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.

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

The City Planning Commission's September 22nd hearing commences
Turnout or speakers opposing the sale of the library was good (and our speakers eloquent) especially given that this was during the business and a day leading into that night's major Jewish holiday (people had to leave before things wrapped up to prepare- On commissioner, Cantor, was not present).  We again outnumbered library sale proponents who, once again, were virtually all, one way or another, salaried by the real estate industry to be speaking (we include in that category the BPL employees march out to defend the proposed sale).  One of the City Planner staffer told us that, in his tenure, there has never been a larger crowd (but he has not yet reached his first anniversary at CPC).

Very importantly, throughout the hearing, city planning commissioners asked some sensibly probing questions some of which the got some shocking answers, like the Brooklyn Public Library Trustees admitting that they very likely are not getting the best possible deal on selling the library (the deal may not look so good right now they said), that they were not obligated to take the highest bid and, in this case had, in this regard, heavily weighted the developer’s offer of a smidgen of space for a temporary library.  Also admitted, the BPL never did any assessment of the value of the library to the public versus just putting it out to bid for its tear down value.

BPL representative also confirmed that they have no design for any replacement library at Cadman Plaza (which means they don’t know whether the kids get kicked into basement or not).  Similarly the BPL representatives noted that they don’t have a design, and are not providing information about how many millions it will cost, for it to cram theoretically transferred functions into the Grand Army Plaza library where no additional space will be provided.

The was also an ominous indication from City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod about how he would view approval of this proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library as a precedent for reactivating plans the Bloomberg had to similarly sell for redevelopment several well-functioning Manhattan high schools.

You can discern all of this and see recapitulated almost everything important that happened at the hearing from the supplemental hearing testimony that Citizens Defending Libraries submitted after the hearing (see below) where we restated commissioner’s questions followed by the sometimes shocking answers they received, plus, as necessary, supplying correct answers that the library proponents failed to.

In reviewing those exchanges of questions and answers or watching the hearing (video link below) the following may help you as a score card to keep track of which commissioners are which.  Two commissioners recused themselves.  The list below may also help you if you want to be in touch with any of the commissioners or those they represent.
   1.   Carl Weisbrod, May have to recuse himself- 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.  More crowd sourced research required: For instance, dealing with NYPL's Marshal Rose while handling Trinity Church real estate?
    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.  (Staten Island's libraries are targeted.)
    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.    Richard W. Eaddy - Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by Bloomberg.
    8.    Anna Hayes Levin- Appointee of Manhattan Borough President (currently Gale Brewer).  Appointed by Gale Brewer.
    9.    Orlando MarĂ­n- Appointee of Bronx Borough President (currently Ruben Diaz Jr.).  Appointed by Ruben Diaz Jr.
    10.    Larisa Ortiz, - Mayor's appointee.  Appointed by de Blasio.
Commissioners from the boroughs (four left) may be especially likely to vote with us.  If de Blasio commissioners vote with us they get their boss of the hook from losing much more significant political capital.  Who knows where Bloomberg appointees loyalty lies. . . but it should really be about good governance in the end, shouldn't it?

The following two commissioners are already recused due to conflict of interest.
    11.    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.
    12    Joseph Douek- Appointee of Brooklyn Borough President (currently Eric Adams who opposes the library sale and shrinkage) Appointed by Marty Markowitz.  Mr. Doueck is one of the trustees of teh BPL that is selling the library.  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.
Here is a link to where you can watch the video.  After a presentation of the proposal by the BPL there was testimony alternating each half hour between pro and con.  It starts with those who are proponents of selling and shrinking libraries before we told our side of the story.  The part of the hearing deal;ing with the library begins at 49 minutes in with a 15 minute presentation by the applicant team.  The first half-hour round of testimony of those opposing the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library begins at 1:51.
City planning hearing 9-22 video
You may also want to look at the presentation to the commissioners the preceding day, September 21, 2015 (starting at 4:06):
September 21, 2015- City Planning Commission meeting
In addition, the commissioners discussed the proposed sale and shrinkage at their Monday, October 5, 2015 meeting viewable here (starting at 1:45):
October 5th 2015 Review Session
In three sets of supplemental testimony (below) Citizens Defending Libraries summarizes concerns and dealt with areas of inquiry of the commissioners providing information in response thereto.
It is still possible to get written testimony in to the commission (ASAP is advisable- particularly before Noon On Friday, October 16, 2015) and you any want to do so after watching the oral portion via the link above.

And here's our web page about submitting testimony.
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

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Citizens Defending Libraries Testimony

September 22, 2015

City Planning Commission
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007

Re: Submission of testimony against the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.

Dear City Planning Commission:

I address this submission of testimony to the commission generally and not to its chair because I believe that Chairman Weisbrod, like some of the other commissioners, likely has reason to recuse himself on the proposed sale of library real estate, the transactions and plans for them having proved to be highly and dynamically interlinked despite occurring in different parts of the city.  I am aware that Chairman Weisbrod previously had a position (ending 2011) where he was responsible for the real estate of the Episcopal Diocese of New York owned by Trinity Church while the church’s pension fund engaged in, as part of the New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan (real estate plans that commenced 2007 or before), a series of intricate real estate transactions involving, among other things, the pension fund’s acquisition of a very substantial portion of the NYPL’s 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL).  Even now, it appears clear that those transactions have not all definitely concluded as more about the future of SIBL must be discussed and negotiated.

I submit as my testimony, and testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries, testimony that was submitted by us to the Brooklyn Borough President in connection with his earlier held hearing in connection with this ULURP proceeding asking for public input about whether public approval should be given for the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton.

These submissions include:
    1.    An aggregation of previous testimonies submitted pertaining to the proper funding of our libraries and why libraries should not be sold, transformed into real estate deals turning away from the core missions needing to be pursued.

    2.    A series of articles detailing significant background with respect to this proposed library sale.

    3.    A Citizens Defending Libraries web page of links to articles (including key excerpts) that discuss the relative merits and disadvantages of digital versus physical books.

    4.    Testimonies concerning this proposed sale from members of the public collected  in a brief space of time after the Borough President finished the portion of his hearing for the taking of oral testimony.  We submitted well over 2,000 to the Borough President and most were collected between August 25, 2015 and September 8, 2015.  Already we have many more (not here supplied).  Look at the form that was filled out (a blank one is suppled herewith): Most Brooklynites and New Yorkers feel that all or almost all of these many reasons should bar the sale and shrinkage of this library, often with just a few of these reasons being sufficient reason enough.  Among other things, aside from the fact that the public values its library, there is profound lack of faith in the conduct of library administration and other involved officials. 

