Tomorrow is a big day for District 6. After 13 years of waiting—the past three of which were spent staring down a fully-functional yet sadly dormant shell—we finally get to see the Bascom Library and Community Center open all of its doors to the public. For residents of Blackford, Buena Vista, Burbank, Del Monte, Shasta/Hanchett Park, Sherman Oaks, and Winchester, the 2pm ribbon cutting at 1000 South Bascom Ave. will be the culmination of a protracted struggle with City Hall, and the district’s own councilmember.
Recognizing a need to upgrade and expand library facilities in a rapidly growing city, San Jose voters approved the Branch Library Bond Measure in November 2000, dedicating $212 million over 10 years for construction of six new and 14 expanded branch libraries. Between January 2004 and February 2010, San Jose celebrated 15 grand openings and re-openings at branches from Alviso to Evergreen.
Meanwhile, the Bascom community watched anxiously as the finishing touches were put on the new gem of their neighborhood, only to see it mothballed for more than two years—along with three other completed branches and one yet to be built—due to a lack of funding for what bureaucrats call “O&M,” or operations and maintenance. (The community center had its “soft” launch in May of 2012, but the library has remained padlocked thanks to the lowest per-resident funding of almost any city department and a parcel tax that’s remained unchanged for nearly 20 years while the city has grown by more than 100,000 residents.)
All the while, dedicated neighborhood leaders stood up to City Hall and demanded the services they voted for—services they were promised. But when the dignitaries take their places behind the red ribbon tomorrow, you won’t see a single Bascom community member standing alongside them. Nor will you see anyone from the city’s arts department, though they’ll be standing next to a two-story bronze sculpture called Stratigraphy, assembled by artist Ron Baron from artifacts collected in and around the Bascom community.
You won’t see former Councilmember and current county Supervisor Ken Yeager, who—along with former District 1 Councilmember Linda LeZotte—made sure the Bascom center was included in the library bond measure plans. Nor will you see State Senator Jim Beall, who represented the Bascom community as a county supervisor. (That is, of course, unless they decide to drop by uninvited.)
Instead, you’ll see a dog-and-pony show featuring Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio. Despite the fact that the path to this celebration began more than seven years before he ran for City Council, Mr. Oliverio will make sure he’s front and center.
The visuals at tomorrow’s grand opening will stand in stark contrast to the groundbreaking ceremony in July 2008, when local residents stood alongside then-junior Councilmember Oliverio and dipped their shovels into the first pile of dirt.
That ceremony was a grassroots affair, with impassioned speeches in both English and Spanish—a testament to the diverse and underserved Bascom community. Over the next two years, as funds dwindled and things like libraries and parks began to be seen as afterthoughts instead of critical services, the councilmember paid less and less attention to neighborhoods in his district with traditionally low voter turnout in favor of his more affluent friends and neighbors in Willow Glen. And the Bascom center became yet another rallying cry for residents who rarely have their voices heard in the corridors of power.
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The larger threat lurks beneath the surface, as leaders like Mr. Oliverio and Mayor Chuck Reed choose posturing in favor of priorities that residents reaffirm year after year: library funding, revenue creation and support services. The Bascom community doesn’t have the money or influence of Lincoln Avenue or the Rose Garden, and as such, they are first in line to be the forgotten souls of today’s District 6.
Will the councilmember read this and change the program at the last minute? Maybe. But it will be too little too late. When the dust settles on this chapter in San Jose’s history, those who fought on the front lines will know they were there. And when they drive or bike or walk past the shining beacon on Bascom that they helped create, they’ll feel a lump in their throats and a swell of pride in their hearts. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. What really matters is making things happen.
Peter Allen is a proud native of City Council District 6 and a friend of all libraries. For the record, he lives in Willow Glen and went to school in the Rose Garden area.