Saturday morning I went to the Dungan Friends of the Library book sale. I was warmly greeted by branch manager Susan Sassone and longtime friends Art and Mary Ellen Goddard. If I have one compulsive behavior, it’s going to library book sales. I would confess that, as an avid book collector, a good majority of my acquisitions were made at these events, especially at the Mesa Verde Library. And I left last week’s sale a satisfied customer.
It was my former Assistant Treasurer, Dan Hempel, that kept emphasizing that “the trend is your friend.” Wristwatch sales are down because young people rely on their cell phones to get the time of day. Many books are now sold electronically. If you are looking for a community living room, you’ll find it at any corner coffee shop. Capital campaigns are not an easy drill and the Costa Mesa area has a number of competing projects: the Segerstrom Center for the Arts (which has an active support effort); the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation is in an active campaign, and Explorocean (the Newport Beach Nautical Museum) has a great project it is pursuing. These organizations have assembled wonderful Boards with well-heeled and well-connected individuals. Making the task even tougher for the Dungan and Mesa Verde Friends is that the neighboring Newport Beach Public Library has an active Foundation.
Unlike Newport Beach, which operates its own libraries, Costa Mesa is a member of the County’s library system. Although this system provides a consistent revenue base for each library in the system, revenues are allocated on a system-wide basis. Consequently, even if Costa Mesa built a new facility, the ongoing maintenance funding would be a difficult annual effort. The advantage of being a member of the County’s system is access to more books and resources. One of the first studies prepared by the Performance Audit Department was a review of the funding allocation (see http://ocgov.com/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=10740). It recommended revisiting the “Cost-Revenue Equity Allocation” formula, which attempts to allocate the available resources as fairly as possible. The city of Costa Mesa is fortunate to have three libraries. At the moment, however, it just so happens that one is moving to a new location and another (Dungan) is having its roof repaired.
After the Friends of the Library sale, I went across the street to observe the Lestonnac Free Medical Clinic at the Lighthouse Church on Anaheim Avenue. My extreme gratitude to Ed Gerber, the Executive Director of Lestonnac, for the personal tour and for the amazing community services that he and his organization provide.
BONUS: A recent SoCal PBS production of “Real Orange” started with a fun discussion on my current listening tour. It was posted on YouTube by the OC Politics Blog and I’m providing the link for your listening pleasure. Please note that at this time I am not a candidate for any office.
Also, please allow me to wish you a reflective Good Friday and Easter Sunday weekend.
Why does Costa Mesa have such little library space?
By MIKE REICHER
COSTA MESA – This city’s 111,000 residents could have only one place to celebrate National Library Week next month: the cramped Mesa Verde Branch Library.
While the county repairs the city’s other main branch, and relocates a small outpost, Mesa Verde will be the city’s only open library. At 6,500 square feet, it’s about the size of two large homes.
Costa Mesa residents have among the lowest amount of library space per capita in the state, even with all three branches operating. Some say that is a glaring hole in the city’s civic fabric and cause for investing millions in a new library. Other say the digital revolution has rendered libraries obsolete and public funds would be better spent elsewhere.
"It’s really important to ask the community what they think the library is for," said Susan Parker, UCLA’s deputy university librarian, who recently oversaw a $100 million renovation.
With crumbling roof beams, a miniscule children’s area and crowded computer terminals, the Costa Mesa/Donald Dungan Library is sagging after nearly 30 years. Beginning Monday, construction crews will carefully replace six of 12 structural support beams and make some disability improvements, at a total cost of $270,000. The county, which operates Costa Mesa’s branches, expects to be finished by July 14.
"It will be nice," said branch manager Susan Sassone. "In an earthquake, we won’t run the other way anymore."
The split-level Mesa Verde branch also shows its age. Its brick walls, low popcorn ceiling and interior stairs (without elevators) have changed little since it was built in 1965.
