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, September 7, 2015

New York City Planning Commission To Hold Uniform Land Use Review Procedure Public Hearing, September 22, 2015, On Whether Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s Central Destination Library In Downtown Brooklyn Should Be Sold And Shrunk

(IMPORTANT NOTE:  -Added after the oral hearing-  A report of the oral portion of the hearing, testimony thus far submitted, discussions with respect thereto by the commissioners is now available at: Tuesday, September 22, 2015, Report on Tuesday, September 22nd City Planning Commission Hearing On Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries.  Reference to this new page, including consulting what the commissioners have expressed about their thinking to date and how we have addressed it will be useful to anyone submitting additional testimony.  The Commissioners are still accepting additional testimony before they vote, probably on Wednesday October 21st.  Such additional testimony is best submitted- fifteen copies to Yvette V. Gruel, see below- before noon on Friday October 16th.)
The New York City Planning Commission, 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, will hold a hearing where the Commission 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 City Planning Commission:

*    Brooklyn Borough President Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, after a similar hearing disapproved the sale and shrinkage of the library (with conditions).  See:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle:  Brooklyn BP Adams 'disapproves with conditions' Brooklyn Heights Library development, By Mary Frost, September 9, 2015.
The Brooklyn Borough Presidents’s press release said: “My recommendations for the future of the Brooklyn Heights Branch, which have been guided by the thousands of Brooklynites whose feedback I have considered in recent weeks.”
More than 2000 testimonies submitted through Citizens Defending Libraries
Citizens Defending Libraries was the conduit of more than 2,000 testimonies (see picture) from individual members of the public.  Read more about that 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
We thank the Borough President for considering them.

*   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.  Very important: The Land Use Committee voted not to approve the project in a vote that should be respected.

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, September 22, 10:00am – 3:30pm (estimated)- VERY IMPORTANT!
City Planning Commission hearing on proposed sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007
Written (not Emailed) Testimony:

Written testimony as a practical matter, will get less exposure will probably be given less weight.

The Planning Commission is, we understand, probably accepting written testimony until Monday, October 5, 2015.  It says it wants 15 copies of each testimony and that it does not want emailed testimony.)  As a practical matter we are also told that a pouch goes out to all the members at 3:00 PM of Friday containing testimony received soon enough before that.

Testimony be delivered or arrive by mail at:
City Planning Commission hearing
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007
Attn: Yvette V. Gruel
Calendar Information Office - Room 2E (Regarding o proposed sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library- ULURP C150399 PPK)
The Tuesday hearing will be in the daytime, so people who can make it to testify in the daytime are especially important to having a win here.  Getting there early for a seat in the main hearing room (versus the overflow room) is advised.

The Planning Commission may have underestimated public interest in this item and doing so has scheduled the hearing for a Jewish Holiday which will be a problem for people if testimony runs as long as it might.  (If you come and have to leave for this reason explain and document that you want to come back on another day to testify orally,)

The commission is requesting that any written testimony be delivered or mailed on actual paper (not emailed or digitally provided) and that at least 15 such physical copies be provided.  (That’s a challenge for us submitting our 2,000+ individual testimonies, at least a page each, plus the hundreds of extra pages we have.)

The commission suggests not submitting written testimony before the day of the oral hearing (because it is likely to get lost).  You can submit written testimony within 10 days after the hearing (sooner is better) and the Commissioner’s vote will not occur before that.

The commissioners are listed below at the bottom of this page.  You may want to use what influence you have with them to make sure they vote against the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library.  Also, five of the commissioners are accountable to the five Borough Presidents who should encourage them to vote the right way on this (a message we can communicate).  Several of the commissioners, like Michelle de la Uz (appointed by the Public Advocate), have been involved in selling off libraries and should recuse themselves (consider themselves ineligible to vote).

Here is a helpful form (originally for the Brooklyn Borough President hearing) 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 (save the image first) and used as an aid in submitting testimony.-  See also the bullet point text below from the form that you can use and adapt in your own writing.
Testimony submitted in writing at least avoids the problem that the time limit for oral testimony is very short.

Here in TEXT form is a checklist of reasons (from the above form) you can include when you testify that you are against the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library:

•    The library, which I understand has a probable value of over $120 million, is being sold for absurdly little.

•    The BPL has been extraordinarily non-transparent in all ways including keeping its plan to sell this library secret since 2007 (or before) and refusing to publicly disclose  its "strategic real estate plan" revealing what libraries it wants to turn into real estate deals next.

•     We should not be shrinking this library, especially down to just one-third size, especially since it was just enlarged and completely upgraded in 1993 at considerable public expense and sacrifice.
•     It is impossible to guarantee that any proceeds from the sale (which all go to the city) would ever come back to be spent on libraries and, even if they were, the net amount is paltry, perhaps close to or even less than zero.
•     The library is a sturdy beautifully designed building with space that can easily be put to good many good uses in different ways.

