Council votes against renaming library

Steve and Patricia Mizel weren’t at the Aug. 17 Encinitas City Council meeting where the vote was held on whether the city would accept the Mizel Foundation’s donation of $2 million in exchange for naming the Encinitas Library after Patricia — and they missed an eventful evening.

More than two hours after a man was removed from the meeting by sheriff’s deputies and detained, and following 42 minutes of public comment during which the issue of anti-Semitism drew ire from speakers both in favor and against the naming agreement, the City Council voted 4-0 against renaming the library. Mayor Kristin Gaspar sat out the discussion because of a financial conflict of interest.

During an earlier break, suspicious sheriff’s deputies talked to a man in the crowd who had sat through the first hour of the meeting dressed in all black, including ski boots, gloves, sunglasses and a motorcycle helmet, and “body armor” under his jacket that looked to be a chest protector used by lacrosse or football players.

The man, who had signed up to speak against renaming the library during public comment — giving his name as “Mr. Freedom Rider” — was put in handcuffs and led out of the building. He told deputies that since it was a sensitive issue, he had wanted to conceal his identity. After calling in backup and questioning the man in front of city hall for more than 30 minutes, the sheriffs let him go.

Meanwhile, the discussion hadn’t even started inside the City Council Chambers. When it did, Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer introduced the action item by expressing disappointment on two fronts. First, she said the process for bringing the issue to the council could have been better planned, adding that an initial vote by the council directing City Attorney Glen Sabine to work with the Mizel Foundation to draw up an agreement was misinterpreted by the public as an adoption of the new name.

In comments that were echoed later by councilman Tony Kranz, Shaffer also blasted the anti-Semitic emails the council had received by some that opposed the agreement.

During public comment, a representative from the Leichtag Foundation — an Encinitas nonprofit devoted to igniting vibrant Jewish Life, advancing self-sufficiency and stimulating social entrepreneurship — came out in support of renaming the “Encinitas Library” as the “Patricia Mizel Encinitas Library,” adding that she was disgusted with the anti-Semitic emails advocating against the agreement. This, in turn, angered others against the agreement, who felt they were being called anti-Semitic.

After all of the fireworks, and a majority of public comment urging the council to vote no on the proposal, the councilmembers did just that.

It was a tough decision, as the council not only turned down the Mizels’ $1.5 million for the library itself and $500,000 for the Friends of the Library but, as Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear explained, the Mizels have been great to the city of Encinitas.

“I have found it hard to settle on what my feeling is, because making sure that (our city is) fiscally solvent and sound … is really important to me,” Blakespear said.

“But I think more important to me, is the commitment to all of the people who contributed to make the library great, and my feeling that the community who is largely involved in this, is opposed to it.

“I think it is important to recognize how generous the Mizel family has been and … I have been so grateful to have a philanthropic family like this in our city.”

Since 2007, the Mizel Foundation has matched the city’s Community Grant Program dollar-for-dollar to the tune of $75,000 a year. The program has actually been renamed the “City of Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program.”

But the council felt that the deal to rename the library not only went against the wishes of many of the people close to the situation, but also was an agreement it was uncomfortable with on a couple of levels.

Deputy Mayor Shaffer felt it might hurt the city’s relationship with the county, as none of the other libraries in the country system are named for individuals and the county sent a letter to the city that Shaffer interpreted as an unenthusiastic agreement to the deal. The city of Encinitas owns the land and paid for the $20 million construction of the Encinitas Library building, which opened in 2008 after a fiercely contested ballot measure battle over its proposed location and controversy over its soaring construction costs.

Some members of the council also questioned the idea that the name would stand in perpetuity, even if the library moved.

Many of the public speakers objected to renaming the library, but were happy to honor the contributions of Patricia Mizel, who served on the board of the Friends of the Library from 1996 until 2009, was the co-chair for many book sale events, set up the organization’s internet book sales account and, along with her husband, established an endowment for the library. The speakers suggested that the council explore naming a wing or a room in the library after her, and it was a suggestion Councilman Kranz had already thought of. However, he said Steve Mizel — an investor who has been an avid donor to programs and construction projects in the United States and Israel — balked at that suggestion.

Still, the council’s eventual vote was to reject the deal to rename the library, but to direct city staff to approach Mizel again about a possible alternative.

Copyright © 2019, The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. All rights reserved.
58°