Major capital projects, including new library branches, are typically funded by city, private and other sources. Led by resident Mary Ellen Goddard, Costa Mesa community groups have banded together over the last 15 years to advocate and raise funds for at least one new branch, but the campaigns haven’t gained much momentum. To date, the Costa Mesa Library Foundation has $45,000 saved for an ambitious new 50,000-square-foot central library, at a projected cost of $50 million.
"There’s not enough money, and there’s not enough space," said Goddard, a past president of the foundation.
People give different reasons for the minimal progress: the economy; a board of directors without enough moneyed, willing friends; a lack of support from the City Council; neighboring Newport Beach stealing patrons; and waning interest during the digital age.
"There are certainly trends, and you better figure out where those trends are going," said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, whose photo hangs on the wall of the Dungan branch. "Maybe some people are telling you libraries aren’t part of the future."
Foot traffic, though, is up among the county’s branches, said County Librarian Helen Fried. People are using libraries differently today than they did 50 years ago. The most popular parts of Costa Mesa’s branches are the children’s areas, computer terminals, community rooms and free Wi-Fi, library managers say. Circulation is also up.
"It’s the community’s living room," said Parker, from UCLA’s library. "The core of what we do hasn’t really changed at all. We make sure you have access to (information)."
Some want to study the city’s library needs; the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries asked the City Council in 2008 to commission a master plan.
"It’s a big question mark in my mind," said Councilman Steve Mensinger. "I’m old school in that I think you need books, but not everyone feels the same way."
At the Dungan branch on a recent weekday afternoon, plenty of people were flipping paper pages. Stephen Roach, 51, walked out with a book on comics.
"Everybody has their preference," Roach said. "In my opinion, it’s more healthy to read a book than stare at a screen. Plus, the books here are free."
Many of that library’s patrons are homeless or from families with low incomes who may not have a computer.
Homeless patrons have posed problems at the crowded library in recent years. In 2010, officials installed remote-controlled restroom locks after a child walked into the men’s room when a homeless man was disrobing, the branch librarian said. At the Dungan branch and a few others run by Orange County Public Libraries, officials hired security guards to keep watch.
Unlike in Costa Mesa, other library groups have successfully raised funds and expanded or built new branches. Tustin, Irvine and Laguna Niguel all completed multimillion dollar construction projects in the last five years. Newport Beach is close to opening a 17,000-square-foot expansion of its Central Library, at a cost of about $12 million.
Yet if it were its own library system, Costa Mesa would tie Santa Ana in the bottom six systems statewide for space per capita, according to a 2012 California State Library report.
Looking for alternatives to private or city funding, library advocates and city officials are now in preliminary talks with school district leaders.
"People obviously didn’t make the connection in a way that was important to them," Parker said of private donors. "A public school district might be the right partner."
How do you use the library?
"I haven’t been coming as much because I got an e-reader. But they have some titles you can’t get online. And, I always keep a book in my car." – Vickee Rebaldo, 58, Huntington Beach
"I am not a library user. I buy my own books and I don’t lend them to anybody." – Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach
"If I have a particular thing I have trouble locating, I just ask (the librarian)." – Thomas Larrance, 65, Costa Mesa
"This was my first time using the library. I needed to apply for unemployment and my computer is broken." – Ortencia Barajas, 45, Costa Mesa
Some people say the digital revolution has made library space obsolete. What do you think?
"Everybody has their preference. In my opinion, it’s more healthy to read a book than stare at a screen. Plus, the books here are free." – Stephen Roach, 51, Costa Mesa
"Libraries are changing. You can get what you want for a couple bucks on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble on a Kindle… I see libraries like watch companies. Kids aren’t going to buy watches when they can look at (their smart phones)." – Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach
"It’s a community. Some people are very isolated in their life. They can come in and they’re greeted, they can join a book club…" – Susan Sassone, Costa Mesa Donald Dungan Branch manager.
"This [digital] age has outrun what everybody knows of libraries… As they say in French, c’est la vie. Such is life." – Thomas Larrance, 65, Costa Mesa
Why do you think the Costa Mesa Library Foundation hasn’t been able to muster the support to build another library?