    5.    A print-out of our Citizens Defending Libraries petition to Mayor Bloomberg and a print-out of our Citizens Defending Libraries petition to Mayor de Blasio.  Currently there are just under 16,000 electronic signatures to the petition to Mayor Bloomberg (and other officials) and well over 6,000 electronic signatures to Mayor de Blasio (and other officials).  In addition, we have thousands of additional signatures that are not electronically executed because many people still do not have emails or choose not to sign the petition that way.  However much heralded, the digital age has not entirely arrived.  Although representative, these print-outs for submission to the Brooklyn Borough President at an earlier date are not up to date with all new signatures.  Nor are we able to keep up with data entry with so many people adding their names.
We trust you will appreciate the time and expense we invested in producing all of the above for you.  We could have supplied all of the above to you electronically by email or on a DVD readable by machines (versions of which most of you are probably currently using), but we were informed that the planning commissioners will only accept physical copies.  We understand the value and superiority of physical copies.  We have complied and supplied actual, not virtual, copies.

Much of the conversation being had right now (probably far too much given the silliness of the proposition) is whether the public should be handed a virtual library in place of an actual one, and whether that would also justify the proposed outrage of taking considerable assets and property away from the people of Brooklyn and New York to give them to a connected developer, getting in return far less than their public value.  The answer is a resounding no.

This library was recently substantially enlarged and upgraded at public expense and is one of the system’s most modern and up-to-date in terms of computer and technological support.  It is worth more than $120 million to the public.  Technology does not mean that libraries stop growing.  The libraries of other communities such as Austin, Texas, a technology city, are growing.  Should we be shrinking ours?

Virtual library?: The public knows a real boondoggle when it sees one.  The digital age actually means we need more space as our libraries do more, not less, more space for our physical books plus space for the new and digital functions we are adding.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

The more than 2,000 testimonies collected by Citizens Defending Libraries for the Brooklyn Boorugh President's hearing and submitted also to the City Planing Commission.  This image was dispalyed while oral testimony was given at the CPC hearing
Michael D. D. White with 2,000 testimonies plus prints out of petitions' thousands of signatures
Carolyn McIntyre holding up the testimony take home package (doudle-sided and in some cases four-to-a-page print-outs) testimony for each commissioner that Citizens Defending Libraries prepared.
At the City Planning Commission- 15 sets of testimony set to go.  One big photocopying job because the commissioners want physical copies.
City Councilman Brad Lander who goes out of his way to be present whenever he can to testify in favor of selling and shrinking the library and promotes other library sales.
Gwen Fischman saying don't sell the library
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Supplemental testimony

September 29, 2015

City Planning Commission
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007

Re: Submission of supplemental testimony against the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn. (ULURP C15039 PPK - Oral testimony taken by Commissioners on September 22, 2015)

Dear City Planning Commission:

The attached is submitted as supplemental testimony with respect to this ULURP proceeding asking for public input about whether public approval should be given for the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton.

During the portion of the hearing where oral testimony was taken the commissioners asked and sought answers to many important questions.  Many of the answers they received were highly notable, some in extremely surprising ways.  We also noted many of the questions commissioners asked remained unanswered or incompletely addressed, in particular often by the proponents of the sale and shrinkage of the library.  In some cases answers given did not appear to be entirely accurate. There were also some questions asked of opponents of the library sale and shrinkage that we think could benefit from a more amplified response.

Accordingly, we have collected what we think are the most important questions the commissioners asked supplying the correct answers.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries   
Answers To Various Questions Asked By City Planning Commissioners at September 22, 2015 Hearing About Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s Central Destination Library in Downtown Brooklyn
1.    Is the public getting a good deal with this sale to the developer?  And is the public getting the best possible deal from this developer?  Quite a few times while oral testimony was being given the commissioners asked variations on these two questions.  Although there is some interrelation between the questions, an affirmative answer to the second question, is the public getting the best possible deal from the developer, provides virtually no assurance that an affirmative answer can be given to the first, whether it can be assured that the public is getting a good deal with this sale.  That’s because the value to the developer, the highest price any developer will pay, is only the tear-down value of the library.  Having to sell one’s property for no more than its tear-down value is the nightmare of any property owner that has made a substantial investment in their property.  As Michael D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries noted, the tear-down value of the library is a good indication of what would be only a fraction of the cost involved, just a starter, if the public were ever to try to reestablish the full equivalent of this library in the future.

To know whether this is a good deal for the public requires answering many questions that remain unanswered by the BPL and EDC: What is the value of the current library to the public that will be lost with the proposed sale, what is the public getting as a result of the sale (impossible to say when there are no designs for what will `replace’ it at either the Cadman Plaza site or at Grand Army Plaza), and what are the other costs associated with the sale (the BPL has confirmed that it has no figures for the cost of the Grand Army Plaza changes- where there will be no increase of space to accommodate the supposed transfer and assumption of additional functions there- because it has no design for that space yet and while the BPL has a theoretical price for the still undesigned ‘replacement’ library at Cadman Plaza that theoretical price is, we think, low-balled way below what would need to be spent if you look at what is proportionately being spent for the equivalent Donnell Library ‘replacement.’)

What is the loss to the public?  Citizens Defending Libraries has documented (using the BPL’s own figures) that the current library is probably worth more than $120 million to the public, about $60 million to replace the building and well over another $60 million for the land and associated rights of its public use.  Our calculations indicate that rather than being sold for a net amount of about $40 million, the figure the BPL publicizes, when all the necessary costs of the transaction are netted out the public will receive, net, so much less than this figure that we could verge into negative territory.  We have asked whether the BPL has documenting figures to contradict our figures about these loses (they apparently don’t) and for the BPL to calculate and make such calculations public (they haven’t).