•    The library's "Business and Career" functions should not be moved out of the Downtown Brooklyn business district, especially when it is growing.

•    We should not be selling off our public infrastructure to private developers, especially educational infrastructure when, for example, our schools are not keeping pace with new development.

•    It is discriminatory and anti-democratic to turn libraries into real estate boondoggles.

•    I don't like that Mayor de Blasio was taking money from the development team that was chosen while their application was pending. (Developers he said were "lurking right behind the curtain . .  very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.")

•    Stuck in the bottom of a residential, privately owned building, we won't ever be able to enlarge this library to correct this shrinkage or accommodate growth.

•    Selling libraries to developers "because they are underfunded" creates a perverse incentive to underfund libraries, exactly what we have witnessed.

•    The library is being shrunk down to a preordained size without bothering to design a new library first or figure out how many books it should hold.

•    I want lots of books in our libraries and this plan gets rid of them.

•    Selling this public asset so cheaply will lead to sell-offs of our other assets including sale of more libraries.

•    We can't sell off our libraries for a few so-called "affordable" housing units, especially when these units "poor door" style are insultingly far away and we are, at the same time, shedding 14,000 truly affordable NYCHA public housing units using the same tactics and excuses employed to sell libraries.

•    A private school (Saint Ann's) is benefitting in a significant and undisclosed amount from the loss that the public will suffer if the library is sold and shrunk (and may even get more from the sale than the city and BPL will net).

•    I don't believe the fairy tales the BPL is telling about how it `can't fix' library air conditioning.  (I wouldn't sell my home for this reason!)

•    No extra space will be built at the Grand Army Plaza Library to house any shift of the "Business and Career" functions to that location and there are no designs or cost estimations for how to cram those functions in.

•    Library use and circulation of physical books is up dramatically and our libraries should grow and be funded to accommodate that.

•    This plan is a short-sighted sacrifice of an irreplaceable asset, inexcusable for a wealthy city like ours.

•    We should have learned from the Donnell Library sale debacle (that this sale is modeled on!) how terrible mistakes like this are.

•    The environmental repercussions of this project have not been adequately considered and assessed.

•    Civilizations that dismantle their libraries generally fail.

Here is the list of city planning commissioners and information about them:
    1.   Carl Weisbrod, Chairman-- Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by de Blasio.  Formerly worked fro Trinity Church handling their real estate, a parish church in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. While Mr. Weiesbrod was with Trinity, a major part of the 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) was sold to the  Episcopal Church’s Church Pension Group (”The Church Pension Group”) as part of a series of linked real estate deals with the NYPL that appear to have the possibility of progressing still further.
    2.    Kenneth J. Knuckles, Esq., Vice Chairman- Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by Bloomberg.
    3.    Rayann Besser  Appointee of the Staten Island Borough President (currently James Oddo).  Appointed by James Molinaro.
    4.    Irwin G. Cantor, P.E.- Appointee of Queens Borough President (currently Melinda Katz) Appointed by Helen Marshall.
    5.    Alfred C. Cerullo, III - Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by Bloomberg.
    6.    Cheryl Cohen Effron - Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by de Blasio.
    7.    Michelle de la Uz- Appointee of the Public Advocate (currently Tish James).  Appointed by de Blasio.  Is actively involved in the sale of libraries and a transaction (with the Sunset Park Library) where her organization, the Fifth Avenue Committee, expects to benefit directly from the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library.
    8.    Joseph Douek- Appointee of Brooklyn Borough President (currently Eric Adams who opposes the library sale and shrinkage) Appointed by Marty Markowitz.  The library is being sold for shrinkage by the city through the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC).  Mr. Doueck was Brooklyn's representative to the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Board of Directors and served on the EDC board while the library sale was in progress.  Additionally, around this time, at least one individual went from EDC to the Brooklyn Public Library as staff to handle the sale.  In addition, at the same time the head of EDC was on the Brooklyn Public Library board of trustees.
    9.    Richard W. Eaddy - Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by Bloomberg.
    10.    Anna Hayes Levin- Appointee of Manhattan Borough President (currently Gale Brewer).  Appointed by Gale Brewer.
    11.    Orlando Marín- Appointee of Bronx Borough President (currently Ruben Diaz Jr.).  Appointed by Ruben Diaz Jr.
    12.    Larisa Ortiz, - Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by de Blasio.
    13.    Vacant- (Since July 1, 2015)- de Blasio
* * * *
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 (which may be helpful until we get an equivalent from City Planning) 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 for 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.”

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