"There’s been no council members coming forward making the case that we’re out of books, out of space or why we need it. I’m happy to look at it… somebody needs to champion the issue. I have a lot of other things on my plate." – Steve Mensinger, Costa Mesa councilman
"The city gave the library board the land and then we had this economic crunch, so funding and raising money hasn’t been a priority. As we all know, there have been more important things." –Wendy Leece, Costa Mesa City councilwoman
"It takes a pretty savvy board that is connected with (big donors) in the county. I didn’t see a room full of connected people. They’re just good neighbors." – Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach
Contact the writer: 714-796-2254 or mreicher
Once monthly, KOCE’s (PBS SoCal) Real Orange news program runs a good panel discussion between two local liberals and two conservatives.
In this You Tube video (7:42) from Wednesday, Chris Mears, Mark Petracca, Rick Reiff and Michael Capaldi discuss Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach’s potential run for California Governor in 2014.
Petracca, a UCI Professor, said “his candidacy would be another log on the funeral pyre of Orange County aspirants to statewide office”. However, all four panelists were complementary of Moorlach’s public services record and resume.
Moorlach has announced only his interest in the contest so far (he is termed out in ’14), but the panel makes the point that the California GOP is otherwise so bereft of talent, he could have a chance at making the ballot.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
In 1993 I was a member of the Costa Mesa Historical Society Board of Directors, along with Mary Ellen Goddard, and submitted articles to the Daily Pilot to commemorate Costa Mesa’s fortieth anniversary year. My efforts weren’t going so well, but this submission was printed. It was titled “Alvin L. Pinkley: Call him, ‘Father of Costa Mesa.’” I had the honor of interviewing the Pinkleys when I had a local cable television program in the early 1990s.
In late 1933, when the population of Costa Mesa was barely more than 3,000, Alvin L. and Lucille Pinkley arrived in town. They purchased Fuller Pharmacy from H. R. Fuller, renamed it “Pink’s” Drug Store, and opened for business on October 13, 1933.
“Pink’s Drugs” was located on the east side of Newport Boulevard near Broadway. George Merrick was the original owner of the drug store, which was founded sometime in 1929. Merrick sold his store to H. R. Fuller around 1930.
On March 10, 1933, a severe earthquake struck Orange County. The epicenter was located about four miles southwest of Newport Beach due to a shift along the Inglewood Fault. It damaged nearly every store building in downtown Costa Mesa. Shortly thereafter, during the Great Depression, Al and Lucille Pinkley moved from San Bernardino and began their attempt at pursuing the American Dream. Their store, which would become a local landmark, operated until the late 1970s.
Al Pinkley was an involved, community-minded man. In 1946, with World War II behind it, the Lions Club demonstrated its community spirit by hosting the first Costa Mesa Fish Fry. One of the day’s highlights was a frog-jumping contest conducted by Al.
Once an opponent of incorporations of Costa Mesa in 1953, Pinkley was elected to its second City Council in 1954. The city’s population at that time was 16,752. By the time Al stepped down from the City Council in 1976, the population had grown to more than 78,000.
He served as an initial director on the Costa Mesa County Water District, which was formed on Jan. 1, 1960. He served as Costa Mesa’s Mayor three times – 1962-64, 1968-1970 and 1975-76.
“I would call him the Father of Costa Mesa,” reminisced former City Council member Orv Amburgey. “We used to hang out in his store and read the comic books from cover to cover. He let us do it because he knew we were in his store and not causing trouble. In fact, Lucy used to refer to us as ‘her kids.’”
Al Pinkley served an unparalleled 22 years on the Costa Mesa City Council. He integrated himself into the community. He has given Sunday tours of the Estancia for the Historical Society. Lucille was the first Chairman of the Old-Timers Picnics of recent days. Al has been a Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year (1976), among many other accolades, and Lucille was Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year in 1971.
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