When Commissioner Levin asked one trustee “what kind of independent analysis” the BPL had done, including presumably any appraisals of exactly the above value being lost to the public, the trustee sniffed that the value that was set in a request-for-proposals sale process, was “not to be sneezed at.”  In other words, she was unaware of any such valuation of the worth of the library to the public.  No one representing the BPL (or EDC for that matter) at any point represented that they had in any way assessed the actual value of the library to the public.  Instead, it was indicated that valuation questions, if any, were entirely the province of EDC whose job doing real estate deals is entirely different from, it not actually antithetical to, the library’s core mission.

Is the public at least getting the best possible deal from this developer for the tear-down value of the library?: Two other representatives of the BPL, including another trustee, indicated that the deal might not look so good now or over time even though they thought it was, once upon a time, a good deal.  Respecting the best possible tear-down deal, Commissioner Ortiz asked EDC’s representative whether EDC was obligated to take the highest bidder and was told this was not the case, that other factors were considered, and then had explained to her that, in this particular case, a significant factor in the decision was evaluating heavily that the developer had presented the proposal of providing an approximately 7,000 square foot temporary space to house the interim replacement for the currently 63,000 square foot library.  (In other words, this very short-term consideration was the tail wagging the dog respecting the disposal of a major significant long-term capital asset?)

    A related concern is that, while this developer’s proposal was pending for possible selection, the development team, in Bill de Blasio’s words “lurking right behind the curtain”, was sending money to de Blasio.   

2.    What about the alternative of a lease rather than a sale?  (This was particularly asked about by Commissioner Ortiz several times).  This question has some subtlety to it.  In one sense it addresses what Ramond Acevedo was expressing when he, using his farmer’s experience, metaphorically likened the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights central destination Downtown Library to a farmer selling his milk cow to have one good meal rather than keeping it to milk over time.  Clearly there are models where leases (like with the Chrysler Building and Cooper Union where leases provide ongoing and stabile assurance that buttresses the financial condition of a not-for-profit institution, but the libraries are for the most part tax-payer funded with library real property owned by the city itself.  To be intellectually honest, government does not generally invest in income streams that private enterprise might generate in order to finance public functions.  (Doing so here would also not assure that city tax contributions allocated by the city each year wouldn’t be correspondingly lowered anyway.)

The real questions about selling, versus retaining, public assets are more subtle.  One part of the issue is the overall shrinkage of the public sector assets and resources in comparison to those of the private sector.  There are many important arguments for balance.

A probably more important aspect of retaining public assets, rather than paring down to barest possible minimums, is to retain options and flexibility for the future and appropriate growth.  So, for instance, placing a library at the bottom of a privately owned residential building means that the library (that desperately needed to be enlarged in 1993) could not be enlarged in the future.  Conversely, if the library were placed in the bottom of a city-owned and occupied commercial building, a situation creating many parallels to the possible lease situation asked about by Commissioner Ortiz, the library could be enlarged fairly readily in the future.  We are not saying, per se, that this is the option that should be substituted, but its superiority amongst options bears discussion that has not taken place.

A lease, unless it is short-term, does not create flexibility for reclamation of property to  return it to public use and service, although it does assist the public in keeping pace with rising property values as property values inflate over the long-term.  (Commissioner Ortiz was asking about what she referred to as a “very long term lease.”)  As for whether a lease is possible here: The commissioners were told that it was not possible to do so if the developer being accommodated wants to build luxury condominium apartments as he does.   However, in at least one case, the city entered into a such a lease deal by having legislation passed in Albany to make it possible.

3.    Are there any known reasons or explanations for why the Brooklyn Heights Library has not been designated a landmark?   The commissioners expressed interest in why the Brooklyn Heights Library, now eligible, might not have been designated a landmark.  It, like Brooklyn’s other central destination library at Grand Army Plaza, was designed by Francis Keally, former president of the Municipal Art Society and an important preservationist.  Uldis Skrodelis, the librarian and general manager of the library also took pains in his testimony to attach significance to the fact that the library has not been designated a landmark   Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City noted that back when the Chrysler Building was also not designated, its newer art deco style was not well appreciated as it also wasn’t when the Brooklyn Heights historic district was created.  (At that time, the building was also not old enough to be designated a landmark.)

Here is what is almost certainly more important to note in this regard: BPL minutes show that in 2009 the Landmarks Commission had identified eight BPL libraries as “potentially eligible for designations as landmarks,” but that the BPL asked the commission to “wait on any decisions on landmarking individual sites” because of the work that BPL was doing on its “real estate portfolio.”   While Citizens Defending Libraries has asked for, and should be entitled to, more information about these communications halting the landmark process neither the BPL nor the Landmarks Commission has complied in response to that FOIL request.  Since this could provide the exact reason the landmarking has not taken place (especially given the BPL choice not to comply with this FOIL request), the BPL is not entitled to cite the lack of designation as any meaningful evidence that the building is not potentially eligible for designation.

Similarly, making another stab at attempting to interpret a supposed void, Mr. Skrodelis tried to attach significance to the fact that architectural critic Francis Marrone has not written anything about the library.  When checked about this Mr. Marrone said: "I guess I need to be more careful about what I don't say!"

4.    Questions about BPL transparency.  The BPL’s refusal to provide information about landmarking is just one example of the BPL’s lack of transparency.  Another example of such lack of transparency and the BPL’s refusal to respond to FOIL is its refusal to furnish its “strategic real estate plan” which would disclose what other libraries are similarly being targeted for sale. Although the commissioner’s asked some questions that teased out the obfuscatory nature of much of the BPL’s testimony the commissioners did not directly inquire about the many ways in which the BPL hasn’t been transparent.  That includes the BPL not furnishing existing information that is contrary to what they have represented about air conditioning repair needs.

5.    Are there assurances to make certain that a sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library would result in funds going to other libraries?  If so, what are they and how does the flow of funds work?  Does the money go to OMB?  Where else might the money (the theoretical “large bucket up front”) go instead?

The commissioners asked a series of questions about whether there are any assurances that proceeds from the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library would go to other libraries, a foundational premise offered by the BPL for doing this deal.  The answer is no, there are no such assurances.  Another intrinsically related question is what, if any, the net amount of such a sale might amount to, to what extent are there might be net proceeds at all.

Treating the net amount question as the threshold question, the fact is that gross proceeds from the sale are only $52 million.  From this should be netted the cost of outfitting a ‘replacement,’ as yet undesigned library on Cadman Plaza West (the BPL says that cost is $10-12 million- we say, based on Donnell, it’s closer to $17 million) the cost of undesigned changes at Grand army Plaza (millions), the cost of moving and keeping books off-site, all the costs of disruptions and going without a proper and full library, etc.  We have warned how we may verge into negative territory here when we calculate the net.  What was referred to the theoretical “large bucket up front” (instead of benefit over time) is hardly such a “large bucket” at all.

