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, July 6, 2015

Handout Number 1 For July 6, 2014 Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee Meeting- Let's Get the Record Straight! Concerns Re Proposed Library Sale+Shrinkage To be Voted On

People formed a long line to excoriate Brooklyn's CB2 Land Use Committee after its vote at a hastily scheduled meeting the Monday after 4th of July weekend to approve the sale and shrinkage of the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn.  No member of the public attending the meeting spoke spoke any words of approval for the committee's action.

This page will be updated.

Here is one of the handouts that Citizens Defending Libraries distributed to Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee Meeting before it voted July 6, 2015.

Following the text of the handout is a link to television coverage of the evening's proceedings.  Links to our own videos will follow in updates to this post. 

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Let’s Get the Record Straight!

AND, Let’s Hope That Community Board 2 Doesn’t Vote To Recommend Selling And Shrinking One of Brooklyn’s Most Important Libraries Based On a Record of Inaccuracies From The BPL (compounding the problem of the BPL’s withholding information)

That said, there are so many concerns that apply to selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights central destination downtown library:
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.”
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This set of images are from Brooklyn News 12 video linked to below.
Below, just before the link for the VIDEO, is the "Library-Squasher" image held up here- You can click to enlarge

Brooklyn News12 VIDEO: Plan to sell Brooklyn library discussed at CB 2 meeting, July 6, 2015.

Before the committee voted to approve the sale of the library it demonstrated an abject lack of knowledge about the project by proposing several 100% feckless possible modifications, like requiring that $2 million from the sale proceeds be set aside for the "replacement" library, whether this would be for maintenance and operation expenses or capital expenditures was not thought out, and irrelevant anyway: The city gives the library virtually all its funds and could simply require the immediate exhaustion of the fund as a predicate to advancing any more money. . .  In other words- "Poof; Now you see it, now you don't"!

The only substantive suggestion the committee began to venture was to require that the new branch library be at least the same size as the existing one.  Had the committee done so the BPL and developer would have been hoisted on the pitard of their own rhetoric where they have often obfuscated by saying that the one-third size 21,000 square foot library they propose to replace the current 63,000 square foot library is equivalent to the portion of the library now allocatable to branch functions.  It isn't!  Approximately, 36,000 square feet is allocable to the branch library.  Another approximately 27,000 square feet is theoretically allocable to Business and Career functions of the library.  These functions are theoretically being sent to the more remote, less accessible Grand Army Plaza library where no new space will be added and there are no plans about how to the functions will be accommodated.. . .  In other words, once again- "Poof; Now you see it, now you don't"!

The committee was obviously flailing about helplessly with a total lack of knowledge about how much they were actually shrinking the library.  Proposing to keep even the branch library at the same size would have killed the developer's deal with the BPL.  CB2 District Manager Rob Perris stepped into the breach to neuter the committee's nascent proposal, dropping delicately phrased hints warning that the BPL was not using conventional measurements in all its various representation to the public, press and the committee about library size.. . . That others would measure things differently.

In the end, what the committee actually actually approved and recommended about maintaining a minimum library size was so bollixed up as to be incomprehensible, the end result probably being that some committee members, so very confused about the facts anyway ,might have felt consoled that they actually did something like what they started out to, but with the language sufficiently tangled that that Perris and lawyers will simply choose to interpret to the developer's benefit when the dust settles.  

One important reason the committee vote went the way it did is that the Brooklyn Heights Association oddly, very suspectly, inconsistently, and probably very improperly advocated that result.  See:  Sunday, July 5, 2015, How Self-Contradictory Can The Brooklyn Heights Association Be As It Advocates Sale And Shrinkage of The Brooklyn Heights Central Destination Downtown Library?

Judy Stanton simultaneously a CB2 Land Use Committee member and employee of the Brooklyn Heights Association as its Executive Director voted for the sale and shrinkage of the library although there were members of the public arguing that to do so she was furthering a highly problematic conflict of interest situation.  Irene Janner, also both a CB2 Land Use Committee member and employee of the Brooklyn Heights Association, had spoken out against the proposal during the committee's June 17th deliberations on  the subject, but this evening she was absent, reported by Ms. Stanton, her supervisor, to be "on vacation."

Here is coverage of the evening in the Brooklyn Eagle:  CB2 committee approves sale of Brooklyn Heights Library, with caveats, By Mary Frost, July 7, 2015 - 3:38pm

See also handout Number 2 about the inadequate consideration of the environmental impact of the project.

See also: Handout Number 3 For July 6, 2014 Brooklyn Community Board 2 Land Use Committee Meeting- Come To The Library Seeking Truth NOT Treasure.

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