News from Councilmember Randy Corman, your Renton City Hall insider. (All views expressed in journal entries are Randy Corman's personal views, and not the official position of the City of Renton or other city employees. Views expressed in reader comments are those of the commenter)

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Croquet at Renton’s Riverview Park; showing off my granddaughter

Croquet at Renton’s Riverview Park; showing off my granddaughter

My granddaughter is getting bigger. Here she is at our 11-acre “Riverview Park,” (a few hundred feet from Cedar River) ready to challenge me to a game of croquet.

Now that the library election is behind us, I plan to mix up my blog entries with more varied topics. Next up…trees!

Last night’s council meeting; 3-minute speaker time-limit reversed and sent back to Committee of the Whole

Last night’s council meeting; 3-minute speaker time-limit reversed and sent back to Committee of the Whole

Last night’s council meeting was a long one, lasting about two and a half hours. One of the main issues before us was the proposed 3-minute limit to audience comment (down from five minutes.). This decision was reversed last night unanimously by the council, leaving the five minute audience comment that everyone has become accustomed to. The subject has been sent back to Committee of the Whole, as there are still language issues in the policy that some members would like to see better clarified.

There was also discussion about go-forward planning for the Cedar River Library renovation, and some other issues that brought out comment at last night’s meeting. Jenny Manning, Editor of Renton Patch, was in attendance and I’m sure in the coming days she will be posting more detailed stories about specific topics that arose.

What do YOU think should be done to revitalize downtown? A thoughtful reader kicks off the discussion with some great comments!…

What do YOU think should be done to revitalize downtown?  A thoughtful reader kicks off the discussion with some great comments!…

Note: I received a comment on my previous blog that is perfect for starting a new topic. The commenter, who goes by the moniker “Union Hat”, provides some interesting and well-thought-out suggestions for making improvements to downtown. His ideas already started a dialogue, so I captured it below his comments as well. Please review Union Hat’s suggestions, add your views on whether they would work, and add your own ideas! Thanks to Union Hat for this and other great comments, and thanks to all of you readers for your attention and ideas.

Pictured: The storefront west of the Piazza, where a new library had been proposed to replace this tired building. While voters rejected moving the library from it’s over-the-river location, most citizens I have talked to feel it is worthwhile for the council to focus on further revitalizing this section of downtown Renton. I have heard many good ideas proposed

(From Union Hat)

The vote on the library location is in: Renton Wins!

Cedar River Library lovers get to keep the location we all have appreciated for nearly half a century. Awareness of the need for real revitalization in the oldest part of downtown Renton has not been this great since the local improvement district was created in the late 60’s.

There is still lots of work to do, but we have a chance to get things moving in a productive direction. Here is a To Do List to jumpstart the creative dialog between Economic Development Department, the City Council and the downtown business owners. Please add to my relatively random list of ideas.

Pass an ordinance requiring a private kitchen and bath for rented rooms in the historic district and providing tax credits for renovated office space.

Provide property tax credits to owners who strip off all of the ugly 1970’s upgrades to the building facades and/or restore the brick and stone exteriors and windows to their original design using energy efficient materials. For buildings constructed after 1920, encourage modifications that harmonize the visual appearance of the exteriors with the buildings constructed between 1900 and 1915.

Replace all of the old, ugly and increasingly unsafe sidewalks on S 3rd between Main and Smithers. Replace the odd gutters at the corners. Choose a concrete finish that is safe and durable, but reminiscent of the original wood sidewalks or Renton brickworks sidewalks or both. Include modest midblock sidewalk bump-outs for easier pedestrian street crossing and sidewalk vendor kiosks. Include utility hookups.

Replace the odd 1970’s street lighting and the remaining corner mounted traffic signals. Choose a pole and lamp style reminiscent of early 1900’s gas lamps. Consolidate the little hand holes, and improve the underground conduits to add capacity and provide a building entrance to every structure in downtown. This will allow connection of very high speed fiber to the second story offices. Combine superfast Internet with low cost office space on the southern end of the eastside tech corridor and you create a high-tech startup incubator.

Realign SR-900. The Historic District along S 3rd suffers from far too much vehicle traffic and too little foot traffic in part because they are in direct conflict with each other. By extending MLK way diagonally through the Safeway parking lot to connect with S 2nd and doing a modest widening of S 2nd there could be nearly the same traffic carrying capacity on S 2nd as there is now using both S 2nd and S 3rd.

Reduce S 3rd to a single west bound lane with diagonal parking along both sides. Provide traffic calming planters at each intersection with small street trees and low growing vegetation. Consider stained concrete intersections as we have in The Landing. The finish could reflect roadway bricks made at the Renton brickworks.