The next question is whether funds from a library sale could be predicted or assured to come back to be spent on libraries.  The answer is that there is absolutely no credible assurance that funds would got the libraries.  (We have pointed out that acquiescing and selling off libraries to the real estate industry in response to underfunding actually creates a perverse incentive to underfund libraries in the future- other public assets too- a point that at least one commissioner, Commissioner Marin, acknowledges that he thoroughly understands.)

In this regard, the commissioners asked whether money from the sale of the city-owned library goes into the city’s general fund, whether it goes to OMB.  It does.  Commissioners asked what the “flow of funds” was after that.  The money must be gotten back from the city.

Even if (and this is not and won’t be the case) a netted, or non-netted, amount of money was set aside in a separate identified account, the money could never be assured as going back to the BPL since the city could always effectively reclaim it through the budget process by reducing all the other capital allocations going to the BPL libraries.  Succinctly put, it is virtually impossible to assure that funds will go to BPL libraries as a result of this sale.

EDC’s representative was asked whether EDC had represented the BPL in legally assuring that funds from the sale would go back t the libraries.  He said he could not represent it to be the case, but represented that he knew it was important to the BPL that they assure that funds go to BPL libraries.  That is not, in fact, the case.  It’s documented that the BPL didn’t care.
When the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) on the subject was released representatives of local elected officials observed and complained that it was absolutely unenforceable.  In response, BPL spokesman Josh Nachowitz (who came from EDC) dismissed the important of the ineffectiveness of the MOU, saying that some MOUs get honored and some don't (they just "get thrown out") and that with an upcoming change of many elected officials throughout the city (he cited: new Mayor, new City Council, new Speaker of the City Council, new Borough President, new Planning Commissioner, new Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, new Economic Development Corporation President, new head of Council Finance, new head of committee for Fine Arts, even new library officials such as himself) it was a "fluid environment" and there was "no assurance" the MOU would be honored, saying "we are not going to do something that is completely and totally irrevocable that can't be changed by a new administration."  (Not that the BPL actually could- see the reasons noted above.)  See: Noticing New York, Friday, September 20, 2013, Forest City Ratner As The Development Gatekeeper (And Profit taker) Getting The Benefit As Brooklyn Heights Public Library Is Sold.

The fact is that current legislators and political office holders cannot bind future ones with respect to future budget matters.

The most that can be assured (and it hasn’t been to date- “no specific allocations” “no public commitments” ) is this: If the Brooklyn Heights Library is sold, political assurances are offered that certain libraries (with associated legislators cynically targeted?) will be moved up to the head of the list to receive NYC capital funds.  That means that other libraries, perhaps more needy, will be pushed further down the priority list to get funds.

So, for example, it has been represented that if the Brooklyn Heights Library is sold and shrunk the city will move the Sunset Park Library to the head of the city list to get $10 million (the proposed Fifth Avenue Committee project actually probably requires more than that amount).  Eight million dollars of that ten will be said to be coming from OMB and the general fund by reason of the Brooklyn Heights sale and two million coming from OMB and the general fund just because it is.  Actually, because there is no way to track it, there is no real differentiation between these amounts or how they get to Sunset Park.

Mr. Weisbrod asked a good specific question: Where else might the money from the library sale go instead of to libraries?  How might the city divert money paid into the general fund to other expenditures instead?  New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer had a good answer for this when he wrote decrying the underfunding of the libraries.  Dwyer pointed out that in the last 8 years at least $620 million has been spent on just three sports arenas, (the Ratner/Prokhorov "Barclays" included) and that this amount was 1.37 times the amount spent on libraries serving seven times as many users.  Dwyer wrote, “The city's libraries - the fusty old buildings, and a few spiffier modern ones, . .  have more users than major professional sports, performing arts, museums, gardens and zoos - combined.”

Therefore it’s very clear how funds from any library sale once dumped into the general fund might be diverted to other uses: The same way they have always been diverted and that includes things like for-profit sports arenas because the owners of such private venture have highly paid lobbyists working to divert that money just the way developer lobbyists are working to get libraries like Brooklyn Heights sold.

Could you argue that the city or mayor is at least more obligated, if not enforceably obligated, to fund the libaries to a greater extent when all is said and done?  No, because that moral obligation to better fund the libraries already exists and is being disregarded.

6.    What do the public and library patrons think of these plans?  This is an important question and one that was asked by one of the commissioner of at least one librarian who testified personally extolling the as yet non-existent design for the new library.  If the commissioners want they can believe the public whose 2,000+ testimonies we gathered, a huge proportion, perhaps the preponderance from library patrons outside the Brooklyn Heights Library. . . all these testimonies say the plans are terrible and should not proceed.  Or you can choose to believe the paid BPL representative so busy adhering to repetitious talking points about how “excited” people are about a “21st Century Library” that they tell the commissioners that library patrons are actually “excited” (“excited”!) about the temporary approximately 7,000 square foot interim library that will substitute for the current 63,000 square foot library if plans proceed.  Mind you, no one has even seen plans for the temporary library to get “excited” about.  Similarly, do we really want to accept the representation, in answer to Commissioner Ortiz’s inquiry, that Grand Army Plaza is a better library location to serve the needs of Brooklyn’s Downtown Central Business District office workers?

7.    Were designs done for the‘replacement’ Cadman Plaza library before it was dictated that it would be shrunk down to a preordained size (approximately the same size as the now proposed 21,000 square foot Sunset Park Library, a library on the “R” line that is not a research library, not a destination library and whose circulating portion has lower circulation)?   With questions that Commissioner Levin and others asked it was confirmed more than once that the BPL does not have a design for the ‘replacement’ library at Cadman Plaza, that a design is to be supplied in the future only after its already preordained decision of exactly how much to shrink the library down to.  So, for instance, the BPL librarian commenting on design plans could not say in response to Commissioner Levin’s question whether the children would be kicked into basement, only assuring the commissioner that if the children are put in the basement, there would be special lighting to assure that they could still feel “inspired” by their environment.

