Concerned Library Users did not want Berkeley to tear down the old South Branch because they and others considered it historically significant.
Concerned Library Users did not want Berkeley to tear down the old South Branch because they and others considered it historically significant. It was demolished and rebuilt. The settlement funds from a suit filed by the group will go towards other historic buildings.

Berkeley residents may soon see the fruits of a legal settlement between the city and a group that sued over plans to tear down and rebuild two branch libraries.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Wednesday that it will award $87,000 in grant money to historic places in South and West Berkeley. The money can be used for maintenance, physical improvements, and preservation of historic properties.

The Trust is encouraging “properties with a clear public benefit that are open to the public on at least a part-time basis,” to apply online by May 15 for grants ranging from $10,000 to $25,000.

The South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman
The new South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library opened in May 2013. Photo: Richard Friedman

Berkeley agreed in Sept. 2011 to pay $100,000 into a fund as part of a settlement with Concerned Library Users, a group concerned with historic preservation. In exchange, CLU agreed to dismiss its lawsuit. CLU had contended that Berkeley could not use bond monies raised from Measure FF to tear down the South or West library branches and rebuild them. CLU said that the language of the $26 million bond measure did not mention anything about demolition, but only about remodeling.

Berkeley officials settled the lawsuit, in part, to avoid delays in the renovation of its four branch libraries, City Attorney Zach Cowan said at the time. Berkeley had earlier agreed to repeal an ordinance that only required the libraries to get a use permit, rather than a variance, when remodeling the branches.

The city also paid $24,000 in legal fees to well-known preservation attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley.

The makeup of Concerned Library Users has always been somewhat mysterious. The only named plaintiff in the lawsuit was Judith Epstein, an Elmwood resident who also opposed the library’s use of electronic RFID devices on books. Epstein has participated in other lawsuits to stop projects in the past, most notably one against the city and the commercial realtor, John Gordon. She has also filed claims against City Councilman Darryl Moore and others who spoke out against the CLU lawsuit.

Brandt-Hawley told Berkeleyside in December 2010 that CLU was a vibrant group but had to keep a low profile because there was so much hostility against its members. At one point she said CLU had about 35 members.

“It is a group. It is not just Judith Epstein. It is a group of people who care a lot about the libraries. It is inappropriate to assume it is just one person.”

The Berkeley Public Library recently completed an overhaul of its four branch libraries. The North and Claremont branches were extensively upgraded. The South and West branches were torn down because they were too small and could not easily or economically be remodeled, according to library officials. Both of them were rebuilt.

Those applying for the grants must have non-profit status.

“The National Trust will accept the applications and evaluate viable applicants, focusing on historic significance of the property and the potential of the project to be a catalyst for further positive action to benefit other historic properties and the local Berkeley community,” said the press release announcing the grant program.

According to the release, “South Berkeley is defined as the area of Berkeley south of the centerline of Dwight Way between the centerlines of Telegraph Avenue and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. West Berkeley is defined as the area of Berkeley west of the centerline of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way south of the centerline of Cedar Street, and west of the centerline of Sacramento Street north of the centerline of Cedar Street.”

Go to this website for more information on eligibility and criteria. Applications are due May 15 and the review process generally takes about eight weeks, according to the website.

New $7.5 million Berkeley West Branch Library to open Saturday (12.12.13)
Berkeley Public Library South Branch: The opening (05.13.13)
Berkeley settles contentious library lawsuit (09.06.11)
$1 million for branch libraries; lawsuit pending (12.1.10)
Berkeley reaches partial settlement with library critics (12.15.10)
Debate on future of two city libraries sparks concerns (4.14.11)
Rally planned to bring attention to library lawsuit (4.25.11)
Berkelyans rally to move forward on library renovations (4.27.11)
Library architect apologizes to Berkeley (6.22.11)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...