Bathe the historic district in very high speed, free wi-fi. Include Rainier, The Landing and the Ikea Shopping District. Perhaps Sunset between N 10th and N 12th and parts of N 4th should be included. Municipal wi-fi is not nearly as cool as it used to be, but is increasingly expected as part of any desirable destination. Very young tech startups might ride on free wi-fi for the first year.

DO NOT spend 10 million dollars to renovate the Cedar River Library. Do an essentials only renovation for about $2 million. If KCLS insists that there needs to be an entrance near the south parking lot, put an attractive rain roof over the pedestrian bridge leading from the parking lot to the existing entrance. When the economy improves a more extensive remodel and expansion to a Ragional library can be considered.

DO spend about 2 million renovating the existing Big 5 structure and relocate the Police Patrol Operations Division into the building for at least 5 years. There has been talk of building a new City Hall building in the old downtown for several years. That is not going to be affordable for a decade (never if we get Barack’d again on Nov. 6th). We can do some stimulus and a lot of crime prevention by putting the police who chase criminal’s right into the belly of the beast. Once West Hill annexes, that location will be a more central location for most of the high crime areas in Renton.

Vacate Mill Ave. S between Bronson Way and S 3rd and expand the parking for the Library and the Museum. With the expanded traffic volume on S 2nd/Bronson the Mill and Bronson intersection will no longer be viable anyway. Put a large bus stop bump out on Bronson where Mill used to be. Include a large sign identifying the KCLS library.

Get KCLS to pay for including the Cedar River and Highlands Libraries in the Renton Wayfinding sign system. They promised us some signs, we should hold them to their promises or they will continue to have no reason to respect Renton.

Yes the projects described above will cost something like 200 million dollars and it will be difficult to amass that much cash. It does not need to be done all at once. Something like 15% to 20% must be local matching funds, but once you have the 30 to 40 million budgeted, it is possible to get federal, state and county improvement grants that could provide practically all of the remaining money needed to actually revitalize Renton. The 10 million we dumped into the parking garage might have attracted 50 million outside dollars. We could have SR-900 realigned already if we had leaders with a little less impatience and just a little more vision and faith in our community.

Get the Administrator of the Community and Economic Development Department to move into town. Strongly encourage the other department heads to live here as well. Their perspective needs to be that of a participant, not a detached management consultant.

If you don’t like my crazy ideas, please post some of your own. It is time to come together to move Renton ahead.

Commment to above, from RentonBen

I like all of them – a series of rational improvements, and no expensive boondoggles.

Follow-on Comment from Union Hat

OK Ben,
How about this? Annex West Hill and extend Renton level police service west to Seattle. Cleaning up crime in downtown Renton needs a regional approach and the King County Sheriffs don’t get the funding they need to hold up their end of the deal. If we are going to beat the crime in Renton and West Hill, we need to join West Hill to Renton first.
Still rational?

Readers, please join this discussion with your ideas by clicking on the comment button!

After amazing grass-roots campaign, Renton Cedar River Library wins 76 % to 24 %!

After amazing grass-roots campaign, Renton Cedar River Library wins 76 % to 24 %!

After an exciting three-month campaign full of passion, door-belling, blogging, information booths, a parade enty, and letters to the editor– covering subjects such as library patrons desires and needs, conflicting cost estimates, conflicting parking predictions, and discussion of many other “unknowns,”– Renton citizens have overwhelmingly selected “Over the Cedar River” as their favorite location for a library. The first returns were showing the Cedar River locations leading the Piazza location by 76% to 24 %.

Cedar River Library Campaign Chair Stuart Avery summarized the sentiment tonight at an election-watch/victory party by restating the theme the campaign had adopted, “there really is no better place.”

As a special treat, former Renton Mayor Don Custer, a charming, witty, senior statesmen for our city who presided over Renton when the library was built in 1966, stopped by the party tonight. Don shared stories of the original library construction, and reminded us the project was accomplished for about $300,000 . He said the inspiration for the library came from Italy and England, where he and others had seen shops on bridges. He said one of the original architects also took their inspiration from a building on the US East Coast that was located on a bridge over the freeway, but none of these buildings were libraries.

Some of the supporters of the competing Piazza Library site had expressed a desire to move the library to stimulate revitalization of downtown. At tonight’s party, there was a prevailing sentiment that downtown revitalization was a worthy goal deserving of city emphasis, but that moving the library was not the right approach– several citizens were eager to share other ideas for bringing improvements to the areas near the Piazza.

The Renton Patch has other details on the election which can be found here.

Thank you to all who participated in this campaign, and thanks to the voters of Renton for supporting our unique, treasured library.