8.    Have designs been done to cram transferred business and career functions from the Brooklyn Heights Library to the Grand Army Plaza Library (where no additional square footage will be added to accommodate the assumption of these additional functions)?  With Commissioner Marin asking more than one question it was confirmed by the proponents of the proposed sale and shrinkage that there are no designs for how the functions theoretically shifted to Grand Army Plaza would be crammed in to the existing space.  Commissioner Marin asked how much space is going to Grand Army Plaza.  He received no direct answer from the BPL. Based on the floor plans that we pressured the BPL to finally release, about 27,010 square feet of the Brooklyn Heights Library's functions would wind up being moved to the Grand Army Plaza Library.  No space would be created:  Things would just be compressed which would involve something a BPL representative referred to as “leveraging” probably with regard to overlapping functions.

9.    How can it possibly be that a library that is currently 63,000 square feet can be compressed to 21,000 or so feet (see chart below) just by making the space “more efficient”?   The BPL’s spokesperson David Woloch explained this saying that one “factor is we is we have an opportunity that we normally don’t have to design a library from scratch.”   Really?  The new library will hardly be designed “from scratch.”  That “from scratch” opportunity is not only constrained by the preordained shrinkage that also specifies that only 15,000 square feet of the new library is to be above ground, it is also clear that the new library, being designed after the developer has come up with his own plans, must be designed around what the developer has first designed for his needs, including meeting his building’s service core needs, leaving the library with a strange and oddly shaped space to fit into.

Above, showing in bar graph form the amount of space in the existing Brooklyn Heights Library (left) both above and underground and (right) in the proposed replacement library that would go at the bottom of  tower built for luxury condominiums
The BPL will design “from scratch” the kind of library wanted by whom?  In May Marvel architects acknowledged and publicly reported to a CB2 Youth and Education Committee meeting that at its three charrette/charades public Charrettes (many say “charades”) about how best to shrink the library down to one-third size the public clearly expressed that what it wanted in the new library was "Books, Books. Books."    Nevertheless, it turns out that Marvel's architects completely ignored the entire question of book capacity, a question key to the libraries core mission, when it came to conducting its three public Charrettes.  Marvel presented proposed tentative designs for the replacement library without knowing (or being able to inform participants) how many books the current library holds or how many it might be good for the new library to hold.  At that CB2 meeting in May the architects and BPL said that this was information they could one day obtain and provide.  They have never since done so.  Citizens Defending Libraries has independently developed its own figures showing how drastic the loss would be.  More information is on one of our web pages. See: Sunday, June 14, 2015,  It's Marvelous To Have Books!- Indeed, But Architect Jonathan Marvel Designs a Library Seemingly Oblivious To The Tradition of Finding Books In The Library.

10.    Can clarification be provided with respect to what the space in the current library is versus the proposed shrunken library?  Many questions were asked about the amount of space in the existing library and how it is used versus the proposed shrunken library.  The math supplied buy the confusing representations by BPL representatives did not seem to add up. Questions the commissioners may have about all of the above are comprehensively addressed in the attached addendum available on our web page with enlargeable floor plans (finally obtained from the BPL) that can be printed out.  Further, we also have a page on the web of approximately 300 photographs of all the space in the library.  That includes what the public normally sees and what the public normally can’t see.  Is a huge amount of existing library space shown to be devoted to ‘mechanicals” as the BPL suggests?   No.  Is there space in the building that is being used as a bomb shelter as the BPL tries to hint is the case?  No, we are talking about two half floors of underground space currently used for the storage and delivery of books.   See: Wednesday, June 3, 2015,  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.

11.    Were the plans to shift the business and career functions out of the Brooklyn Heights Library and Brooklyn’s central downtown and business district conceived simultaneously with or before the plans to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library?  Was there any polling of the patrons in order to make the decision?   The plans to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library and to shift functions of the library to Grand Army Plaza were both conceived at the same time (2007/2008).  The library’s assertion that the two, necessarily interlinked, decisions were independent, or that the intended transfer of the functions preceded the plan to sell and shrink the Brooklyn Heights Library strain credulity.  It should also be noted how closely the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library mimics the nearly universally criticized 2007 sale of the Donnell Library as well as how that Donnell sale and shrinkage was tied in with the proposed, now thoroughly discredited, NYPL Central Library Plan generated at the same time.  That Central Library Plan was a similar proposed consolidated shrinkage of library space focused on generating library sale hand-offs.  The NYPL sales were under NYPL CEO David Offensend.  The BPL transactions were done with his wife, Janet Offensend, acting as a key trustee at the BPL.

Commissioner Effron asked whether the BPL polled its patrons about whether to shrink the library and  transfer functions before deciding to do so, noting what a fundamental part of such decision making this ought to be.  Indeed, the BPL did not do any such poll except as an afterthought (requested by others) until the fall of 2013.  This was after the BPL has already issued and received responses to its requests for proposals that preordained the specified terms pursuant to which the library would be sold and shrunk.  Therefore, any assertion that the BPL considered what its patrons wanted in this regard must be dismissed as bogus.

12.    Have librarians working at the Brooklyn Heights library communicated their opposition to the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library?  When retired Queens Librarian Daniel Winocour testified that he has spoken to BPL librarians and librarians from other systems and knows them to be opposed to this plan, but that they were unable to testify to that effect for fear of jeopardizing their employment Chairman Weisbrod asked, without asking for identifying names that would put employees in jeopardy, whether that included such communication with librarians working at the Heights library.

Mr. Winocour said that he had not personally had such communications with librarians working there.  Nevertheless, members of our Citizens Defending Libraries team have had such communications, including being taken aside on the street, pulled over where a conversation can be had out of public view, and being told by librarians that they want us to know that they are watching us, that they think we are being effective, and they are on our side and want us to be successful in opposing the plan.  We have similarly been quietly assured by other staff that the Heights library staff supports our efforts.

We have had other experiences.  A librarian was once dutifully repeating the BPL’s talking point about how the goal was to create a new, better library and then was asked whether she really believed that.  She stopped and said, “No, it’s the real estate” as tears streamed down her face.  Another member of our team found their way to join our efforts by asking librarians at the Heights library what was happening, what the proposal was.  Talking points were, once again, dutifully repeated by the librarian.  They told the librarian that what they were hearing didn’t seem to make sense.  The librarian first assured them that it did, but when they insisted that something seemed fishy and the librarian grew more confidant about communicating with them, the librarian looking both ways first pulled out some hidden Citizens Defending Libraries literature to give them.

