March 17, 2018

SF Law Library Sues City for Space

San Francisco Veterans War Memorial Building

San Francisco – Civic Center: Herbst Theater by Wally Gobetz
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The San Francisco Law Library filed a lawsuit against the City and County of San Francisco, CA, on February 6. The case, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, alleges that since 1995 the city has violated both City Charter section 8.103 and state law, which requires the city and county of San Francisco to provide proper funding and adequate space for the library.

According to the library’s statement: in 1995 the library was moved from City Hall (which closed to repair damage from the 1989 earthquake) into a temporary space at the Veteran’s War Memorial building. But when City Hall reopened, the library was not moved back. Instead, it remains in a 14,310 square-foot room, which the library says has poor climate control, numerous leaks, glaring sunlight, and inadequate seating and wiring.

As a result, the library has placed approximately 165,000 volumes, about two thirds of its collection, into “inaccessible and environmentally unsafe” storage.

“Our board has sought consensus and compromise with the City of San Francisco for nearly 18 years,” said Kurt Melchior, president of the Law Library board of directors. “And during that time, we have seen the city fail time and time again to provide an appropriate space.”

What finally pushed the library into legal action is a looming deadline: in May the Veteran’s War Memorial building, too, is scheduled to close for renovation. “Even at this late hour, the city still has not proposed any viable plan to permanently and properly locate the San Francisco Law Library, and has rejected a suitable option recently submitted by the library,” said Melchior.

Melchior refers to a possible new site at Van Ness Avenue and Post Street. According to the court papers, 35,000 square feet, the amount that the City in 2010 assessed the library needs, are available. (In fact, according to the filing, the city’s agreed that the library needed 35,000 feet as far back as 2000.)

However, the library has “drastically reduced” its collection to fit into 30,000 feet, which the filing claims is less than professional space planners projected, but comparable to other, similar law libraries elsewhere in the state. The city, however, is willing to fund only 22,000 square feet in the Van Ness location, and according to library spokesperson Charles Goodyear, the city has not offered an alternative location where the same amount of rent would cover more square footage, or even one with comparable space. Among the criteria Goodyear cited as going into the site selection include “being relatively affordable, relatively close to the Superior Court, and on a mass transit line.”

The library is asking the court to order the city to pay for at least 30,000 square feet, and to prevent the city from evicting the library from its current location until it has a new home. The city attorney’s office has a policy of not commenting on litigation in progress. A court date has not yet been set.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.