Cedar River Library supporters in the River Days parade ten days ago

I’ve always like parades. I’m walking (and waving) next to Marcie Palmer who serves with me on City Council– Stuart Avery, Cedar River Library campaign chair, is to the far right leading the procession (in white campaign T-shirt)

Parking difficulties downtown would be worsened by new Piazza library

Parking difficulties downtown would be worsened by new Piazza library

(This article is part of a series I am writing to help ensure voters have as much information as possible before the August 7 library election. Like all my other entries, these are my personal views. I am never speaking for the Renton Council or the City of Renton as a whole in this privately-funded website. Please scroll down for other library entries. Thanks for reading)

This photo was taken last Thursday, about 100 feet from the site proposed for the Piazza library. Highland resident Jennifer came out of a downtown Renton restaurant after a one-hour lunch to find her car hooked up to a tow truck. She had to give the towing company $137 to get her car unhooked, even though she was in a marked parking spot and the lot does not appear to be correctly posted for immediate towing. Jennifer is now involved in a dispute to get her money back, and there are two Renton businesses (the lot owner and the towing company) she will never do business with in the future. If the library is moved to this location, library patrons would be encountering a worse situation daily as they jockey to find spots where they can dash in and pick up or drop off books, while customers of downtown business, apartment visitors, and parents dropping kids for daycare will face new competition for existing spots.

The parking plan for the proposed new Piazza library is not clear. Proponents of the move say that there will be sites on the street dedicated to the library, and that the parking garage will easily handle all the rest of the need. But there are numerous problems with this.

First, if we dedicate existing public parking in the downtown to a new library, we take it away from nearby businesses including restaurants, shops, and even a daycare. And by posting it specifically for library patrons, we take away the number one reason that some downtown business owners have given for wanting us to move the library downtown– that library patrons will visit other businesses on their library outings. In other words, if a patron drives up to the library, and sees a spot marked “For library patrons only– others will be ticketed”, there is virtually no chance of seeing that patron stop into a restaurant for lunch before getting back into his or her car. And once in their car, they will head to their favorite lunch spot, whether that is three blocks or two miles away.

On the other hand, if anyone expects library visitors to readily use the downtown Renton garage, they are in for a disappointment. This garage, which Diamond Parking has overseen for Renton since 2008, is a distance from the library and requires that users register their vehicles even when parking for only a few minutes. Anyone who fails to register their vehicle even for the first two hours of free parking is subject to a $30 fee, which goes to $60 if not paid within 15 days. For parents already juggling kids and books, this step will be an additional frustration on top of the two to three block walk — not to mention the stairs in the garage. And patrons and business owners won’t be happy about another detail. If a library patron decides to walk a few blocks for cupcakes or coffee after their library visit, they will have to anticipate this BEFORE they leave the parking lot. This is because the parking fee for stays longer than two hours must be paid in advance– overstays are subject to a 30 dollar fee, rising to 60 dollars if not paid in 15 days. This will certainly discourage lingering in downtown Renton after a library visit.
Diamond Parking rules posted within the City Center Parking garage. Hourly users must pay in advance, and not overstay, or face a $30-$60 fee. (The parking garage works better for monthly users and transit riders, who bypass the hourly meter and park at higher levels with window permits)

Note that this is in stark contrast to the existing Cedar River Library, which has generous free parking of unlimited duration. Patrons with only a few minutes can make a quick dash in for a convenient pick-up or drop-off. Visitors with more time available can browse the library, play at the playground, and then walk down the street for coffee, cupcakes, or lunch if they feel so inclined. No tow-truck drivers will be stiffing them $137 for a one-hour overstay, nor will Diamond Parking be billing them $60 for failing to respond to the first notice that they forgot to register their car when the parked for 15 minutes to drop a book off. In addition, downtown restaurant owners won’t have to post awkward signs asking library patrons not to park on their property, or even worse having patrons’ cars towed. (Each time a business has a car towed or confronts a library patron, they should plan on losing about 20 customers for life thanks to the tell-a-friend effect)

When we built the city center parking garage in 2003, it cost Renton taxpayers about $18,000 per parking spot. We did this to get transit users and employees cars out of the way, so that businesses had ample parking for their customers. At 18,000 dollars per parking spot, Renton is providing an additional gift worth 1.2 million dollars to KCLS if we turn over sixty-five parking spots for free in this high-density area (in either the garage or the street). This should be booked against the cost of the Piazza library, driving its cost up from 9.3 million to 10.5 million dollars, exceeding the 10.1 million dollar cost to remodel the Cedar River Library.
With Cedar River library parking north and south of the river, and generous overflow at the City’s 200 Mill Building (pictured above) and the east side of liberty park, library patrons never have any issues with parking at the present site.