Early on we had the experience of communicating with librarians at other libraries targeted for sale who told us they were not allowed to talk about any of the sale plans, then later on they started communicating and helping us in secret.  We also had an interesting experience at one table at the third “Charrette” when Marvel architect `test fit’ experiment designs were released.  The architect and BPL wanted to counter-balance the members of the community at the Charrette who were virtually all in opposition to the plans.  This included the architects bringing not only much of their staff (many freshly hired), but also a very young daughter as well as an architect’s brother.  The BPL brought staff too, including librarians who seemed to be under instruction or strong encouragement to be upbeat about possibilities.  Two of those librarians were making upbeat comments at one Charrette table until one of Citizens Defending Libraries team noticed that nowhere on the test fit was there any space for staff and pointed this out to the librarians who quickly became quite indignant with the proposal.

On our web page about the libraries in general we have a link to the DC37 Public Employee Press article (Communities and DC 37 mobilize to stop library sell-offs, by Gregory Heires, November, 2013) guiding union members to our petition.  We have joined many rallies for more library funding heavily populated by librarians called out by their union where the signing of our circulating petition by the attending librarians has been nearly universal even as we have watched library administration officials, particularly BPL administrative staff, threaten warning that the petition should not be signed, something difficult for them to do withholding any explanation when the only explanation that could be given is that we are against selling and shrinking libraries while the BPL is for it.

13.    Did all those providing the 2000+ testimonies objecting to the sale and shrinkage of the library know that it is proposed that there be a `replacement’ library?  It is an interesting question to ask (asked by Commissioner Effron) especially given how explicit and detailed the testimony is.  Was anyone who provided such testimony perhaps accidentally unaware of the BPL’s proposed `replacement’ of the existing library with a new smaller one?  We spent a huge amount of time talking with and exchanging information with those providing the testimony.  It seems to us highly unlikely that there were people taking the time to provide their testimony that didn’t understand such basics of the proposal.

14.    Are we aware of there being a program in effect for “decades” of selling off New York City schools to finance the school system that can actually be considered a long-standing model for the selling off of libraries as proposed here?     The short answer is that we are not aware of there being a long-standing and historical school sell-off and redevelopment program that would serve as a model for shrinking this library because we do not believe that there is one.

When librarian Daniel Winocour suggested in his testimony that it would be dispiriting to “imagine selling off our New York City schools as a solution to air conditioning problems” Chairman Weisbrod asked Mr. Winocour he was aware that such a programmatic “model” already existed, in effect for “decades.”  Mr. Winocour didn’t know this to be the case and we think are right in saying that it actually isn’t the case.

In 2013 we were the unacknowledged source of much of the information and scoping for a New York Times front page article about “a novel financing model that is increasingly being used around New York City as a way to pay for government services,” an article that talked about the doing this both for schools (three proposals at the time) and libraries as well as mentioning the plans for similar NYCHA sell-offs.  (Originally the article was going to be just about the Brooklyn Heights Library sale and shrinkage.  See: Friday, March 29, 2013, Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On? - Letter To The New York Times Editor (From Citizens Defending Libraries)).

But the Bloomberg plans to sell those schools died with community resistance before the year was out and before Michael Bloomberg left office.

Disrupting the ecosystem of an existing properly functioning school to redevelop it has enormous downsides.   These “novel” school sale and redevelopment proposals pushed by the Bloomberg administration were widely and vociferously opposed by Gale Brewer and others for some of the same reasons they don’t make sense for similar library plans.  That includes that  we would be sacrificing recent investment in the existing assets.  When the Educational Construction Fund was launched during the Lindsay administration it was to put new schools in mixed-use towers, not to disruptively redevelop existing already built assets (new schools like Norman Thomas, Murry Bergtraum HS downtown, the Verizon tower).  The program, not ongoing, was moribund  from 1980 through 2005.  The shut down was partly because of frictional misfit with the developers/potential investor partners wanting the public’s needs to slot in more predicably onto their own goals.

We are aware how, recently, in the case of the Brooklyn Dock Street project now being built, placement of a school in a tower was used as an inducement to have the public consent to an upscaling variance the community had otherwise already rejected, resulting in awkward school-sizing problems.  FOILed email between the School Construction Authority and Bloomberg administration officials showed that the SCA didn’t want to consider what very likely could have been more appropriate and better fit school-building alternatives.  Thus, this forced partnership turned into a form of community blackmail.  On the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge, a school was placed in the Ratner Gehry Spruce Street tower and blackmail of the community board for benefits to the developer extra to what had been agreed upon again became a hotly contested issue.  School-fit issues presented themselves with that project as well: the lead time in developing the school accentuating the moving-target problems of what needs most needed to be served as the school was constructed.  What was built in the end was not what had been planned in the beginning.

As far as we are aware, redevelopment that sacrificed an existing up and running school it has only been done once: That was the recent PS 59, Beekman Hill International School, and that plan did not necessarily unfold entirely smoothly with there being questions about how things would stay on track along the way. That project was so very particular and unprogrammatic, that special legislation was passed in Albany to allow part of the new mixed-use building to be a residential condominium.  Further, that project was not a self-cannibalizing shrinkage proposal as with the Brooklyn Heights Library: That project was supposed to generate more, not fewer, school seats although one criticism was that the additional seats would not cover the needed number of new students generated by the development.  To be fair to Mr. Winocour he was specifically decrying the notion of self-cannibalizing sales of major existing capital assets to finance what should be pay-as-you-go capital maintenance items like “air conditioning” and we have never had a model of selling off existing schools to do that.

If Chair Weisbrod wishes to suggest that proceeding with the Brooklyn Heights Library sale and shrinkage should be viewed as a sanctioning of the use of this “model” in the future to pay for school air-conditioning repairs then we should probably sound the alarm for all to hear now.  Similarly, if Chair Weisbrod believes that approving the Brooklyn Heights Library deal will pave the way for (set the “model” for) resurrecting or viewing as ongoing the defeated Bloomberg proposals to redevelop schools (including P.S. 191 on West 61st Street and P.S. 1990), then those communities that were protected by Council Member Gale Brewer’s efforts and others need to be warned immediately of that pending resurrection.

