Contra Costa County staff are challenging a civil grand jury finding that there is no adequate plan for relocating a collection of local historical documents currently housed at the Pleasant Hill Library when it closes next year.
The library’s planned closure generated a small but sustained controversy once library users discovered that the county planned to demolish the existing library before construction is completed on a replacement facility.
That led to a grand jury investigation that erroneously concluded that an irreplaceable collection of historical documents had gotten lost in the shuffle. County staff challenged that finding this month during a meeting of the Board of Supervisors, citing tentative plans to transfer the collection to a local historical society.
The existing library structure is more than 50 years old and needs an estimated $10 million in deferred maintenance, according to the grand jury. The land underneath it is valuable and a new library can be constructed nearby, but the timing is a problem.
“A pressing issue is that the county Board of Supervisors decided to close the Pleasant Hill branch a year and a half before the new facility is scheduled to open,” the grand jury wrote.
District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, who represents Pleasant Hill, has repeatedly stated that the highest and best use of that county-owned property is to sell it to housing developers before the Bay Area’s red-hot real estate market cools off.
Karen Yapp and Dick Offerman, however, have taken up the current library’s cause. They frequently appear at meetings of the Pleasant Hill City Council and county supervisors to advocate against closing the existing library before the new one is ready to move into.
They have argued that the existing facility provides an invaluable resource to parents and families, with literacy programming aimed at young children and a safe after-school space for adolescents.
The grand jury, however, focused on the library’s climate-controlled vault. There are no plans to replace it, but the jury found that the Contra Costa County Historical Society has the resources and facilities to take on stewardship of the library’s collection, as well as a willingness to do so.
In their response to the grand jury’s report, county officials indicated that this possibility requires further analysis. During open discussion on the matter, Mitchoff asked county librarian Melinda Cervantes if they were confident that a plan could be devised by the time the Pleasant Hill Library closes in 2020.
“We expect to have a recommendation by September,” Cervantes said.