New Piazza library plan is far from complete, and could create a 25 million dollar hole in Renton’s budget over the next ten years

New Piazza library plan is far from complete, and could create a 25 million dollar hole in Renton’s budget over the next ten years

(This journal entry is part of a series relative to an upcoming Aug 7 vote on Renton libraries. To see my earlier entries for more background on this topic click here )

The proposed Piazza Park library (depicted artistically above) could create a twenty-five million dollar deficit in Renton’s budget over the next ten years by requiring us to build and operate an environmental interpretive facility that we have no money for.

The larger existing Cedar River Library (above) could be brought up to “brand new” KCLS standards with money already bonded plus a one-time expenditure of $800,000. This $800,000 (which equates to just 8 weeks of our tax payments to KCLS) could come from either KCLS in recognition that our libraries are serving many non-Renton residents, from sale of the old highlands library property since the Highlands library is being relocated, or by making the libraries a little less fancy.

Many Renton citizens vividly remember the financial picture that brought us to the KCLS-annexation election two years ago. With the on-going recession and revenue cut-backs, the city could barely afford to keep spending the 1.8 million dollars a year to keep the library open. (Click here for the story in the Renton Reporter). As explained in the Renton Reporter story, when we lost staff we could not afford to replace them, and the buildings were falling into disrepair. With this sad story, the city set the stage for an extremely close election to annex to KCLS. Now that the annexation is complete, Renton taxpayers are funding KCLS with five million dollars a year, a 280% increase over the 1.8 million dollars reported as the 2008 library budget. In addition, the City still collects the 1.8 million dollars per year from Renton taxpayers (that we said we could barely afford), and we have dedicated it to pay off bonds $19,000,000 dollars in bonds to upgrade the library buildings themselves. And by the way, the economy is still bad, and we are still having to cut costs in the City of Renton.

The $19,000,000 we secured in bond money will build us an all-new much larger highlands library (which serves many non-renton KCLS residents who live east of the City of Renton), but falls about $800,000 short of doing the desired just-like-new remodel of the Cedar River library “to the modern KCLS standards.” This $800,000 one-time deficit could easily be bridged by KCLS contributing this amount, which is about eight weeks worth of the taxes they collect from us; this would be a small contribution considering Renton taxpayers are paying nine million dollars to triple the size of the highlands library in part to serve out-of-city residents better. As an alternative, we could cut back the fanciness of the Cedar River Library remodel and get it done without a KCLS contribution.

The Renton Highlands library will move to an all-new building (depicted above) that is triple-the-size on Sunset Avenue/ Highway 900, so that it can more easily accommodate both Renton and non-Renton (east-plateau) KCLS users. Renton residents alone are paying the entire nine-million dollars in cost for this new building.

But just when Renton taxpayers might assume they have paid more than enough to fix the library problem, advocates of the “New Piazza Library” are ready to add countless millions of dollars of additional costs to Renton’s already over-stressed budget– they want to move the downtown library to a new location with no concern about finding the money to either operate or remove the iconic library building over the Cedar River. Piazza library advocates are generally repeating a simplistic message– that the Cedar river building can be repurposed as an environmental interpretive center. But no one knows how much this would cost, or what it would take annually to operate, or where the money would possibly come from. If we don’t use our library bond to renovate it, then there is no money to pay for the new roof it needs, the heating and plumbing issues it has, or any of the renovations required to make it an environmental interpretive center. And the 1.8 million we were using to heat it and staff it when it was a city of Renton library is now dedicated to paying off bonds, and the five million a year we give to KCLS has maxed out our property tax collection capability. If we can not find the money to operate this building and we abandon it, we face the very real possibilities that federal or state agencies could force us to remove it. This cost would also be in the millions of dollars, and would either cut Liberty Park off from parking on the other side of the river, or require that we replaced the library with a new bridge for millions of dollars more. Any way you deal with the unused building, you are looking at millions of dollars of unbudgeted costs.

In the face of all these unknown costs, Councilmembers Greg Taylor, Marcie Palmer, and I felt that we should hold off making any changes to the downtown library until we had a complete plan. The pre-annexation agreement with King County Library System sets no required timeline for these renovations, and no one could expect us to go forward with a renovation without a complete plan and a means to pay for it . However, the three of us were outvoted, and the split-council put the incomplete Piazza Library plan in work.

