Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Proposed Statement of Principles Concerning Any Possible Redevelopment of Library-- Sunset Park Branch -

From the excellent NY1 coverage of the Monday, November 3, 2014 CB7 meeting- See the link to the video below
Citizens Defending Libraries distributed the following proposed statement of principles when the Brooklyn Public Library presented plans, Monday, November 3, 2014, to redevelop the Sunset Park Branch Library into a multi-use project with (without competitive bid) the Fifth Avenue Committee. 
Proposed Statement of Principles Concerning Any Possible Redevelopment of Library- - Sunset Park Branch? -
From Citizens Defending Libraries - November 3, 2014 (more information available on web)

1.    Bigger and Better, Not Smaller, Libraries.  Library use is way up.  The city is growing and is wealthier.  New libraries should be bigger, better, not shrunk. So, for instance, the existing Sunset library has one full street level floor plus additional floor space below ground. A new library should have more space, more above-ground space, probably including at least two full above-ground floors.

2.    Effective and Rigorously Fair Competitive Bid.  The BPL should not do deals that hand out library property without competitive bids.  It should get the best deal from competing developers.  Sunset Park should not establish that crony-capitalistic arrangements that hand-off deals to those with an inside track are acceptable here and throughout the rest of the city.

3.    Ensure Net Gain for the Public, Not Losses.  Many library sales, like Donnell, and now apparently also Brooklyn Heights, turn out to be net losses for the public when the numbers are calculated although others may profit.  Numbers should be rigorously reviewed to ensure such deals are off limits.

4.    Avoid Disruption- Construction of New Library At Nearby Site Preferred Course of Action.  Closing libraries for redevelopment involves extended periods of time without library services and multiple moves (plus it increases the likelihood the public will get a replacement library it likes less.)  (Donnell closed 2008 and won’t reopen until at least the end of 2015.) The alternative of moving to a completed replacement library at a nearby site avoids this.

5.    Don’t Simultaneously Close Multiple Libraries.   If libraries are going to be redeveloped, multiple libraries should not close simultaneously.  Slated for closure now: Brooklyn Heights, parts of Grand Army Plaza, Red Hook?  What others?

6.    Keep the Library’s Books.  In terms of use, use of books, mostly the physical books, has gone up more than anything else (59%).  Libraries need to continue to be a place to find and browse book collections.

7.    Don’t Reduce Staff or Librarians.  The BPL is proposing to use redevelopment of libraries (e.g. the Brooklyn Heights Library) as an excuse to keep cutting back on librarians and staff, we think without recognizing their significant value.

8.    BPL’s Mission Should Be To Be a Library, Not a “Development Agency.”  If the libraries can be sold off and traded for other public benefits then we may loose them altogether as public officials play people off against each other for community essentials.

9.    Designated Spaces for Different Uses (Including Public Meeting Spaces).  We reject the idea that shrunk-down library space should be made to “flexibly” do double-, triple- or quadruple-duty creating noise and other problems and believe libraries should, for instance, provide separate community meeting spaces. 

10.    No Hand-offs of Library Assets or Space to Private Companies Like Spaceworks.  The library space we are demanding should be library space, not handed off to private companies like Spaceworks for other uses (even “not-for-profit”). 

11.    Air Conditioning Problems?  Every time the BPL (or NYPL) wants to sell or redevelop a library suspicious air conditioning problems crop up that need to be better explained. 

12.    Total Transparency + Let the Community Catch Up.   The BPL has been working on plans to sell and shrink libraries like Sunset Park for redevelopment going back to at least 2006.  The BPL should be disclosing and give the public time to catch up with everything it was doing in the past including, for instance, releasing for review the “Revson Study” that called for the Sunset Park Branch to be treated as a "Mixed Use Real Estate Opportunity." This meant the library was nearly denied $1,390,000 in construction improvement funds back in 2009.

