Opinion: An idea for billionaire John Arrillaga


Daily Post Editor

You could call this a tale of two cities. Or two cities’ libraries.

Menlo Park already has a nice downtown library at 800 Alma St. But billionaire John Arrillaga has offered $35 million for a new downtown library. The expansion would increase the amount of room in the library from the current 33,000 square feet to 44,000 square feet at a total cost of around $55 million.

You could say that Menlo Park has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to its library. It doesn’t need a new library, but it has been offered a substantial amount of money toward the construction of a new one anyway.

Since the city has to come up with $20 million to complete the funding for a new library, there’s been some grumbling about whether a new library is necessary and whether the funds could be better spent on other things.

Then consider East Palo Alto’s little library, just three miles away.

A new report by a consultant says that East Palo Alto, with its growing population, desperately needs a new library.

Population growth

The Association of Bay Area Governments projects EPA’s population, now at 29,413, will grow to 35,000 by 2040.

The current library, squeezed into the main floor of City Hall at 2145 University Ave., is 7,680 square feet. The consultant says that based on a survey of community needs and a comparison of libraries in similar-sized towns, East Palo Alto should have a library of between 21,000 and 27,000 square feet.

The consultant found:

• The current library is at the bottom of the list compared to similar-sized communities when considering its size and the number of people it serves. More than 140,000 people visit the EPA library every year and 62% of the city’s residents have a library card.



• The current library lacks a teen area, though there are places for tutoring.

• The children’s area — which is important in EPA because of the growing number of young people there — is in a cramped 1,622-square-foot section of the library that accommodates about 35 kids. “The space is tight, with no room for stroller parking or overflow crowds,” the consultant writes. “Staff has done an admirable job with cheerful decorations and a few interactive play pieces for toddlers. But other than a few tables, there is not enough room for the kinds of amenities seen at many neighboring children’s libraries, such as portals, toys and other play elements, maker areas for crafts or a dedicated storytime room.”

• “Given the current configuration — a single room with no partitions or ceiling differentiation — noise from the tutoring and children’s areas pervades the entire space, and is a major source of complaints.”



• The library is wedged into a 1960s “brutalist” style office building and there’s little natural lighting inside. During public hearings on the library, “many people asked for more light and views, not surprising given that the existing windows are darkly tinted and mostly situated high on the wall,” the consultant’s report said. “Other requests went further, with suggestions for patios, courtyards or even a community garden.”

A new library

The report’s conclusion is that East Palo Alto seriously needs a new library.

The report didn’t mention this, but the Belle Haven neighborhood needs a library too. Its current location is also cramped and unable to meet the needs of a growing community.

What if John Arrillaga were to offer that $35 million to East Palo Alto instead of Menlo Park? And maybe the city could find a site that would be convenient for both residents of EPA and the Belle Haven?

Arrillaga would get his name on a library, and residents east of Highway 101 would get the library they deserve.


Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].