O No! What do you do, sir?
“When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?”
The co-leader of the Yes on O ballot initiative campaign, Rick Longinotti, spoke this line to start his presentation at the City Council meeting on September 22. He was highlighting deficits in the city parking revenue fund…and saying that this change in finances meant the city could not finance the parking portion of the Library/Housing/Parking project in the near future. He was certain that this change in facts meant the city should change its direction on the project. If he were an expert in municipal finance and parking finance, this might have been taken more seriously as a key “change in facts.” However, the city officials that have expertise on this subject did not concur with Rick’s characterization of the meaning of this parking revenue fact.
Nonetheless, Rick was asking the city councilmembers to change their minds based on this change in one fact—a fact that professional people with real expertise said was not a significant change in terms of the city’s ability to finance the project.
Now I invite you to consider how well he and his teammates themselves follow the guidance he offered to the city council. (Later, I’ll answer the question in his quotation.)
Many years ago, Rick and his colleagues began an effort to stop a parking garage from being built on what is called “Lot 4” downtown. (It’s the parking lot where the Farmers’ Market gathers one day each week.) There was a time when that parking garage was envisioned by the City Public Works Department to be a stand-alone garage.
Then the facts of that initial proposal changed.
Here are some of the key facts that changed:
· A new library was included.
· Affordable housing was included at a modest level and then, later, expanded to 124 apartments.
· An affordable housing development team was contracted to advance the housing portion. Substantial funding ($7 million plus) was secured for the housing.
· The Farmers’ Market leadership indicated that they are very open to relocating to another site downtown and is working with the City to find the best situation. They indicated that they would like to determine their own future and not have another group decide something for them.
· The amount of parking in the project was cut in half. The remaining parking is tucked beneath and behind the library and housing. Now there is no net increase in parking downtown associated with this project.
· The number of bike parking spaces in the project now exceeds the number of car spaces.
· Citizen committees made up of library experts and community library advocates recommended the idea of incorporating the library into the project on Cedar Street and did not favor renovation of the old library.
· The library architect - the one who created designs for both the new library and the renovated library – stated unequivocally that the new library approach was superior in term of library service values, environmental sustainability values, and cost-efficiency values.
· Further work on the library design in the new building went from fairly nice to excellent; the library space grew in size; and the amount of public and meeting space grew substantially.
· A childcare center was incorporated into the project.
· The underground parking element of the project -- an element that Rick and his colleagues so heavily criticized in a recent report -- is no longer part of the project. And the financing cost estimate for the parking element of the project went down from $20 million to $15 million.
· A public rooftop open space with extensive greenery was included in the library design.
So, yeah, a lot of new facts. A lot of change.
If the original garage plan had simply added a single item from this list, it might appropriate to suggest there was just a minor or cosmetic change. I invite Rick and everyone else to look at that entire list and continue to dismiss these changes and the new facts about the project as anything less than very significant.
Now, back to Rick’s question: What do you do? Personally, I went from some interest in the project with mixed feelings about the need for a lot of parking (6 years ago) to genuine enthusiasm for this project. (When I was a councilmember, I voted to ask staff to explore the idea of a combined Library and parking building but was neutral on the project itself.) Then the facts changed and I changed my thinking about the project. I had embraced the concept of Rick’s challenge (even before he read it out) and changed my mind based on new facts.
My only remaining question is for Rick himself: Now that the facts have changed so much, what will you do, sir?