Concerned citizens circulated petitions so that Renton voters could have the final word on this decision. This was good news, but unfortunately voters have a shortage of information (since the Piazza Library plan is still incomplete) and there are parties that seem to have no qualms about glossing over this fact. For instance, KCLS prefers the Piazza library idea, largely because it is smaller and therefore more efficient to run (less staff and fewer books on site). As far as I can tell –with a still unfulfilled Freedom of Information Request in the pipeline– KCLS is about ready to send out a mailing at taxpayer expense to tell every Renton resident about the economies that the library district will enjoy with this new building WITHOUT reminding residents that they will be on the hook for new costs from the City of Renton. Meanwhile, some Renton business owners are in favor of the Piazza library plan because they like the impact of city investment in this part of town, and they probably assume taxpayers will find some way to deal with the costs at the old library site. These business owners are starting to broadcast this revitalization message, while glossing over the fact that the proposal is short by millions and millions of dollars.

I’ve tried to find out what I can about the anticipated costs of an environmental interpretive center. What I have found is that modest ones cost about the same as libraries. For instance, here is some information about a built-from-scratch environmental Center in Pittsburgh. It costs about the same per square foot as a KCLS library. Closer to home, Seward Park now hosts a smaller fairly new environmental center (click here for info) that was accomplished for two million dollars in a historic park building– but the building is much smaller than Renton’s, it started out in fundamentally good condition, and did not need the three-million dollars in earthquake retrofitting that Renton’s building would require. These comparisons would suggest a price range of five to ten million dollars to remodel Renton’s Cedar River building into an environmental interpretive center.

Looked at another way, the Robinson Company prepared an itemized report of the upgrades that are desired to turn the Cedar River Library into a modern building for KCLS, and came up with 10.1 million dollars. When I look at this report, item for item, almost all of the features look applicable in an environmental interpretive center. For instance, the building needs a new roof for about a half million dollars, new plumbing and electrical for about a half million each, etc. Things like bathrooms upgraded to ADA standards would be the same, etc. The part that is different between an environmental center and a library would be the final outfitting and furnishings, and these are not in the Robinson Company estimate because they are KCLS responsibility. Hence, the ten million dollar figure might be about right, or perhaps even on the low side, to outfit an environmental interpretive center.

Note that this assumes a fairly modest environmental interpretive center that lacks some of the features that were discussed/pictured in a Renton library-repurposing committee report prepared last spring. For instance, the committee report includes the possibility of a “green roof,” which would be a growing carpet of grass or other plantings to absorb and transpire roof rain water–certainly a neat feature on such a building. But such a feature is also very heavy, weighing up to 25 pounds per square foot for all the drainage gravel, soil, sod, and membrane layers, and the extra structural requirements combined with the complexity could add significant additional cost to the building beyond the rubber membrane roof that we would use on the library. As another example, a photo on page 15 of the report seemingly depicts a large aquarium in the facility– and perhaps we would want amphibians, insects and other animal life. This type of vision for the building is both beautiful and costly. From personal experience, last year I visited an excellent example of such a building in San Fransisco. The city has remodeled their historic Academy of Science Building into a modern environmental interpretive center, complete with a green roof–along with aquariums, insects, reptiles, amphibians, taxidermy-preserved mammals and many, many displays. The building is about 18 times larger than Renton’s library, and the renovations cost came in at about 500,000,000 dollars (half a billion dollars). At this level of cost/quality/complexity, outfitting a building the size of Renton’s Cedar River building would cost 28 million dollars.

Again, I think ten million dollars would be modest to renovate our Cedar River building into a environmental interpretive center.

With regard to staffing and maintaining it, I don’t see how it would be much less expensive to maintain than the library was, and in fact it could cost more if it included significant living displays. In 2008 our total library budget was about 1.8 million, which included operating the 4000 square foot highlands library. I would guess that in 2013, if we wanted to field a high quality environmental interpretive facility, and we looked for every economy possible, we could possibly operate it for 1.5 million. This amount of money would roughly cover about 14 full-time equivalent staff (which would be two shifts of seven to staff the building and manage exhibits for 70 hours per week, minus vacations, sick leave, training etc), keep the exhibits fresh, and provide about a few-hundred-thousand a year for janitorial service, utilities, maintenance, insurance, and and other miscellaneous expenses. This budget would assume that we could recruit volunteers to interact one-on-one with visitors where we have interactive displays.

So in summary, we would need about 10 million dollars capital plus 1.5 million a year indefinitely to turn our Cedar River Library building into an environmental interpretive center, and we do not have this money or any plan to get it. Without the money, the building will likely go dark if the library moves out, and could be considered abandoned and we could get increasing federal and state pressure to remove it. If we were forced to remove the building, that would require millions of dollars more because we are demolishing over a river with endangered salmon, and because we would probably need to put a bridge back in place of the library. KCLS leadership never mentions the repurposing or demolishing of the existing library in any of their information, as they will not help us with this expense. Renton businesses in favor of the library move have also left this out of their literature.