These possibilities are why Citizens Defending Libraries has repeatedly cautioned that this proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library should be regarded with some trepidation as momentous and likely precedent-setting.

(One last thing to note: Putting a school in the bottom of a privately-owned residential building, like doing the same with a library, particularly a central destination and research library with growth needs, means there is a lack of flexible options to meet future needs.  That further accentuates the sizing problems.)

15.    The Center for an Urban Future was asked to provide the commission with a figure for the amount of repairs that need to be made at BPL libraries, and at the Brooklyn Heights Library.  The Center for an Urban Future, which does not have expertise or deploy expertise in the area, has publicly confirmed that, in doing its most recent report, it did not do any assessment of its own as to the calculation of the dollar amount of capital repairs that are required at the libraries.  Instead it says it used figures supplied by library administration officials.  So the figure cited for the amount of necessary capital repairs by CUF is the BPL’s figure, not CUF’s own.

As to evaluating how much reliable guidance this figure in context supplies, several things must be taken into account.  First, prior to launching plans to sell libraries the BPL minutes show that there was no appreciable problem with any build-up of capital expenditure.  As plans were launched, the BPL discussed and agreed with the Bloomberg administration to defer and build up needed capital repairs.  Second, BPL minutes show that at the same time the BPL was looking, as it developed its “strategic real estate plan” with the help of former Forest City Ratner V.P Karen Backus,  to make its plan more convincing, thus raising the question of inflated assessments.  Third, the stated capital needs for the Brooklyn Heights Library are clearly inflated.  The stated capital needs of the Pacific Branch, another library (also next to Forest City Ratner property) that the BPL was looking to sell seems to be inflated too, and a study of capital needs of the BPL libraries shows a correlation with higher estimated repair costs for BPL libraries that are in neighborhoods with escalating real estate values.

Several of the commissioners indicated that they were appreciative of consumers and admirers of past Center for an Urban Future product.  We have found some of that product valuable too, but we do not always agree.

One example where we agree we is the assessment that 10,000 square feet is small for a library, but Linda Johnson was fighting to shrink the Red Hook Library from 7,500 square feet to 5,500 square feet.

An example where we disagree?: CUF has praised the decision to sell the Donnell Library putting itself at odds with virtually all other New Yorkers informed on the subject, and probably, it is fair to say, the NYPL’s own board and management’s retrospective assessment.  That praise for the Donnell sale calls into question CUF’s judgment with respect to turning libraries into real estate deals.  CUF has said that NYC libraries need to be redeveloped because they are old with the average Brooklyn Library being about 65 years old, but the Brooklyn Heights Library was expanded and fully upgraded in 1993.  It was essentially only a 20-year old library when the BPL made public its desire to sell and shrink it.  CUF has cited with great emphasis the absence of electrical outlets in libraries as a reason to redevelop libraries.  As a general rule we do not think that too few electrical outlets is a reason to tear down buildings, but, even it were, the Brooklyn Heights Library is one of the system’s libraries best supplied and best equipped in this respect.

16.    What does the Center for an Urban Future think of the physical condition of the Brooklyn Heights Library?  In answer to this question from Chairman Weisbrod David Bowles said he considered the library “drab and dingy.”   Let’s not be silly!: Mr. Bowles doesn’t like the light bulbs, the decorating or the last paint job?  Is it the fenestration?; Let’s recall that there was also testimony that flooding libraries with light from huge glass windows is not necessarily the most desirable thing when it comes to books or computer use.

17.    Is it good to finance libraries with a “one-shot” sell off of a major capital asset?  If so, why?  Commissioner Levin asked David Bowles, the Center for an Urban Future representative recommending the selling of the library, why it was good to seek funds for the libraries with a “one-shot deal.”  She was told that it was a good idea because more support for the libraries has been asked for and not received.  This underfunding (not yet restored by the de Blasio administration) reflects funding cuts by the Bloomberg administration implemented as it launched plans to sell off libraries.  (By contrast, mayors Dinkins and Giuliani were enlarging libraries.)  The Center for an Urban Future has pointed out in its reports that these cuts put library funding in New York City far below the par of other comparable cities with far shorter hours, despite greater use, than comparable cities (such as Chicago, Boston, Toronto, Columbus, even Detroit).   We think that it is insupportable to suggest that the current plight inflicted by the Bloomberg cuts should be acquiesced to, formally blessed as a new and acceptable status quo by selling off libraries at a fraction of their value to the public.

18.    What exactly happened in terms of Brooklyn Community Board 2 votes on this proposal, particularly with respect to the votes of the CB2 Land Use Committee not approving the sale and voting not to consider approval of the sale again?  Commissioners sought clarification about what exactly happened at Brooklyn Community Board 2, particularly with respect to the multiple votes (not mentioned in the letter to the Commission from Community Board 2 Chair Shirley McRea) of the CB2 Land Use Committee on June 17, 2015 not approving the sale and not to consider approval of the sale again.  A fuller description of what happened is in the attached addendum of information that Citizens Defending Libraries has up on the web.  (On the web see: Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 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.)

In basic summary, on June 17th the CB2 Land Use Committee voted twice for the nonapproval of the proposed library sale and shrinkage and twice not to reconsider the matter in the future.  Those votes were and should have remained dispositive. It is our impression that this matter was not brought to the Land Use Committee until the proponents of the plan felt fairly secure that they were going to get the affirmative vote of approval they then failed to get.  We think that their failure was because the testimony against the proposed sale and shrinkage was so strong and convincing that Land Use Committee members present listening to it refused to approve the project.

Thereupon, in a hasty and forced meeting of a reconstituted Land Use Committee held July 6th (just after the holiday weekend) the reconstituted Land use Committee voted under instruction from the CB2 Chair McRea that when the committee met again “to do what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at last Wednesday's meeting.” 

The reconstituted Land Use Committee voted without hearing public testimony and without an accurate and complete record of the testimony that had been given at the meeting of the 17th.

The vote of CB2 is also remarkable for the amount of information it is documented that the CB2 board members did not have and did not consider including a comprehensive letter to the board from Citizens Defending Libraries that Chair McRea refused to distribute to its members.  See: VIDEO: CB2 Denied Crucial Facts Before Approving Library Sale.

