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, June 1, 2015

Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee June 17, 2015: ULURP Hearing- First Hearing About Whether To Sell & Shrink Downtowns’s Brooklyn Heights Library (Tillary & Clinton)

This is very important.  (This page will be updated.)

It is now expected that the process for seeking public approval to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton will commence this June with a meeting before Brooklyn Community Board 2's Land Use Committee:
WEDNESDAY, June 17, 2015, 6:00 PM
Community Board 2 Land Use Committee Hearing to Commence ULURP Process to Sell Brooklyn Heights Library
Polytechnic Institute, Dibner Building, Room LC400,
5 MetroTech Roadway (The hard-to-find building has an orange triangle at the entrance see picture)
Metrotech Center (off Metrotech Commons)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Michael White, mddwhite [at] aol.com, 917-885-1478 or Carolyn McIntyre, 917-757-6542

Note: Hearing comments can also be mailed to the Land Use Committees before the hearing, but showing up in person has an important effect.  (We'd prefer to deliver a knock-out punch early rather than having a two-year fight on our hands.) We have been told that you can also email comments to CB2 at cb2k@nyc.rr.com (please CC us at  backpack362 [at] aol.com) or use snail mail (not lile to get there in time) or stopping by in person at their office at 350 Jay Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. We were told to address comments is Shirley McCrae, the CB2 Chairperson, but suggest that you CC the "Chair of the Land Use Committee" and the other board members to add assurance. (Chair McCrae did not, on a prior occasion, forward our open letter to the CB2 board about the library.)
Something else you can do that can help a lot.  If you or any of your friends have not signed our most recent petition to Mayor d Blasio, or if you are not sure you have, please make sure to sign.  If you are not getting information about the library sales and shrinkage from Carolyn McIntyre you probably haven't signed it.  Even if you are, you might only have signed the earlier petition to Mayor Bloomberg, not the most up-to-date petition that need to be signed to de Blasio who is now following in Bloomberg's footsteps.  Don't worry about signing twice: It's impossible to do so if you use the same email.  You don't have to be from Brooklyn or NYC to sign, but if your or your friends are so much the better.
Not required: You can opt to improve coordination if you and friends sign up with our MoveOn to assure that you will be at this first ever event: MoveOn Action- Metrotech Center, Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn, NY 11201. 
Hearing location- hard to find.
This will be the first hearing about selling and shrinking this library and it will be the first ever hearing about selling and shrinking a NYC library, a very important one at that.  The library will be sold and vastly shrunk so that a luxury tower (still undesigned or sized) can replace it at this prime Downtown location at the edge of fashionable, historic Brooklyn Heights.

This is a key opportunity to show up, one that's NOT always afforded to the public. . .

. . .  No such hearings were required when the Donnell Library was suddenly and secretively sold off because, in that case, the library, not the city, owned the land.  The proposed sell-off of this Downtown Brooklyn Library is closely modeled on, almost identical to, the sale of Donnell Library.  Similarly, such a hearing isn't required for the sale of another major destination library, SIBL, Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street.

This hearing is required under ULURP, the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.  It's a process that could take 18 months or perhaps two years as required under ULURP, the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.  Indications are that the library administration and city officials reporting to Mayor de Blasio would like to rush this required process as fast as possible and minimize the time the public has to react and minimize coverage of the process by the press.

Library administration and city officials intend to begin the process with an information dump “certifying” the project on Monday June 15, 2015, just two days before the first hearing.  Even if this is not technically illegal it is certainly NOT in the spirit of fair play.  The BPL has been working on its plan to sell the library going back to at least 2007.
Under the New York State Open meetings Law the CB2 Land Use Committee must move the hearing to a larger location if necessary to accommodate all of the public if the crowd is large.  We understand that the CB2 committee expects an exceptionally large crowd.  There is an auditorium downstairs in the Dibner building and we hope that, if moved, CB2 will hold the hearing there rather than doing something more confusing to the public. 
Here are THIRTEEN points to know:
1.    Once the library is sold and shrunk there is no way that it can ever be enlarged afterward if the library needs to grow again, or if the sale and shrinkage is recognized to be the mistake so many believe it is (like the Donnell deal was recognized after-the-fact to have been a big mistake). NOTE: The existing library, built in 1962 had to be enlarged in 1991 to accommodate growing needs.

