Nearly everything about downtown Brentwood is new and big and modern. The glimmering City Hall, completed in 2012, stands three stories tall and spans 65,000 square feet. Next door is an imposing 32,000-square-foot community center, and behind it a multilevel parking structure with 280 spaces.
It's just what you'd expect of a booming community that has exploded in population -- from 23,000 to more than 55,000 in 15 years -- if it weren't for the temporary library across Oak Street that's crammed into 5,000 square feet of a one-story office building that looks borrowed from 1960.
This juxtaposition is not without irony. It's because Brentwood's former library, built in 1979, had to be demolished to make room for the new civic center that its contents were carted into the "interim" facility. (Interim? The library came down six years ago.)
More than 21,000 Brentwood library cardholders account for an average of 350 visits a day into this undersized facility, which has 13 computers along its walls and four small worktables with 16 straight-backed chairs squeezed among 20 bookcases that dominate the space. The only meeting area is a patch of carpet about 180 feet square, where children's story-time, adult book clubs and activity sessions compete for access.
"When you think about how big Brentwood has gotten, it's not realistic," said library manager Liz Fuller, who's more restrained in her critique than one couple she recalls walking in the front door. "They looked around, said, 'This is pathetic' and walked out."
One of the peculiarities of the Contra Costa County Library system is that, while access to content is the same for all branches, the buildings in which they're housed are determined by each community. Lafayette spent $42.5 million for its 31,000-square-foot facility, Walnut Creek $40 million for its 42,000-square-foot palace.
Brentwood is at the other end of the spectrum, with Oakley (3,000 square feet), El Cerrito (6,500) and Pittsburg (8,000). Even the Concord branch, in the county's biggest city, pales at just 12,640 square feet in a building that shows all of its 56 years.
Fuller hesitates to speak ill of city leaders, all of whom have voiced interest in a new branch. She notes that they hired an architect, did a needs assessment and settled on a 20,000-square-foot conceptual design, but "they haven't come up with a funding plan" for its estimated $15 million cost.
Bryan Scott is less patient. He serves on the Brentwood Library Foundation, a fundraising support group, but notes that he's speaking solely as a concerned resident who remembers the council's promise to build a new facility.
"Aside from starting and then stopping an ad hoc committee after three meetings, the council has said nothing," he said. "People get up at council meetings and say, 'You guys promised us a library,' and the council listens, and then nothing happens."
Scott said the city recently saved $9 million by refinancing long-term bonds, and it has a healthy 30 percent in budgeted reserves. "There's money there," he said, "but it comes down to a question of political will."
If Mayor Bob Taylor has a different take, it will have to wait. My calls to him were not returned. But he shouldn't expect this issue to go away.
Scott said he hopes to put an initiative on the 2016 general election ballot that would amend the city's general plan and mandate the construction of a library. Then everything in downtown Brentwood will be new and big and modern.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.