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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams To Hold Uniform Land Use Review Procedure Public Hearing, August 18, 2015, On Whether Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn Should Be Sold And Shrunk

The Office of The Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, has given notice that, as the next step in the just recently commenced public approval process to sell and drastically shrink a major publicly owned asset, the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in downtown Brooklyn, his office will hold a hearing where Borough President Eric Adams will take public testimony as to whether the library should be sold and shrunk, whether the proposed transaction resulting in great public loss and little net cash (perhaps none or less than zero) should be allowed to proceed.

The hearings now being being held pursuant to ULURP, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure are the first ever public hearings about whether to sell and shrink a major public library like this.  In fact, although public assets (like our hospitals and public housing are under attack), hearings like this about the proposed dispositions of major public assets are relatively rare.

Setting the stage for the hearing to be held Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Brooklyn Community Board held three meetings culminating in a vote on Wednesday July 15 2015, where about half the members of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 voted to approve the sale and shrinkage of the library.  The way in which Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 conducted its hearings was suspect and something of an embarrassment.

Brooklyn Community Board 2 Votes To Sell and Shrink Brooklyn Heights Library, Largely In the Dark, With Much Manipulation And Strong-Arming In Background- Developer’s Says He’s “Super-duper Excited” And Thankful
Here again for entry into your calendar:
Tuesday, August 18, 2016- 6:00 PM
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
FIRST EVER BP hearing about selling and shrinking a library,
the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's downtown central destination library
Borough President's Courtroom
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
You can Tweet if from here:
Bklyn BP Eric Adams To Hold Hearing, August 18, 2015, 6:PM On Wh/ Bklyn Hts Library Should Be Sold And Shrunk!
You can also sharer in the form of this Facebook event:
NOT REQUIRED, BUT it will help if you sign up for the MoveOn version of the event here:
MoveOn Action- Borough President's Courtroom, Borough Hall, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201Tuesday, August 18th, 6:00 PM
Another way to get the word out is to print the jpg below.  You'll find each printed page scissors up into nine pocket-sized announcements to hand out.  
The notice of the hearing from the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office that came out on July 15, 2015 or earlier.

We contacted the the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office and obtained the following specifics about testifying:  

Oral Testimony:

Oral testimony, as a practical matter, will get more exposure and will be given the most weight and will be videoed and viewable publicly within 72 hours of the hearing.  People showing up may testify orally and it is virtually certain those testifying will have three minutes to testify.  Someone not present (or too handicapped to testify orally) may have someone read their testimony, but the person who reads the testimony can only read testimony for three minutes which restricts their ability to read for multiple persons, or to read testimony for someone else plus testify for themselves as well.

Those testifying orally can bring placards, but will not get the assistance of PowerPoint or computers (like the applicant presenters).

It should be possible to sign up to testify about a half hour early (5:30 PM).  If you show up even earlier you will be at the head of the line of people waiting to enter the room to sign up to speak.

Testimony will be taken in order of first come, first testifying except:
*  Courtesy to ahead of others  be given to dignitaries like elected officials and possibly pastors, and
*  It is possible that there may be a switching off be pro and con testimony on either a one-to-one, or pro-rated basis.
Written and Emailed Testimony:

Written and emailed testimony as a practical matter, will get less exposure will be given less weight and will become part of the accessible public record only in summary form as BP staff refers to what has been received.

Written and emailed testimony may be submitted at least unfil September 8th, although earlier is better and likely to be more influential.  (This is important because people at the hearing, or watching it on video afterward may find themselves spurred to submit testimony in reaction.)

Here is a helpful form you can use to submit testimony plus text you can adopt and a link you can send to your friends here: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams Still Taking Testimony On Whether Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn Should Be Sold And Shrunk 

This form can be printed and used as an aid in submitting testimony.
Testimony submitted in writing at least avoids the problem that the three minute limit for oral testimony is very short.

Emailed testimony should be sent to: Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President, Email: askeric@brooklynbp.nyc.gov

Written testimony should be mailed to or dropped off at:
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201
It may also be dropped off at the hearing.

We suggest including "Testimony with respect to August 18, 2015 hearing on proposed sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library" in the subject line.  If you send a copy of your testimony to Citizens Defending Libraries at backpack362 [at] aol.com we may be able to get it  extra attention.

Questions of the Presenters:

The applicant presenters (the Brooklyn Public Library, the Developer, the Architect, and the NYC Economic Development Corporation) will get about five to ten minutes collectively to present with possible PowerPoint Assistance.

Questions will be asked of the presenters by the Borough President.  There will be no opportunity for the public to ask questions or to submit questions to be asked by the Borough President. . .

. . .  Therefore, any unanswered questions the Borough President doesn't ask are likely to remain unanswered in this forum,  like, for instance, how much money the private Saint Ann's school will be getting as a payday in connection with this project (the developer refused to answer this at the CB2 hearing) and whether the private school might be getting more cash free and clear than the city/BLP will be netting from the sale and shrinkage of the library.

* * * *
One quick easy step that can boost the effect of those testifying against sale and shrinkage of this library (and other NYC) libraries is to make sure that you and everyone you know has signed the Citizens Defending Libraries petition to Mayor de Blasio.  It will also make sure that you get updates from us about all matters related to the hearing.  (Many people who signed the Citizens Defending Libraries petition addressed to Mayor Bloomberg have not caught up with signing this new petition.)

