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.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Councilman Stephen T. Levin Attends Citizens Defending Libraries Weekly Meeting to Discuss Uniform Land Use Procedure (ULURP) and Sale of NYC Libraries Like The Brooklyn Heights Library

Councilman Steve Levin (far right) on December 14th addressing Citizens Defending Libraries weekly meeting, speaking about ULURP
On Sunday, December 14th Councilman Steve Levin visited Citizens Defending Libraries weekly meeting to discuss and answer questions about how the Uniform Land Use Procedure (ULURP) works when NYC libraries are proposed to be sold, and in particular, the Brooklyn Heights Library which is proposed to be substantially shrunk as part of a proposed `redevelopment’ of the city owned public land on which it sits to build luxury tower.

The meeting, which lasted for more than three and half hours, began at 4:30 PM with a discussion, among other things, of a number of battles that Citizens Defending Libraries has won working with communities and other groups to protect NYC libraries against sale, shrinkage, elimination of books and librarians and deliberate underfunding of libraries in connection with the creation of real estate deals.  Notwithstanding, the overall war is far from won, with libraries like the Brooklyn Heights Library still in jeopardy even though the still murky plans for its sale have been substantially delayed.  Councilman Levin arrived just after 5:00 PM and displayed respectful stamina answering the attentive crowd’s questions through to the end.

During the introductions, various attendees express concerns for various NYC city libraries as well as discussing the connection to the proposed sale of other public assets like Long Island College Hospital (LICH).  Paul explained that he has bought his apartment next to the NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) at 34th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan because that library is so important to him, but the NYPL wants to make the sale of SIBL a priority.  Attendees that use the Pacific Branch Library were concerned about how that library was caught up in the proposed sales.  Ramon and Maria from Sunset Park spoke out the insensitivity of the suddenly announced plan the BPL wants to rush forward to sell and redevelop the Sunset Park library.  There was of course talk about the sale and proposed shrinkages and elimination of books from other libraries including Red Hook, Williamsburg, Donnell and also other libraries caught up in the now derailed Central Library Plan, the Mid-Manhattan and 42nd Street Central Reference Library.
Coverage in the Heights Press (Brooklyn Eagle)- "Levin Informs Residents on Library Sale ULURP Process"- The article, by Mary Frost has not yet been put up on the Brooklyn Eagle website web as the print edition indicates.  (Text appears below.)
Heights Press (Brooklyn Eagle) Article-
Levin Informs Residents on Library Sale ULURP Process
 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Heights Press, December 18, 2014

"If you want to fight, it's important to start talking to community board members," City Councilmember Stephen Levin (District 33) told Brooklyn Heights residents concerned with the sale of the local library branch.

    [Photo caption: Councilmember Stephen Levin spoke about the city process involved in the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library branch at a meeting in Brooklyn Heights Dec. 14.–  Heights Press photo by Mary Frost]

Levin brought several dozen attendees up to speed about the process known as ULURP, or Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which will be applied to the sale of the library.

The Dec. 14 meeting was organized by the advocacy group Citizens Defending Libraries, co-founded by Michael D. D. White and Carolyn McIntyre.

Meeting attendees have been fighting the sale of the Heights branch, which will result in a high-rise residential tower, a smaller library branch and the exodus of the Business Library to the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza.

Brooklyn Public Library says the sale will bring much-needed money to fund capital needs in other branches.

"ULURP is the process in New York City for any kind of land-use action, such as rezoning," Levin explained.

"Brooklyn Public Library has selected a developer; they'll probably enter ULURP as joint application, or with BPL as the applicant. The process will begin within next couple of months, is my guess," he said.

Levin gave a detailed analysis of the many-stepped process, from the project's certification by the Department of City Planning, through the borough president's office and community board, and explained the opportunities those concerned had to influence the outcome during public meetings.

"Members of the public can testify" at the community board level and other levels. "It's a very important step," he said, urging those concerned to get their arguments organ-ized and to contact officials.

While the community board vote is non-binding, "It establishes a record of how the public feels in the matter," he said.

The borough president's office also holds a public hearing, about 45 days after it leaves the community board, Levin said.

"The borough president makes a decision in parallel with what the community board does," Levin said, but may recommend with caveats, such as, "Yes, but make it five stories smaller, what have you."

