measure K, approved by city voters. It’s expected to open sometime in 2021 but the county wants to sell the current library property to a developer to create 34 new houses. And it plans to tear down the old building in August – leaving the city without a library for a year and a half.READ MORE: Study Shows Stockton Universal Basic Income Experiment Led to Increased Employment
“I think the community just assumed that we‘d always have library services and they wouldn’t be interrupted,” said resident Nick Ginanakos. “So, this is what’s a little surprising at this point.”
Angry library patrons have started a petition to keep the old library open until the new one is built and are venting a lot of anger at Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, who is supporting the closure. She says county analysts are saying the real estate market is softening and if they wait two years to sell, the county could lose millions.
“We have hit the high – “we” meaning everybody – and home prices are falling,” Mitchoff said. “So, the sooner we sell that property to a developer, the higher dollar value we will get.”
There is a plan to offer some library services, including online book ordering and pickup at the city’s Senior Center, but opponents say not having a real library will have an impact.
“My three-year-old, two years is her lifetime,” said mother and library patron Whitney Baker. “For an adolescent middle-schooler, two years is their middle school.”READ MORE: Gov. Newsom Signs Executive Order to Halt Pandemic Evictions Through June
“We need something here while they’re building the other one,” said library patron Mari Lovalvo. “I mean, libraries are the soul of a neighborhood, you know?”
Currently, there is no developer waiting with blueprints to begin construction. But Mitchoff says she doesn’t want to wait for that in case the market downturn should occur.
“What do I do?” she asked. “Do I keep a library open and potentially lose two-to-three, maybe five million dollars over a two-year period … or close it down?”
“But nobody has that crystal ball!” said Baker. “Nobody can say that!”
Despite all the talk about a housing crisis, Contra Costa County seems to be betting that its land in Pleasant Hill will be worth a lot less two years from now.
On Friday, May 3, Pleasant Hill officials said that due to permitting delays, the construction is now delayed until 2020. That means the library will remain open for another year.MORE NEWS: Armed Guards, Volunteers Join Police to Patrol Streets in Oakland's Chinatown
The city of Pleasant Hill has published a list of frequently asked questions about the Oak Park Project on the city’s website.