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The idea of building a new downtown library has been teetering on the brink of fiction and non-fiction for over a decade. But during recent months, dwindling fundraising efforts, a ballooning city deficit, increasing project costs, and concerns from the independent budget analyst’s office have pushed the project toward the realm of make-believe.

But, after San Diego Unified School District committed late last month to lease two upper floors for $20 million over the next 40 years for a charter school, the fairy-tale downtown library fluttered its wings a bit closer to reality.

During the Tuesday, July 7, meeting of the San Diego City Council, as some councilmembers expressed their belief that the project should remain a fantasy, others praised the plan, calling it “exciting” and “visionary.”

Councilmember Donna Frye was one of those councilmembers concerned about the potential cost of the project. “There was a projection that was provided -- approximately a $9.1 million increase due to changes in the plan and inflation,” said Frye to city staff. “Does the actual cost include the $9.1 million increase that is being projected?”

“No, it does not include that…” responded the city employee from the city’s real estate assets department.

“Back in 2003, it was estimated that the initial startup expenses for salaries and benefits would be $2.08 million. That is now $5.8 million, is that correct?”

“We looked at…”

“Is that correct? I’m sorry, but I have limited time. Is that correct?” prodded Frye.

“Correct…”

“On the facilities and cost, back in 2003…$1.6 million for initial startup costs. Those have been increased to $3.7 million and some change, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“The equipment and supplies cost was about $182,000. It has now gone up to $885,000. Is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“And again, we’re just looking at the initial startup expenses,” concluded Frye. “Sort of the grand total of that was $5.1 million total…that has now jumped to $13 million, approximately. Is that correct?”

In addition to Frye’s interrogation, both District 1 councilmember Sherri Lightner and District 5 councilmember Carl DeMaio echoed Frye’s concerns over the actual cost, as well as adding in doubts about parking.

Yet, despite the concerns from the three councilmembers and the advice from the independent budget analyst, the five other representatives expressed their support for a new central library.

“I am really excited about this project,” started councilmember Tony Young. “When it comes to getting major projects done, man, I am so glad that there are people in this city that have the vision to look forward and look for big ideas.”

Shortly after council comment, the council voted five to three to proceed with formalizing the letter of intent with the school district and begin acquiring bids for the project.

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