Fortunately, the voters pamphlet addresses this issue, but the word count was limited– so if you know people looking for additional information please send them to this blog.

And no matter how you feel about this issue, please be sure to vote on August 7th. A large voter turn-out will assure that we are all in this together, whatever the outcome of the vote.

Size comparison of library sites

Size comparison of library sites

Citizens for Cedar River Library have raised the issue of physical library space and proximity to a park as major reasons to maintain the existing library site when we update our downtown library.

This issue can be easily understood simply by looking at two same-scale aerial photos of the two completing sites.

Existing Cedar River Site (above): the library site over the river was approved by voters of Renton in 1964 after three previous library replacement proposals at other sites were rejected. The large building footprint, generous dedicated parking, and proximity to the park are apparent in the picture.

West-of-the-Piazza/former Big-5 site (above): while the former Big 5 building will be replaced with another one-story building, this photo (which is the same scale as the one above) shows that the building could never have the proportions of the Cedar River Library. Note that the two buildings immediately west (left) of the Big 5 building are privately owned and the city does not have plans (or funds) to purchase them for library construction. In addition, the diagonal swath of land north (above) the Big 5 building contains a 5-foot diameter Seattle water pipeline, and can not be built upon.

The building proposed for the Big 5 site is therefore restricted to 15,000 square feet. This compares to the 22,500 square foot building over the river (which also has city-owned land around it for expansion if it is ever required.)

Citizens recognized the siting challenge in 1964, when they wanted to replace the 50-year-old Carnegie library but could not find a suitable location after three election tries. Finally, the Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters got together to conceive and promote the unique solution of the over-the-river library in liberty park. See below for more details.


The KCLS website hosts a PDF of the HISTORY OF THE RENTON LIBRARY, as compiled by the Renton History Museum. It states in part:

“As early as the 1930s, Renton began to outgrow its library; with the explosion of Renton’s
population during the war years, the Carnegie Library was bursting at the seams. A study
conducted by the Washington State Library found that the city’s population had increased by
257 percent between 1940 and 1950. The library built for 8,000 books now held 68,000. In
1944 the King County library established a branch in the Renton Highlands to serve the new
residents of wartime housing there; on January 1, 1947, the Highlands branch became part of
the Renton Public Library. The addition of the Highlands branch further strained the library’s
resources, so much so that the Library Board briefly considered closing that branch for lack of
resources. As early as 1947, the Library Board began discussing affiliation with the county
library system as one solution to the lack of funds, a question that they raised repeatedly
during their meetings in the 1950s.

Nevertheless, cautious voters defeated three bond issues before a $150,000 bond issue was
passed in November 1964. As with the Carnegie Library, two factors were uppermost in the
minds of voters: cost and building site. A survey indicated that many Renton residents
preferred a site closer to downtown businesses and pedestrian traffic, but the City Council
insisted that only city-owned sites, though few in number, could be considered. The successful
bond issue was championed by the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce and the League of
Women Voters and had at its center the vision of a civic complex on the Cedar River. This
vision made all the difference. Renton residents were captivated by the prize-winning design
for a new library that would straddle the river, near a new City Hall, senior center, community
auditorium, and park grounds.”

Library location ballot wording and voters pamphlet statements are complete

Library location ballot wording and voters pamphlet statements are complete

Proponents for both library locations have now submitted their voters pamphlet statements and rebuttal statements to the King County Elections Department in preparation for the Aug 7, 2012 election.

While it is possible that the Elections Department could make some final edits, the complete ballot and voters pamphlet statements will basically read as follows:



After Renton voters chose to join King County Library System (KCLS), Renton contracted with KCLS to provide a state of the art library in downtown Renton. The library will be located at EITHER the existing library location over the Cedar River (100 Mill Ave. South), OR West of the Renton Piazza (508 South 3rd Street). If the Piazza site is chosen, Renton will keep the existing library building for alternative public use in the future.

Which location should be the site of the downtown library?