Para recibir la traducción al español de este documento, que estará disponible de aquí a dos días, favor de enviar un correo electrónico a: MDDWhite [at] aol.com. Gracias.

Here is more information about what happened at the meeting.  Information here will be updated.
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca put himself in an uncomfortable spotlight at the meeting when he decided, rather than spend more time listening to the community's many varied expression of discomfort with the proposal, to lecture about the benefits and desirability of affordable housing (of all things this should be necessary?, albeit it's just 54 units after all the disruption) and the need for new air conditioning for the library.
These articles below concern last night's CB7 meeting where the BPL presented plans to sell and redevelop the Sunset Park Library. DNAinfo was perhaps the first the first to cover the story and, so far, its second article is the best in te print media.  One day later NY1 managed s surprisingly effective, informative, and balanced report in just one minutes and fifty seconds of air time (see the link to the video you can play on web below.)

The community was in a cantankerous, unreceptive mood even though the BPL was proposing that the replacement library proposed for the 8-story building replacement that will take advantage of new zoning now in place would result in an increase from 12,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet.  The BPL's spokesperson said that it would now look at making the library even bigger than that in response to the community demands, particularly if they can put through another zoning change to escalate the density.  (That could get the Sunset Park Library, on the R line, up close in size to the proposed size of the replacement Brooklyn Heights/Downtown Brooklyn Library currently proposed to be 15,000 square feet above ground with 6,000 square feet underground.)

By the night of the meeting the community had a petition with 800 signatures requesting a bigger two-floor library, where both those floors would be above ground.  It used to have a two-floor library before this one was built.  

Here is a comment on the DNAinfo articles from Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White (comments are possible).  Basically, The BPL is still secretively tight-lipped and they plan NO- competitive bid, proposing to side-step it through HPD.
LET THE RECORD SHOW that last night the BPL during the question and answer session officially declined (after a brief consultation with CB7's Chair) to answer questions I came and posed on behalf of Citizens Defending Libraries, including:

1.) How long has the redevelopment of this library into a muti-use development been secretly planned by the BPL? (2006 or earlier?)

2.) Will the BPL release (as requested as part of Citizens Defending Libraries Citizens Audit and Investigation) the "Revson Study" going back to at least 2009 calling for this library to converted into a muti-use development.

3.) How long has the Fifth Avenue Committee been granted the inside track on this redevelopment? The BPL acknowledged last night that it was side-stepping putting out a competitive bid to competing developers saying that it was doing so by going through the city's HPD "sole source" approach. (in fact, The Fifth avenue Committee is absolutely NOT the only developer or can or would want to do such a project if given the chance.)

4.) Will the BPL respond to the Citizens Defending Libraries open letter to BPL president Linda Johnson asking for a complete and thorough accounting and calculation of the losses to the community (Like the Donnell it could be a net loss) involved in the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, especially given that, according to the BPL, it needs to have net funds left over (not have a net loss) to pay for the redevelopment of the Sunset Park Library (not exactly true either.)

For more on this see:

Sunday, August 31, 2014, Mostly In Plain Sight (A Few Conscious Removals Notwithstanding) Minutes Of Brooklyn Public Library Tell Shocking Details Of Strategies To Sell Brooklyn’s Public Libraries

Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson

Monday, September 15, 2014, Press Release: Citizens Audit and Investigation of Brooklyn Public Library- FOIL Requests
The BPL stressed that any munificence it planed for the Sunset Park Community was predicated upon money they are theoretically getting from the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library (but about which they will not provide a thorough accounting).  The BPL also offered suspiciously low estimates of what the new Sunset Park library would cost.

People complained that they felt they were being subjected to a "sales pitch," a "snow job," and were unconvinced about all the suspicious air conditioning problems that immediately preceded the announcement of the proposed sale and redevelopment.-  A community collection plate to fix the air conditioning was proposed.  By contrast City Councilman Carlos Menchaca was completely credulous and unquestioning about the air conditioning breakdown and saying that this was a reason so sell the real estate.
Menchaca also made clear he was buying into into the BPL's theory that capital repairs intentionally built up and accumulated under Bloomberg (and apparently exaggerated) should be accepted as a pretext for selling libraries to pay for these things.