In July 2013 Mr. de Blasio standing with us on the steps of the 42nd Central Reference Library called for a halt to the sale of this and other libraries saying: "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."

Notwithstanding, Mr. de Blasio was soon thereafter getting money sent to him by the development team for this project while their application to acquire the library property was pending.

Here is the petition to Mr. de Blasio.  Please share it broadly:
Mayor de Blasio: Rescue Our Libraries from Developer Destruction
* * * *

The notice of the hearing from the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office reads in pertinent part as follows:

Uniform Land Use Review Procedure
Public Hearing
Notice is hereby given that, pursuant to Sections 197-c of the New York City Charter, the Brooklyn Borough President will hold a public hearing on the following matters in the Borough President's Courtroom, Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201, commencing at 6:00 P.M. on Tuesday, August 18th, 2015.

CALENDER ITEM 1— 150399 PPK / 150400 PQK
An application submitted by the Brooklyn Public Library and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS):
    1.    pursuant to Section 197-c of the New York City Charter, for the disposition of one city-owned property located at 1 Clinton Street (aka 280 Cadman Plaza West); Block 239, Lot 16, pursuant to zoning;

    2.    pursuant to Section 197-c of the New York City Charter, for the acquisition of property located at 1 Clinton Street (aka 280 Cadman Plaza West); Block 239, Lot 16, pursuant to zoning;
to redevelop the premises (total of 36 floors and approximate height of 416ft) to include an improved 21,500sf Brooklyn Public Library branch, approximately 139 dwelling units comprising approximately 277,981sf of residential floor area, approximately 19,800sf of community facility space, a below-grade public parking facility with approximately 45 accessory parking spaces, and 630sf of retail.

Note: To request a sign language interpreter, or request TTD services, call Mr. Richard Bearak at 718-802-4057 before the hearing.

* * * *

(Note that the building’s extra tall ceilings mean the building’s approximate height of 416ft stated above is the equivalent of a more standard 41-story building.)

What do people need to know about the proposed sale for a relative pittance (perhaps actually netting cash close to or less than zero) this sturdy, historic, recently enlarged and upgraded library, shrinking it down from 63,000 square feet to 21,000 square feet or that vicinity?

The following two links will assist:
•        PRESS RELEASE & NEWS ADVISORY- Forewarned and Forearmed Brooklyn Community Board 2 Votes Wednesday, July 15th On Proposed Fire Sale of Major Public Asset, Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn

•        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)
For those of you who may not want to click through fro more information, here are some highlighted concerns:
1.    The mistake of shrinking this library (last enlarged with public expense and sacrifice Oct.1993) down to just one-third size* can never be corrected, nor can the “replacement” library, stuck in the bottom of a luxury residential tower, ever grow with the neighborhood, CBD, borough or city.  Though this shrinkage is to a preordained size no replacement library has been designed and no estimation at all has been done of how many books it should hold.

        (* 63,000 square feet to just 21,000 square feet.)

2.    The BPL is selling a sturdy, readily adaptable library in good shape, together with its land and development rights worth over $100 million to the public in order to net next to nothing in a transaction that may even incur a net cash loss.  Further, there is no assurance that the paltry sums, if any, gleaned from the sale, all going to the city, would ever subsequently go to libraries.  Libraries, highly valued by the public, cost relatively little to fund, but this sale is apt to encourage further underfunding like this.

3.    This sale would sacrifice one more public asset (an education-supporting one at that) to build yet another new, huge residential tower that would further burden the public infrastructure such as PS8, already at 140% capacity.

4.    The gentrifying aspects of this project are unmistakable with a public asset democratically serving everyone equally being shut down, lower income patrons coming to the neighborhood kicked out, and so-called “affordable” housing units built poor door style at a far remove from Brooklyn’s burgeoning downtown and upper crust Brooklyn Heights.

5.    The developer has refused to say how much of a payday the private Saint Ann’s School is getting from the public’s sale and shrinkage of the library, because that’s a “private” transaction, even though it’s driving this public one.  Shouldn’t Saint Ann’s be paying the BPL?  (It may likely get more from this sale than the BPL is getting.)

6.    This sale sets the unfortunate precedent for serially underfunding and selling off other libraries (per the BPL strategic real estate plan) and other public assets (like public housing) setting a template for how public assets can be picked off one-by-one.  This developer is making hundreds of millions of dollars: The incentives for other such deals will always be there.  If we can’t stop them at libraries . . .

7.    It’s improper that while the developer’s application for this project was pending Bill de Blasio was taking money sent to him by its development team, in his words: “lurking right behind the curtain . .  very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.”
Pre-Hearing Borough Presided Interview

Is the Borough President getting a little bit ahead of the game on things?  The timing of these two identical interview articles where Borough President Adams envisions a future of bookless libraries is interesting in that Mr. Adams is about to hear testimony from the public (the first ever borough president public hearing of its kind) about what the public wants in terms of libraries, having books, and whether it wants to see libraries sold off as giveaway real estate deals to developers.

Although identical, each article takes comment separately, worth giving and reading:
The Brooklyn Paper- Beep: City should take over, merge library systems, By Harry MacCormack, July 22, 2015

Courier Life’s Brooklyn Daily- City should take over, merge library systems, By Harry MacCormack, July 22, 2015 

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