An initiative to name the new North Branch Library after first lady Michelle Obama cleared another hurdle last night, after the city’s housing and neighborhoods committee voted unanimously to advance the naming motion.
The naming issue has been a point of contention for some since it was raised by Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson late last year. Richardson said the idea to name the library The Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library was presented to him by students at Jordan High School, and has stood firm behind his belief that the name on the library should not only be representative of the community it will serve, but also be able to connect with the generation that will utilize it.
Earlier this month, the council’s December vote to forward the naming proposal to the committee was the subject of a revote, after some of Richardson’s Twitter activity prompted concerns of a potential Brown Act Violation. Richardson had tagged a majority of the council in tweets trying to garner support for the motion (the Brown Act prohibits a majority of any government body from discussing agenda items in private).
Out of an “abundance of caution," Richardson requested the revote, despite there being no precedent for Twitter activity constituting a violation of the law.
The issue has seemingly been divided on a sharp racial divide, with most of those opposing the initiative being white, while people of color have overwhelmingly supported the idea.
The 90805 zip code that encompasses the ninth district is composed of a majority (about 90 percent) of non-white residents according to the most recent data from the United States Census Bureau.
Those opposing the issue have argued that the library has a number of more qualified and more local figures that could have their names bestowed upon the library. Richardson and members of the community have argued that while Obama doesn’t have a focused library plan, like former first lady Laura Bush, her dedication to improving education in the United States is justification for naming a center of learning after her.
The council’s vote to continue with the naming process established a series of community meetings to continue to gather the community’s voice in the naming process.
During one of those meetings last week, focus groups delivered a resounding message that the first lady was the community’s choice with 54 votes, outpacing the “North Branch Library” option with by nearly a 5-1 ratio. Local figures like Bill Baker and former councilman Val Lerch, whom opposed the motion to name it after Obama, garnered just one vote from the focus groups.
The council could vote as soon as next month to formally approve the naming of the library after the first lady. The new branch is scheduled to open by summer of this year.
[Editors note: this story has been updated to reflect the Ninth District's non-white population to be about 90 percent. The 40 percent number previously reported for white residents included people who identifylied themselves as white in combination with one or more other races.]