Relocating the library to another site was proposed and suggestions were made for where in the neighborhood a new library could be built before the existing one is shut down.

The second DNAinfo article refers to "two years of hearing rumblings about the project" and "shock" expressed by Community Board 7 land use committee chairman John Burns that "the plan was suddenly moving so swiftly" the BPL would not say how long the plan had been in the works and the Director of Housing Development for the Fifth Avenue Committee, Jay Marcus, actually offered that the Fifth Avenue Committee approached the BPL about the redevelopment only two months ago (!!!), something that would be hard to square with what Noticing New York was reporting back in August (based on still earlier research) and everything else knowledgeable members of the community were sussing out before then.

There were complaints about gentrification, the presentation of false choices, and the pitting of the community against itself, housing vs. library users, etc.  (Certainly, there was a BPL effort to pit Sunset Park Branch library users against users of the Downtown Brooklyn Heights Library.)

Consensus was that the community should have a lot more time and many more meeting to absorb and react to the proposal.

Something to be looked at: Since the BPL acknowledges that the current library is undersized why is it currently renting out space in the library for non-library use?
DNAinfo- $525-a-Month Studios Proposed for Redevelopment of Sunset Park Library, By Nikhita Venugopal on November 3, 2014.

DNAinfo- Sunset Park Locals Blast Plan to Add Affordable Units in Library Overhaul, By Nikhita Venugopal on November 4, 2014 (best coverage so far plus slide show)

Curbed- Sunset Park Library's Proposed Rentals Could Be $525 and Up, by Zoe Rosenberg, November 4, 2014,

Brownstoner- Library Mulls Adding Seven Stories, Affordable Housing to Sunset Park Branch,
by Cate, 11/04/14

Brooklyn- The Sunset Park library might become $525/month affordable housing, by David Colon, 11/03/14
NY1 VIDEO- Library Expansion Plans Meet Opposition in Sunset Park, by: Jeanine Ramirez, 11/05/2014.

The NY1 posting of its video includes a transcript.  Here are some excerpts:
Officials want to build a new eight-story apartment building, with the library located on the ground and basement floors.. . .   However, that plan wasn't well received at a community meeting Monday night. 
BPL's David Walloch: ""We don't have another path forward to build a bigger library here"
 * * *

"We do not need housing on top of this library, no,"

"We do not need housing on top of this library, no," said another person.

  . . . . Library officials said the housing component helps pay for the construction and that they would have to put in just $8 million, money they said they have because of the sale of their Brooklyn Heights branch to a developer.

I'm also was really distressed how they talk about, 'Well, don't worry. We're going to sell another library, the one in Brooklyn Heights, and we'll take that money and give it to you,'"
"I'm also was really distressed how they talk about, 'Well, don't worry. We're going to sell another library, the one in Brooklyn Heights, and we'll take that money and give it to you,'" said one person who attended the meeting.

". . . the discussion has to be where it's going to be built and what it's going to look like,"
* * *
". . . the discussion has to be where it's going to be built and what it's going to look like," said one community member.

However, the pushback to this plan is strong.

"Just being presented with one option, one process, I think it's very disrespectful to this community,"
"Just being presented with one option, one process, I think it's very disrespectful to this community," said one community member.
"We've gathered together and we've fought different things in the past, and we hope to do the same,"
"We've gathered together and we've fought different things in the past, and we hope to do the same," said another.
"We need to look at other alternatives,"
"We need to look at other alternatives," said a third.

Citizens Defending Libraries YouTube Version-  NY1: Community Scorns Sunset Park Library Plan (click through for best viewing)

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