Compared to San Diego's never-ending quest for a new main library, the Three Stooges looks like high drama. City officials are apparently huddling to figure out what hit the fan in regards to its application for $20 million in state grant funds to help finance a replacement for the fatigued central library downtown.
The official word from the state's Office of Library Construction-charged with weeding through the applications seeking a piece of the $150 million in Proposition 14 bond money set aside this year for library projects-is that the main library application contained a fatal flaw: missing documentation that the project had passed muster with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
The act, in essence, is intended to ensure that projects follow all the guidelines as set forth by a variety of state agencies that have an interest in how a project is going to alter its particular surroundings.
Richard Hall, who manages California's Library Bond Act of 2000, says he was as surprised as anyone that the city had screwed up the application. “There was no evidence that the main library's CEQA documentation had been submitted for the required state clearinghouse review process,” he explains. “We went so far as to check with the clearinghouse and its database, and it confirmed that no documentation had been submitted.”
Now while grant writing is no piece of chocolate cake, it isn't brain surgery either. And the state's library construction Web site spells out the requirements for applicants, including CEQA matters.
Hall attempts diplomacy: “It's not uncommon for jurisdictions to have CEQA problems.” But he quickly notes that “we certainly emphasized the point as well in about 20 workshops we held throughout the state, including several in the San Diego area.”
Lack of experience can't be the culprit, particularly in terms of the city's consultant on the grant proposal, Richard Blackman, a partner in the well-entrenched architectural firm of Wheeler Wimer & Blackman. He just wrapped up his project-manager post at the recently opened branch library in Mission Valley next to IKEA.
Blackman, who was paid $116,000 by the city to orchestrate the main library grant application and two others (a $5.25 million request for a Logan Heights branch still lives, while a $9.5 million plea for San Ysidro also tanked), has kept mum about the foul-up, refusing to return several calls.
Rob Quigley, the out-front architect on the new domed main library planned for the downtown block bounded by K and L streets and 11th and 12th avenues, calls news of the state rejection “devastating.” He says he knows and respects Blackman and his firm-they worked together on the Balboa Park Activity Center project-and that Blackman knows the grant-writing game.
“My understanding is that's why they hired these consultants,” says Quigley, who has seen his dream of a new main library bounce from four different sites over nearly seven years. He speculates that Blackman may have just run out of time-a CEQA review can run 45 days. “This came along very late in the life of a library, this whole possibility of a grant. And even then, no one ever though that it was money in the bank.”
Could there be environmental problems with the site that the city doesn't want aired in public? Quigley says no, but he does say he would have preferred a site across 12th Avenue. “It turns out that on the east side of 12th there are earthquake faults everywhere,” he adds, seemingly unconcerned by the proximity to his site. “They're not major faults, but it's sort of like a spider-web of small faults that run all through there. The city didn't own that property anyway.”
No doubt there will be a whole lotta shakin' goin' on at City Hall when the City Council returns from vacation next week