Illustration by Mary Burkhardt
This portrait of Virginia Whipple hangs in the Los Altos main library.
The tug-of-war for the late Virginia Whipple’s money is over.
After months of uncertainty, members of the Santa Clara County Library District Joint Powers Authority (JPA) finally settled the matter of control by voting unanimously Oct. 27 to transfer approximately $1.5 million of the library patron’s bequest to the Los Altos Library Endowment. The funds will offset the cost of future construction to replace or renovate the San Antonio Road library facility.
“I know this has been an issue that has been on the table for a long time, ” said Burton Craig, JPA chairman, after the vote. “I’m glad we’ve finally been able to settle it.”
Whipple, a Los Altos Hills resident, was a longtime Los Altos Library volunteer and member of the Friends of the Library of Los Altos and Community. When she passed away in 2004 at age 77, she bequeathed $2.8 million to the “Library of Los Altos & Community Inc.” But no such entity exists by that name. Mediation ensued.
A 2005 settlement divided the $2.8 million, leaving $1.6 million to the Los Altos Library Endowment and $1.2 million to the JPA, the body that governs the library district and its budget. Through private investments, the endowment funds eventually grew to $2.4 million. The JPA’s investments, however, are limited by state regulations, and that portion grew to just $1.5 million.
“If these funds are to have any likelihood of buffering against the ongoing onslaught of the inflation rate of nonresidential construction, they cannot remain invested under the guidelines to which the JPA must adhere, ” wrote Los Altos Library Endowment President Mary Popek in a letter to Craig.
The JPA in October 2015 approved a recommendation to transfer its Whipple funds to the Library Endowment, a move unanimously supported by the Los Altos Hills City Council but opposed, in a 3-2 vote, by a divided Los Altos City Council.
Los Altos Hills City Councilwoman and JPA board member Courtenay C. Corrigan clarified her city’s position before the JPA vote.
“Today we’re back, not trying to circumvent Los Altos, but rather trying to put the money where we believed it belonged from the get-go, ” she said.
Future construction of new library facilities or improvements to the existing building will now be supported by a new library building fund managed by the Los Altos Library Endowment, said Bob Simon, a Library Endowment founding member.
Since the JPA meeting, Library Endowment Investment Committee Chairman Jim Lai has been in contact with financial advisers to “put the wheels in motion” for the creation of a formal library construction fund, Simon said. Actual construction, however, is likely years away and contingent on the outcome of Los Altos’ overall visioning process.
Los Altos Mayor Jeannie Bruins was among the councilmembers who voted for the JPA to transfer the contested Whipple funds to the city. She said she was surprised by the board’s Oct. 27 decision because she believed it required city approval. She also questioned how a public agency, the JPA, could transfer public funds to a private agency, the Library Endowment, for the purpose of increasing returns when restrictions are placed on government investments to keep them conservative.
“It kind of causes you to say, ‘Are you operating in a gray zone?’” Bruins said last week.
Bruins said she has requested a meeting with county librarian Nancy Howe, City Attorney Jolie Houston, City Manager Chris Jordan and Santa Clara County Attorney Melissa Kiniyalocts to clarify the process and legality of the transfer.
Her questions are not a reflection on the Library Endowment or an attempt to undo the JPA’s decision, she said. She merely wants a clear path going forward.