Nader Leads Rally Against Plan To Replace West End Library

Joe Flynn, left, and Gordon Gourlay, in white hat, listen as Ralph Nader speaks outside the West End public library.
Joe Flynn, left, and Gordon Gourlay, in white hat, listen as Ralph Nader speaks outside the West End public library. (Photos By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007

About 75 people led by Ralph Nader's D.C. Library Renaissance Project rallied outside the West End Public Library in Northwest Washington yesterday, upset by a recent D.C. Council decision about the future of the popular branch that they said caught them by surprise.

On Tuesday night, the council passed emergency legislation enabling a private firm, EastBanc Inc., developer of the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel, to replace the library and a fire station in a project that also would include residential and possibly retail space. The city would retain ownership of a new library and fire station, and the developer would be able to build above and around the facilities.

EastBanc Vice President Joe Sternlieb, who attended the rally and spoke later at a Friends of the Library meeting, said the company has had a dozen meetings in the community over the past few months. The council also held a recent roundtable discussion on the project, which requires shorter public notice than a hearing. But residents said yesterday that they felt left out of a deal that affects their community greatly and questioned why the council acted as it did.

"The D.C. Council dictatorially transferred this public property to a private corporate developer without establishing any justification and without affording adequate public notice and hearings," Nader said yesterday, adding that he believes the council should reverse its decision. "It's pretty amazing that you pass a law that names the developer -- what about competitive bidding?"

Nader has sent a letter to D.C. Attorney General Linda Singer that, according to the text, inquires about "the procedural legality of the West End deal." At the rally yesterday, Nader pointed out that Sternlieb, who was standing beside him, is married to Singer. "There's a fire wall," Sternlieb responded.

The West End dispute is one of several about branch libraries going on in the city, as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) seeks to improve the District's outdated public library system.

"We take the view that there is an opportunity here to have a brand-new, 21st century, state-of-the-art branch library here," Sternlieb said during the Friends of the Library meeting. Right now, he said, the project is "a blank slate," with no specifics about costs or design.

He presented two ideas, based on input from the community, he said. One possibility would replace the West End branch with a more efficient, single-story library at the same location, 24th and L streets NW. Another would put a grocery store on the current library site and put the library, along with affordable housing, atop a new fire station at 23rd and M streets NW.

He said his company will hold a series of meetings "to get ideas for what would be the ideal facility. . . . The community should aspire to more than this library currently delivers." The West End branch is more than 40 years old, according to community residents, and received some renovations a few years ago.

Many in the crowd said they already are wary of the project.

Resident David J. Mallof said he was dismayed at how the council made its decision. "We're operating as a primitive government in the world's most advanced city," he said.

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