Over the Cedar River?_____ OR West of the Piazza?_______


Explanatory Statement:

In 2010, Renton citizens voted to annex to the King County Library System (KCLS). The annexation required Renton to fund and construct two new state of the art libraries to replace Renton’s two existing libraries. Initially, the city proposed to locate the new downtown library at the site of the old Big 5 store west of the downtown Piazza and purchased that land. Since then, the Renton City Council decided to conduct a popular vote regarding the location of the new library in downtown. Voters are being asked to choose the location for the new downtown library construction. There are two locations under consideration: The existing library over the Cedar River (100 Mill Ave. So.), and the site West of the Piazza (508 South Third Street). The city has projected it will cost $10,100,000 to substantially renovate the existing Cedar River library to state of the art library standards. There may be an additional $400,000 cost for temporary relocation of the library during that construction. The combined amount exceeds the current budget for the downtown library development. The proposed new downtown location west of the Piazza is projected to cost, including land acquisition, $9,300,000. This is the amount budgeted. If voters choose the site west of the Piazza, the existing library bUilding will be repurposed for future alternative public use. If the Cedar River location is chosen, the site west of the Piazza would be repurposed or sold. Repurposing of either location will require additional undetermined funding.

Statement in favor of “Over the Cedar River”

Suggestions that the Cedar River location would exceed the budget are misleading. Two clauses in the agreement with KCLS allow for changes to the project/design to keep within budget. A 22,500 sq/ft State-of-the-Art library on Cedar River will be 50% larger than the 15,000 sq/ft proposal at the other location and cost 32.9% less per sq/ft. Renovating Cedar River Library amounts to a family-sized bargain for taxpayers, and good stewardship of revenue. The “real cost” of building a SMALLER library at the other location, rather than keeping and renovating Cedar River Library, would include millions of unbudgeted tax dollars to repurpose the vacated Cedar River Library for “alternate use.” That repurposing could double our cost. A renovated flagship KCLS library over the Cedar River at Liberty Park will continue to be a cornerstone tying our community together. With ample dedicated off-street parking, family-friendly open spaces free of traffic, and many surrounding recreational opportunities, there really is no better place. Consider the real costs. The Cedar River Library will be “state-of-the-art”, be 50% BIGGER, be CHEAPER costing 32.9% less per sq/ft and will eliminate the need to repurpose a vacated city property at future taxpayer expense. Vote Cedar River Library.

Statement in favor of ” West of the Piazza”

Renton’s new library location next to the Piazza provides Renton great opportunities for several reasons. A new light-filled state of the art library with great visibility, onsite parking, centrally located in the downtown business district immediately extends the downtown hub adjacent to the Piazza and the Pavilion. This new library will provide expanded services to our citizens while lowering building and operating costs. This also allows the existing library building over the river to be re-purposed as an environmental center, giving Renton two fantastic assets for just slightly more than the cost of one extensive remodel to the existing library. Being centrally located the new library would open onto the Farmers Market, downtown festivals, car shows, Renton Art Walk and other great community events. Patrons can easily walk to and take advantage of Renton’s nearby downtown businesses. The library also becomes a key component to redevelopment of the downtown.
The clear choice for the new library providing the highest level of service with minimal investment is the new library location west of the Piazza Park. Please vote for the Piazza Park Library that will serve our community and future generations for the next 50 years.

Rebuttal to statement in favor of “Over the Cedar River”:

The West Piazza Library (15,000 Feet) and existing library (22,500 Feet) total 37,000 feet for little more than the costly, complex remodel of the old building, likely subject to cost overruns. Costs to repurpose for a non-library use are significantly less. This is nearly TWICE as much area and avoids a minimum two year closure. The library professionals of KCLS have designed an exceptional Piazza library. Vote for the right location: West of Piazza Park.

Rebuttal to statement in favor of “West of the Piazza”

Don’t be misled again. Libraries don’t drive commerce. Downtown revitalization deserves effective solutions. Moving our library isn’t the answer. The opposition wants you to believe you can have two buildings for one price, but it’s impossible. The city doesn’t have, $5-10 million to repurpose the existing library as an environmental center, nor millions more each year for operating costs. Moving the library would mean more taxes and less library. Vote for the Cedar River Library.

Remodeling of Cedar River Library was presented by city as an option before and after KCLS annexation election

Remodeling of Cedar River Library was presented by city as an option before and after KCLS annexation election

In my previous blog entry about the library, I explored the often-repeated myth that voters in the February 2010 KCLS annexation election knowingly voted to move the downtown library. In that blog entry, I covered the fact that the Renton Reporter, our only local newspaper at the time of the election, never ran a single story that indicated that a vote for KCLS was a vote to move the library– and in fact they implied the opposite in one of their editorials a week before the election.

In this blog entry, I simply want to document that the city information to the public has always presented the remodeling of the Cedar River Library as a viable option for meeting the needs of KCLS. Consider this presentation to the City Council Committee of the Whole in May 2011, fifteen months after the KCLS annexation election. Clearly, the city was continuing to consider the Cedar River location viable. KCLS representatives even participated in the presentation of these site options at the May 2011 council meeting.