2.    The BPL plans to proceed with locking in the sale and shrinkage of the library before designing the replacement for the library. (Making sure it is harder to discern the mistakes on what exactly we will lose.)  The “test fit” experiments for arranging a library in the shrunken space had many faulty aspects, like forgetting to include any staff space and tables and chairs jammed so close to theoretical book shelves that none of this furniture could be used.

3.    That the architects and the BPL were unable to say how much book capacity exists at the current library vs. how much the (undesigned) "replacement" would provide, and apparently, when not knowing this information gave out highly inaccurate (and self-serving) information to the participants of the May 18th Charrette who were trying to react to alternative test proposals for shrinking the library.

4.    Designs for the luxury tower replacing the library have not been designed yet (that’s despite the BPL’s confusing release of pictures).  The developer has said that he expects to try to make it as tall as possible, that’s because building each floor, particularly the lower ones with taller ceilings raises the luxury apartment higher up to give them better views over the rest of Brooklyn Heights lower-rise buildings to see the harbor.  So, for instance, the architects have indicated that one portion of the vastly shrunken library will probably have 24 foot ceilings.

5.    One of the things driving the sale of the library is that a private school, Saint Ann's, will benefit substantially from the public’s sale, demolition and shrinkage of the library.  In a deal that is likely to include the developer giving the school both money and real estate, the developer has said that the school is likely get 20,000 square feet while the developer is only committed to give the city a 21,000 square foot replacement library.  This is because Saint Ann's has unused development rights (that can pass through the Forest City building on the same block).  The school hasn’t ever used these rights because it would be would be disadvantageous for the school to demolish its existing building and then rebuild to create a larger building that will utilize them.  That would entail the costs for the school of demolition and rebuilding and Saint Ann's would have to go without its currently used school facility for an extended period of time. If, however, the library is sold for redevelopment, then all those sorts of costs are off-loaded and borne by the public and the library, instead of the private school.  The school nevertheless coasts in, incurring no such costs, but collecting on the entire benefit of using its previously locked-up development rights.  Unfairly, advocates for Saint Ann's were especially well-represented when the Brooklyn Heights Association made highly suspect decisions reviewing the library plan.

6.    How small will the undesigned “replacement” library be?  The current library is 63,000 square feet with about 38,000 square feet of versatile, adaptable space above ground and books for retrieval in two underground half-floors.  The replacement library would have only 15,000 square feet above ground with 6,000 square feet below ground, 21,000 square feet in all.  As noted the new theater for the Saint Ann's may be 20,000 square feet.  This is a central destination library serving Brooklyn’s downtown, the rest of Brooklyn and intended also to serve the lower Manhattan Wall Street areas.  The proposed new branch library for Sunset Park is proposed to be 20,600 square feet, essentially the same size.  The Sunset Park community is negotiating to have it be even larger because placed in the bottom if a mixed use real estate development, that community’s library can never be enlarged afterward.
7.    This proposed divestiture of publicly owned space is a significant prodigal reduction of public space at a times when the density of Brooklyn’s Downtown and the surrounding area is increasing drastically with multiple new towers, thus further imbalancing the ratio of public to private space and stressing public services to keep up.  For instance, with density increasing, the local school is now at 140% capacity with the situation getting worse.  
8.    The BPL is falsely asserting that the Brooklyn Heights Library is in need of extensive repairs and is straining to find money for them while inflating the costs of repairs it says need to be made to the building.  The building was built in 1962 for an amount that adjusted for inflation, would amount to $19.6 million in today’s dollars. In 1991 the BPL spent a considerable amount, millions, about $10 million by today's standards, for an "extensive" renovation and enlargement of the building, expanding its second floor, part of the purpose of which was  to better "accommodate the business library" with more space.  According to BPL figures, new construction to replace the building today would cost $60 million (and that doesn't take into account the additional value of the land and development rights the BPL is also selling off at a loss or to net virtually nothing).  As recently as 1997 the BPL was, speaking of these renovations, telling the public in its rhetoric of the time: "[t]he Business Library looks forward to serving Brooklyn's business community into the 21st Century."  The BPL has now said that costs of repairs related to turning the air conditioning back on would cost an amount equal to have what, adjusted for inflation, the building cost to build in 1962.  Its essentially equal to the entire cost of extensively renovating and enlarging the building in 1991. Only a portion, 3/4ths, of the air conditioning is out of commission.  It went out of commission six months before the BPL’s planned announcement to sell the library (citing air conditioning as a reason) and five years after the BPL planned to sell the building.  As one engineer considering the BPL’s estimates observed, new cooling towers were recently installed on the roof so that only the chillers need to be replaced.  Further, before the BPL started secret plans to sell the building, the City’s Department of Design and Construction furnished the BPL with an assessment that the air conditioning was in good shape and proper for the building.  The BPL has refused to release these prior communications it had with the DDC even though it is required to under the Freedom of Information Law.
9.    Library administration have refused to say how very little money they are actually bringing in by virtue of selling the major irreplaceable asset.  When the NYPL sold the irreplaceable Donnell it suffered a net loss.  This transaction modeled after the Donnell sales (involving some of the same people) is likely to be much the same in this regard.  For instance, business and career functions at the library to serve Brooklyn’s Downtown are being exiled from the library and theoretically being crammed into Grand Army Plaza Library, but the BPL while acknowledging that this will involve substantial work and rearrangement, refuses to state the cost of it.  Similarly, wanting to disguise the minimal amount of money that it will get, the BPL is now estimating the cost of building the shrunken “replacement” library at only $10 million, when using figures for the highly comparable “replacement” Donnell library (yes there have been overruns) would mean that the actual more realistic figure for Brooklyn’s library should over $16 million.

