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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

S.F. Public Law Library Looks for a Home

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - California's oldest public law library will be homeless soon unless a court forces San Francisco to find a place for its vast collection, the San Francisco Law Library claims in court.

The San Francisco Law Library needs to find a new site before May, when the building it occupies will close for seismic upgrades.

It sued the City and County of San Francisco and City Administrator Naomi Kelly this week in Superior Court.

The law library claims that state law and San Francisco's charter require the city to "provide complete, adequate, readily accessible and suitable space and facilities for the library." It claims that to leave the library without a home would violate the city's "obligations to the library, the legal community and the general public."

The imminent eviction from the War Memorial Veterans Building prompted the call for court involvement because city leaders have dropped the ball, the library says.

"Moving a library is no easy task and typically requires two to three years of advance planning. Here, less than four months before the impending closure of the Veterans Building, the city has not even agreed to a new location," the complaint states.

Seismic upgrades after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake drove the library from its previous home in City Hall in 1995, when both the library and the superior court's civil division had to move out.

San Francisco Superior Court got a new courthouse across the street in 1997. The library was assigned temporary digs in the nearby Veterans Building, which the library says has always been inadequate.

"For close to two decades, respondents have failed to provide these facilities while purportedly negotiating various solutions, all of which were ultimately unsuitable or not feasible," the complaint states.

The library says it needs 35,000 square feet for its collection of more than 263,000 volumes, and that the Veterans Building provides only around 14,000 square feet.

It claims that the Veterans Building is so inadequate that it should not be used as a baseline standard for comparison with any prospective facilities.

The building has too little shelf space, poor air circulation, glare from unfiltered skylights and poor lighting overall, among many other problems, the library says.

The library says it has found an acceptable new home in the Civic Center area, with the needed 30,000 to 35,000 square feet, but unless the city acts quickly, the landlord may find another tenant.

In previous negotiations, the city has refused to pay rent on a site larger than 22,000 square feet, according to the complaint.

"The library has carefully considered whether it can accommodate itself and perform its services to the public within that space limitation and has concluded that it cannot do so. It has communicated that conclusion to the City, but the City refuses to move from its position," the library says in the complaint.

More attorneys are served by San Francisco's public law library than any other, and it has more volumes than those in other California counties, according to the complaint. San Diego County's 35,000 square-foot space houses about one-half the number of volumes in San Francisco's collection.

"San Francisco is a national and international commercial and legal center. As such, it requires and deserves a comprehensive full-service public law library," the library says in the complaint.

The law library is a public nonprofit corporation created by the Legislature in 1870 and sustained by subsequent city charters.

The current charter provides that the City and County of San Francisco "provide suitable and sufficient quarters for the Law Library, fix up and furnish the same and provide for the supply of necessary light, heat, stationery and other conveniences. The library shall be so located as to be readily accessible to the judges and officers of the courts."

The library, represented by Denis Rice with Arnold & Porter, seeks a writ of mandate that the defendants uphold their legal obligations to fund a library, and injunctive and declaratory relief.

"Despite the urgency of the May 2013 deadline, the city has refused to fund adequate space in the new location and also refused to pay for the cost of necessary furniture, fixtures and equipment, moving expenses and the like," the library says in the complaint.

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