Library celebrates decade of success
Lynne Conde’s persistence is big reason new library exists
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By Jud Snyder  June 14, 2013 12:00 am

Not many people have a street named in their honor in Rohnert Park while they’re still alive. (Let’s get one thing straight – I’m not the Snyder, Snyder Lane is named after). 

But Lynne Conde’s name is the street fronting the main entrance to the RP-Cotati Public Library. She doesn’t flaunt it. She’s quick to confess “it took nearly a hundred people to get the new library built…give me time and I can name 50, maybe.”

But there’s no doubt she was what they call the “point person” in the campaign. She’s shuffled off that label by now and is merely among the many library devotees who gathered Wednesday June 12, to celebrate the library’s 10th anniversary.

A tall, trim, blue-eyed blonde of Dutch heritage, she’s a Registered Nurse (RN) specializing in psychiatric medicine and married to Bill Conde, an engineer who worked for Next Level Communications during the dot-com boom of the early 1970s. 

Next Level was in Santa Clara County and opened a new assembly plant in Rohnert Park on State Farm Drive. Bill, Lynne and their two children, Leah and Bill, Jr., moved to RP.

First impression of old library

Let it be said, all four of the Condes are avid library users, and Lynne naturally checked out RP’s public library, then on the northwest side of Park Plaza shopping center where Safeway and CVS Pharmacy are located.

Her first impressions were not pleasant. 

“It was one of the worst libraries I’ve ever seen. It was dark, there was hardly any furniture for kids, it seemed like a library meant for a small town of 7,000 people and here we had 40,000 residents,” she remembers.

“Laurie Campbell, the children’s librarian, told me the high school students were doing a research and history of the Catholic missions built in California before the Gold Rush, but the library didn’t have any books to help the students. There wasn’t room on the shelves anyway.

“Another thing, my friend Paula Young was in a wheelchair because of leg surgery, but couldn’t use the restrooms for they were not ADA-compliant, you know, the accommodations for disabled federal act. All in all, Campbell felt the library was woefully inadequate for a city this size. The librarian, Don Gass, couldn’t get funding from the Sonoma County Library Commission to help him out.”

‘Do something about it’

Lynne, a relative newcomer, didn’t know whom to turn to for advice. She got in touch with Buck Oates and his partner Jeff Sommers, two developers she knew. 

“Buck simply said, ‘Do something about it. Take on the new library project yourself.’ He said I had to get hold of the ‘movers and shakers’ in town,” Lynne said.

“I got in touch with John Flitner, the city’s attorney, and he told me to call Betty and Maurice Fredericks for advice. Maury told me to talk to Hugh Codding and form a steering committee for the project. Armando Flores, then a city councilman, heard about us and volunteered to join.”

Pieces of the project were falling into place.

Got a copy of the JPA

“I went to Codding’s third floor office and was impressed,” Conde said. “It was just like my father’s office back home with safari hunting trophy heads on the wall, and he began to back us financially and so did Jimmie Rogers and others who felt the way I did.

“Maury provided me with a copy of the Joint Powers Agreement all public libraries had with the county library commission. I was completely dazzled by its contents and told Maury I couldn’t cope with it – it’s too complicated.”

Lynne paused to sip her orange juice concoction in Cotati’s Redwood Café. “Bless his heart, Maury said it’s real simple. ‘I can put it in a paragraph. The city builds the library and the county’s library commission provides the books and pays for the staffing. That’s the JPA. It eased my burden, let me tell you.”

Lynne quickly discovered the county library commission did not want Rohnert Park to have a larger and new library. 

“Maury told me there’re going to fight you all the way. It’s because of added expenses and for tax purposes that might be taken away from Santa Rosa’s own collection of libraries. He was right. 

“I spent eight years going to county library commission meetings, and I could feel their hostility. They were all older women in casual clothes and here I came in a tailored skirt and dressed for business. I brought Armando to a few meetings, and they were not impressed.”

Steering committee set up

She also got former city managers Pete Callinan and Joe Netter on her team. Her growing armada of backers and financiers enabled the steering committee to buy land the city owned where the library sits now. Lynne had Paula Young, Laurie Campbell (still the children’s librarian) and Rebecca Wrucke, who designed the library’s logo, plus her small army of experts, movers and shakers moving things along despite the continuing resistance from the county library commission. 

They picked out an architectural team, Noll and Tam, to design the building. Lynne and Becky Wrucke toured other libraries in Marin County, Eureka and Benicia to gather ideas. The momentum was so great at this point all the county library commission could do was cooperate under terms of the JPA and tell RP to add Cotati’s name to the structure, even though the Cotati City Council refused to participate in its formation.

Other librarians now visit RP

The Rohnert Park-Cotati Public Library is a genuine success story. Its attendance figures are steadily climbing despite the fact all county libraries are closed on Mondays and some Saturdays when there’s a national holiday weekend. Its Friends of the Library, sponsors of the June 12 event, is a key financial supporter. Librarians from other cities go to RP’s library to see how it works and under library manager Nancy Kleban, it’s rapidly becoming a digital library with its collection of computers.

Now the library’s in a Priority Development Area (PDA) and destined to be a center point in RP’s future downtown.

“Sometimes I can’t believe it myself,” said Lynne. “Just because Buck Oates told me to do it if I wanted it. All I have to do is walk in the door and the belief’s fulfilled.”

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