10.    To sell the developer’s luxury project to the public, the developer and BPL’s library administration officials, with the help of very high paid lobbyists and PR people (the BPL is also refusing to release these costs), is making a divide-and-conquer argument that proceeds from this self-cannibalizing sale (undisclosed how truly minimal any proceeds might be) will go to other libraries in the system, theoretically certain specific ones (even though money is fungible).  The BPL also hopes it to be an excuse for certain city councilmen to become tractable allies in the selling off of its systems assets.

11.    The developer will build a few “affordable” housing units off-site, elsewhere in CB2 in order to get a bonus to build a bigger building.  Although this is being done “poor door” fashion with these units far away, the BPL intends to use the carrot of these few units a wedge to make split-the-community divide and conquer arguments for the library and to give some politicians false cover to support a luxury project that sets the precedent for selling off other important public assets.

12.    One problem with these divide and conquer tactics is that after they are used in precedent-setting fashion against this major asset, other libraries and public assets will be targeted.  Although the BPL has admitted that it is going after the most valuable libraries  first (that means most valuable to the public too).  It's “Strategic Real Estate” plan put together by a former Forest City vice president (Karen Backus) calls for the “leveraging” of all the real estate that the BPL holds.  The “Strategic Real Estate” plan put together formally starting in 2007 is one more thing the BPL refuses to release eventhough withholding this and other information violates the Freedom of Information Law.  Why?  If the public knew the BPL’s plans it would object . . .  Also the BPL’s divide-and-conquer tactics would be severely hampered.

13.    Mayor de Blasio is underfunding libraries, even cutting back on their funding this year.  And this is a year of budget plenty!  Why is a theoretically progressive mayor underfunding the city’s libraries against everyone’s, even the New York Time’s advice?  Challenged about this on the Brian Lehrer Show (6/5/2015) de Blasio asserted he simply cared about a lot of other things instead, like schools.  But that’s disingenuous.   We think the Mayor is a bright man who can walk and chew gum at the same time.  And its not as if proper funding of libraries is unrelated to schools and the benefits of Universal Pre-K.  Libraries are an easy lift that cost virtually nothing to fund, a fraction of the city’s budget, especially given their benefit. In the last 8 years at least $620 million has been spent on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" that de Blasio supported) and that this amount altogether was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.  The reason that libraries are being underfunded by de Blasio is that this underfunding can be cited as a reason to sell libraries!   As de Blasio said when he was running for mayor and calling a halt to sales such as these: “It’s public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”  But, at the same time, as well as he knows this, de Blasio is taking money from the people selling and shrinking libraries to make them into juicy real estate deals.  (See: Saturday, June 6, 2015, WNYC Reports Mayor de Blasio’s “Furiously Raising Funds”- Including From Developers “Lurking Behind The Curtain” of Library Real Estate Sales- And WNYC’s Money?)
The library location of the proposed new luxury tower- Downtown and on the edge of fashionable, historic Brooklyn Heights- Beside a park and near the Promenade

One location where a few "affordable" units would be built resulting in. . .