Here is an excerpt:

Note that the first site option for the downtown library is the “Existing Library.” Since the city and KCLS were obviously still discussing site options fifteen months AFTER the KCLS election, and the existing site was on the list of options, there is simply no way that anyone can support a claim that voters knew they were choosing to move the downtown library when they cast a vote to join KCLS. No one could have “known” such a thing, because the council had not made the decision.

(The council, not the voting citizens, made the decision on the proposed library location in a 4-to-3 split vote, on June 21 2011–16 months after the KCLS annexation election)

I’ll be blogging regularly to ensure readers get accurate, complete information about the Aug 7 Library election

I’ll be blogging regularly to ensure readers get accurate, complete information about the Aug 7 Library election

All of us in city leadership roles, including council members, the mayor, city staff, chamber of commerce staff, partner jurisdictions, and newspaper editors share a common goal to keep our city prospering and our citizens working together. This is as true with our libraries as with anything else.

Often it works best to put controversial decisions behind us quickly, and move on. This approach can minimize times of conflict and keep things moving forward. This works well when everyone agrees that we reviewed all the information before we made a decision.

But powering ahead will not work when large groups of decision-makers feel they have not been given relevant information, or not consulted at all. This is why we find ourselves driving up on an August 7 library election. This is also why it is desperately important for citizens to have access to accurate, complete information before voting.

In yesterday’s Renton Reporter, the editor offered to help provide this information, and “to clear up any half-truths and untruths” regarding the library. I commend the editor for this, but I also issue him the challenge to truly investigate the issues.

The Renton Reporter has not had a perfect track record informing voters about this issue. For instance, three recent Renton Reporter editorials have claimed that voters have already made the informed decision to relocate the downtown library. Here are some quotes: (March 22, 2012) ” majority rules…the city administration was then obligated, legally, to carry out the public’s wishes and negotiate… the details of building two new libraries in new locations.”; (April 6, 2012) “We would argue that the public’s voice was heard two years ago, when a majority of voters decided to annex to KCLS, knowing that new libraries were on the horizon.“; (April 19, 2012) “The Renton Reporter has argued that the City of Renton and the King County Library System had already signed a contract to build a new library somewhere other than over the Cedar River. The plan was clear in election literature and in all the documents approved by the City Council”

But with all these bold (and controversial) assertions that voters two years ago clearly knew they were voting to close the Cedar River Library, had the Renton Reporter ever actually informed voters that a vote for KCLS was a vote for closing Cedar River library in 2010? No. The Reporter instead informed the public there might be a single new library, in the highlands, that the public would get to vote on. Here is an excerpt from the Renton Reporter editorial of January 27, 2010 a week prior to the KCLS annexation: “Renton residents will have some local control over whether the city builds a new library, perhaps in the Highlands, if and when a levy to do so is placed on the ballot. That’s a glimmer of local control, although the building would belong to KCLS.” Beyond this editorial, there were four special reports on the KCLS annexation issue, which you can find linked here; in these reports, the Renton Reporter never once mentioned that the Cedar River Library would be subject to closure with annexation to KCLS. Yet this possibility of closure is obviously an issue of paramount importance to thousands of trusting citizens.

In fairness to the Renton Reporter, I don’t think they knew anything different at the time. But this is an example of where the public needs to see some digging and investigative reporting before they make their decision in the upcoming August 7, 2012 election.

The last 20 percent of the city’s explanatory statement for the August 7 ballot is dedicated to re-purposing issues that go along with the library choices. These (admittedly incomplete) plans require “additional undetermined funding”. If the Piazza library site is chosen, this additional undetermined funding would be three to ten million dollars of one-time money, plus another million or two annually, for maintenance and operation of the Cedar River library building. The newspaper owes it to the readers to make an effort to scope this funding, and not simply refer to the Piazza site as the least expensive one.

As a council member, I am glad this is going to the voters for a decision, and I am happy to implement either location choice. While I prefer the Cedar River Library, I can see why some others like the Piazza location. My real concern is that everyone has the information they need for an informed choice and that they understand what they are signing up for. With less than 90 days before the ballots must be returned, there is no time to lose in terms of getting information out there.

For this reason, I’m going to post some blogs on this topic with the facts as I personally know them, and I’ll ask readers to give them peer review by affirming or challenging them in my comment section. I will be sharing opinions too, and trying to remain disciplined about keeping facts and opinions separated– please feel free to agree or disagree with these opinions. As long as there is a public airing of all the issues, I’ll be pleased with the election outcome. I am confident that this is a feeling city-wide.

Please let me know if there are any specific topics you would like to see covered.