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SAN DIEGO COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Slow Down, Mayor

San Diego needs a new central library; the current one is a disgrace. On that point, there’s agreement. There’s less agreement on where to put it.

Mayor Maureen O’Connor, to her credit, has shown leadership in trying to build momentum for this important and overdue project. Her proposal for a central library on Port District property along the San Diego harbor front would eliminate substantial land costs.

Then San Diegans would have to come up with an estimated $70 million in building costs, and eventually, $2 million to $3 million a year to operate the bigger, better-equipped library. Even with generous donors, a bond measure and a tax increase probably would be required.

Perhaps by painting a bold enough and enticing enough dream, O’Connor can persuade private donors and bring the electorate along. She puts her uphill odds in the same category as the Russian arts festival, the defeated San Diego Gas & Electric-Southern California Edison merger and voluntary water conservation.

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However, this is a much longer-range goal than those endeavors. And as the mayor pleads her case today before the Port District commissioners, she has less than one year left in office. That means the new library must be a dream shared by the voters. But will voters give their support if they don’t like the site? A survey last year put that backing in doubt. There was little support for a new library downtown. Mission Valley was the preferred choice.

Virtually all major cities that have recently built central libraries--or are building them--have chosen downtown sites. Apparently successfully.

Perhaps San Diego would be in the same mold. But a lot rides on that “if.” The city needs a new library, and Lane Field would be an inspired location. We certainly hope the Port District does nothing to foreclose that option.

But without better public support for a downtown location--which must start by including the public in the site selection process--approval by the San Diego Unified Port District would be premature.

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