OAKLEY -- Dozens of residents gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to endorse the idea of moving Oakley's library downtown.
Although the City Council meeting was canceled at the last minute for lack of a quorum -- quite possibly a first in the city's history, according to Mayor Kevin Romick -- he invited members of the audience to weigh in on a proposal to relocate the county library branch from Freedom High School to the vacant grocery store opposite City Hall.
Councilwoman Carol Rios was on vacation and council members Jim Frazier and Pat Anderson were ill, Romick said.
The meeting has been rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, when council members will decide whether to adopt a resolution supporting the move. If they approve it, they will start hammering out a tentative plan with library personnel and Friends of the Oakley Library to make it happen.
For the past 13 years, the branch has shared space with the high school's library, but those quarters have become cramped as its book collection has grown. Nor is there enough room to accommodate the demand for other services the library offers such as children's story times and arts and crafts sessions.
Crowded shelves limit the number of new books the library can accept, there is no meeting room for community groups and space for only eight computers, and patrons who need to plug in laptops must share the one electrical outlet available to them.
"The city of Oakley is growing. The library needs to grow with it," said Art Fernandez.
Compared with the libraries of 14 other cities around the county, Oakley's approximately 3,000-square-foot branch is by far the smallest, according to a city staff report.
Employees and patrons can use the other half of the room only after 5 p.m. during the week, Community Library Manager Jenna Skinner said before the meeting.
The volunteer group Friends of the Oakley Library is recommending converting the former Centro-Mart building on Main Street into the library's new digs after having analyzed two other possible sites.
The organization also considered the county Sheriff's Office's Delta substation on O'Hara Avenue as well as the so-called Moura property, a 6.2-acre site also on O'Hara Avenue near O'Hara Park Middle School.
But it concluded that the Centro-Mart property would be the most cost-effective option, primarily because the city already owns the land and would not have to build a library from the ground up.
Audience members who spoke at Tuesday's meeting all embraced the notion of using the approximately 15,000-square-foot structure, and not only because it would provide the library five times more room.
"It would give Oakley a genuine downtown," said county library Commissioner Cindy Tumin, noting that the library would draw people to the commercial hub along Main Street that the city is trying to revitalize.
The possibility of redesigning the building to include a cafe as the Pittburg, Walnut Creek and Orinda library branches have done could help offset the loss of sales tax revenue with CentroMart's closure, Tumin added.
Turning a supermarket into a book repository still takes plenty of money, however; the city is considering a bond measure to cover the project's $3.5 million to $4 million price tag.
Retiring that debt and covering annual operations costs would require Oakley residents to pay an annual parcel tax of $50 to $60, according to the staff report.
Oakley resident Angela Lowrey exhorted city officials to ensure the ballot language is clear so that voters know exactly what their "yes" means.
If Oakley can make an unambiguous pitch for a larger library, taxpayers likely will rally around the cause even in these tough economic times, she said, noting that Pittsburg voters in June overwhelmingly approved a sales tax hike to help the city close a budget gap.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.