Levin urged concerned residents to make their opinions known at the borough I level as well.

On Jan. 22 at 7 p.m., hide Neighborhood Democrats will hold a discussion on the issue at St. Francis College

* * *

    For the full story and more details, visit brooklyneagle.com.

 City Council Hearing the Preceding Wednesday

One of the things the group inevitably discussed with Councilman Levin was the City Council hearing that had taken place the preceding Wednesday (December 10th) because one of the most highlights of the the hearing was when City Councilman Steve Levin questioned City Councilman Steve Levin questioned Brooklyn Public Library president Ms. Johnson about the BPL’s proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library that is in his district.  Mr. Levin confirmed that his questions to Ms. Johnson about the public space that the BPL was proposing to give up as part of the BPL's sale of the library were not very satisfactorily answered.

Mr. Levin's questions to Ms. Johnson (video below) concerned three principal topics:
    1.)  The BPL’s participation in the passage of this summer of legislation authorizing the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) to issue bonds for BPL projects.

    2.)  Exactly how much library space of various kinds is being eliminated from what currently exists at the Brooklyn Heights Library when it is shrunk down from the existing 63,000 square feet to a proposed 21,000 square feet, only 15,000 of which will be above ground

    3.)  Whether it is appropriate that the BPL’s deal with the luxury tower developer, while proposing to shrink way down the public’s library space is proposing to turn over a great deal of space to the private St. Ann’s School.
Ms. Johnson, clearly uncomfortable, gave answers that for the most part were not exactly clear.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Although there was dialogue between Ms. Johnson and Councilman Levin about the Brooklyn Heights Library facing air conditioning repar costs of "$5 million" that is a a figure that is clearly overstated and in accurate.

(VIDEO: BPL CEO Dodges Library Bonds Funding Query - Why? Click through to YouTube for best viewing)

The following is important background about the subjects Councilman Levin asked about:

DASNY BONDS?: There is concern that the DASNY bonds that Ms. Johnson didn’t want to talk about here might be issued to finance the luxury towers that replace a library like Brooklyn Heights, not the library itself.  Did Levin know his question could hit a sore spot in this regard when he asked his question, or was he thinking in more direct, simpler terms, only whether issuing bonds could help meet the capital needs of the libraries?  See Noticing New York’s reporting on this:
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.
Above, a demonstration of the amount of space being lost at the Brooklyn Heights Library being asked about by Councilman Levin at the hearing.  The orange overlay is the amount of space above-ground space (15,000 square feet) proposed to be kept overlaid on the exiting two floors of space now there, pretty much a two-thirds reduction
WHAT SPACE IS BEING LOST WITH LIBRARY’S SHRINKAGE?: The subject of what exactly library space, auditorium, staff space, book space, etc., is being lost with the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, together with an accounting for other losses and costs of the proposed transaction is the subject of an open letter from Citizens Defending Libraries to Ms. Johnson that Ms. Johnson has still not responded to.  See:
Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson (Requesting answer to question concerning the unrecognized cost to the public of selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library)
About two- thirds of the existing two-story Brooklyn Heights Library would disappear under the currently proposed shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library just in terms of what will be above ground.  No wonder that Ms. Johnson with such enormous losses to explain can’t answer Councilman Levin’s questions well and without her aide David Walloch whispering in her ear.
Overall, the Brooklyn Heights Library will be reduced from an existing 63,000 square feet (blue on left) to 21,000 square feet on right with green representing the small amount of above-ground square footage.
For that goes with the visuals that show (what Ms. Johnson was asked to explain) how substantial the loss of library space will be both overall and in terms of the above-ground portion see:
Tuesday, October 7, 2014,  The Public Loss of Selling And Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library- How Great Will the Loss Be? Let's Calculate
SHRUNKEN PUBLIC LIBRARY SPACE vs. EXPANDING PRIVATE SCHOOL?: As Councilman notes to Ms. Johnson the proposed luxury development (like a lot of new development going up in the neighborhood) will add to the neighborhood’s burdens.  Among other things PS8, the neighborhood public school is too small ans severely overburdened.  The public library provides ancillary support in terms of providing education related services including to PS8 students, is being shrunk with for a development increasing burdens on the community.  How inappropriate is it that one `reason’ propelling the transaction facilitation of an expansion of the St Ann’s private school into space the library will give up?

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