Another location where a few "affordable" units would be built
JUST RELEASED- Tuesday, June 16, 2015, New Images of What Developer's Luxury Tower Would look Like When It Kicks Out Brooklyn's Central Destination Downtown Library, Stomps It Down To 1/3rd Size.
 Here are links (we will add to them) that should be helpful in studying for the hearing:
    •    Open Letter to Brooklyn Community Board 2 Regarding Libraries (February 4, 2015)

    •    Floor Plans of the Brooklyn Heights Library Considered In Light of the Library’s Proposed Sale and Shrinkage

    •    Friday, February 6, 2015, Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library Trustee Peter Aschkenasy Re Commitment to Provide Information About Library Sale

    •    Tuesday, October 7, 2014, The Public Loss of Selling And Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library- How Great Will the Loss Be? Let's Calculate

    •    Sunday, June 14, 2015, Selling a $100 Million Plus Library For What? A Pittance! More Transparency Please.
    •    Thursday, October 9, 2014, Open Letter To Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson

    •   Public Assets Under Attack- Prepared For Handout at February 24, 2015 Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting
Above and below: Some of the two-story below-ground book shelf storage space at the Brooklyn Heights Library at Tillary and Clinton that the BPL would like to convince the public is without public value, the equivalent of nothing more than an abandoned "bomb shelter".  Remember, in 1991 the BPL very much needing this space, needed to enlarge the library. (MANY MORE pictures here: In A Closed Library, A Tour of Much The Public Doesn't Get To See- Don't Let Them Close This Library, The Brooklyn Heights Library On Cadman Plaza West, Corner of Tillary & Clinton)
Here is previous testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries that addresses, in general, the subject of the library sell-offs and shrinkages together with the underfunding of NYC's libraries, the elimination of books and librarians.  It can be adaptively reused and made specific to the situation here in Brooklyn.
    •   Report on Tuesday, June 3rd-9th City Council Hearing On Budget For NYC Libraries Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries
Here are videos and coverage concerning the "design"-for-shrinkage Charrettes (we call them Charades).
    •    Brooklyn Public Library Charrette: A Charade? (with more video coming) from the first such Charrette.

    •    VIDEO1: Plans to Demolish Bklyn Heights Library/ Citizens Defending Libraries, by April Watters,  May 22, 2015

    •    VIDEO2: Brooklyn Libraries DEMOLISHED for Luxury High Rise Condos! /Citizens Defending Libraries, by April Watters,  May 22, 2015

    •    Hot Indie News: Plans to Demolish Brooklyn Heights Library to put up High Rise Condos, by Cat April Watters Date May 21, 2015
Truth Park at the north end of the library where an admonition about TRUTH and TREASURE appear
On the north face of the Brooklyn Heights Library (facing the corner park- We like to call it “Truth Park”) we find inscribed this admonition to come to the library to pursue TRUTH not TREASURE:
 “All that come here to seek treasure will not take away gold but the seeker after truth and instruction will find that which will enrich the mind and heart”
At the last (5/18) BPL design “Charette”/Charade to sell and shrink the library none of the multitude of architects or BPL representatives at the tables knew of this admonition, or even knew how many feet of book shelf space was at the library for before and after comparisons.

Special Advisory To The Press:   We were notified that just in time for this first ever library sell-off ULURP hearing, CB2 is imposing new strictures on the press and media coverage of its meetings (not posted on the internet) that will make it harder for public not attending the meetings to get coverage of what happened.

The City Council makes special provision to enable the press to cover their proceedings, giving them special close-up seats and an elevated platform of honor and special vantage. . .  And they don't prohibit the regular audience from photographing and sharing what's happening in the proceedings.  But the notice we got?: That's not exactly what CB2 seems to be setting up.

The press should know that Robert Freeman head of the Committee, advises us that any recording that is "not disruptive or obtrusive is permitted."  He said that as Justice Brandeis said: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."  He said that unless and until any recording becomes obtrusive they can't request that it has to be done in another way. 

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