The votes of the Land Use Committee and then the general CB2 were also influenced in their outcome by what needs to be examined as a conflict of interest situation involving the private Saint Ann’s School and the amplified representation of the school’s private interests through the Brooklyn Heights Association.  That conflict of interest situation is now being examined by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.  See: Monday, August 3, 2015, Conflicts of Interest Inquiry- Inquiry Submitted To The New York City Conflicts of Interest Board Respecting Brooklyn Community Board 2 and The Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library.

In our last very recent communication with Patrick Killackey, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, he told us that he did not see any problem with there being special representation of the Saint Ann’s School interests in the BHA’s decision-making process because  Saint Ann’s is part of the community and its interests need to be represented.  We think this is simply a failure on the part of Mr. Killackey and the BHA to understand what constitutes conflict of interest.

19.    What are the trends in e-books?  Commissioner Ortiz asked about what the trends were with respect to e-books.  We want to note for the commissioners that our Citizens Defending Libraries testimony included furnishing a Citizens Defending Libraries web page with a very complete set of links and extracts addressing how trends regarding e-books and physical books relate to the paths we may be taking into the future.  E-books have their uses and virtues and limitations including, for libraries, the extra associated expense and impermanence.  Since the date of our testimony the New York Times ran an additional front page story on the subject: The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead, by Alexandra Alter, September 22, 2015.  One pertinent point a bookseller makes in that article: “It's a very simple thing; only books that are on the shelves can be sold.”  (Emphasis supplied.) We would add that only books on the shelves of a library can be borrowed by visiting patrons.  That is obviously becoming more of a challenge.

20.    Two questions were asked by Chair Weisbrod in close conjunction: Should a school be built on the site of the library and what is the relationship of the library to our schools?  Should a school be built on the site of the library?  Most people don’t believe the library should be sacrificed to provide a site for a school, but this is a reasonable question that was never publicly asked in a way that it could have become part of the public debate.  It would have been a superior public process if there had been a way to talk about that possibility.  One reason that’s true is that we need to augment our school facilities and need to be talking about the possibilities of where to put them.

If the library site were to be converted and used to provide a school facility it should probably be done after a new, bigger, better, expandable library is built at another site first, something that is possible.

As for the second question, the relationship of the library to schools is two-fold, one relationship an augmenting one, the other the inverse.  As high school student Nicholas Cancar testified that the library is, itself, an educational facility, providing educational services ancillary to those services the schools provide directly.  For some, the ancillary services and refuge alternatives a library provides may work well to fill in gaps when the services of a school may, for one or another reason be failing particular students.  Inversely, there is the overall issue of our public infrastructure, including particularly our education infrastructure, needing to keep pace with the rapid pace of development in this city.  That is why many are calling for a moratorium on unnecessary discretionary development such as the proposed redevelopment of the library site until we have caught up and dealt with local school PS8 being at 140% of capacity.

Shrinking the library to build a luxury tower at one and the same time removes an ancillary supporting educational resource while burdening the educational system additionally.

21.    Was EDC aware and did it take into account during its negotiations with developers that the private school Saint Ann’s was selling its development rights to the project, enabled to do so by the sale and shrinkage of the library?  This question was asked by Commissioner Effron.  It’s a good question because anyone looking at the 400 foot luxury tower proposed to replace the library might incorrectly suppose that all of its new height was representative just of unused development rights being sold by the city, rather than also reflecting how significantly Saint Ann’s is cashing in on the proposed deal. (Half the library site development right were already transferred to Forest City Ratner in 1986.)  Without taking this benefit to Saint Ann’s into account one might not think to ask whether there had been negotiations to have Saint Ann’s compensate the city for making the school’s deal possible.  The EDC representative said that EDC was aware of the Saint Ann’s sale as a necessary component to the deal, but did not say that EDC had negotiated any compensation to the city from Saint Ann’s for the benefit it was receiving.

22.    Should public assets like libraries be sold to build, in discriminatory poor-door style, a few units of so-called affordable housing?  And, if so, have we reached with 23 units at 60% AMI, only 5 of them large enough for families, a number of units sufficient in amount to make this housing segregation and sell-off of a major library rationally and morally defensible?   Some of the commissioners were asking questions that pointed to an impression that there could possibly be a fine-tuned, tinkering answer to this question even with such a major sacrifice of a public asset as here proposed.  Tinkering and fine-tuning cannot fix the big picture.  We do not believe selling off assets cheaply in round robin shell game fashion holds any positive answers for society.  It only portends instead a downward spiral of abuse.

    Certainly, the segregation ought not to be excused.  The library was built as part of urban renewal with its own discriminatory segregation effect as density was reduced in this area and previous residents removed.  It is brazenly ironic to suggest that the previous segregation of a not yet so bygone era should be taken a further step by evicting all the people of different ethnicities, colors and classes who use this library to build a luxury library-squashing tower that will be for just an exclusive group of the very most wealthy.

    Selling off public assets cheaply simply induces more of the same and this proposal is being put before us even as we now see a parallel incentive to underfund NYCHA housing.  In that situation NYCHA assets and truly affordable housing, 14,000 NYCHA housing units proposed to be shed, are being handed off to a real estate industry that will surely, its appetite whetted and unsated, lobby for more.  The loss of 14,000 truly affordable units?: You can’t make up for this with crumbs!

23.    Questions were asked about what should be done in Sunset Park with the proposed redevelopment of the library there.  In the end we think this a question for the Sunset Park community.  We note that Sunset Park Community objections begin with the fact that these questions were not put to the community.  Instead, plans for redevelopment of that library were first surfaced and brought to the attention of the community by Citizens Defending Libraries.  With a lack of transparency the BPL is proceeding on a no-bid basis without prior community input.  Once again, a public asset is proposed to be privatized as a result.  There is history in the community as other public assets, similarly privatized through 501(c)(3) organizations, have been lost.

    In Sunset Park real estate sites are not as scarce as elsewhere and there are questions about appropriate siting of the library and any proposed housing as well as what should be proposed.  One of the problems is that Sunset Park is growing, 19% in terms o recent growth.  A recent rezoning has not been built out and proposed upzonings of two more avenues are pending.  If a new library is put at the bottom of a privately owned residential building the library cannot be enlarged in the future.

    There are also questions about whether the BPL, when making promises, can be trusted to accurately estimate and predict its ability to financially follow through.  (These issues could be alleviated along with the problem of the community having to suffice with an inadquet interim library, if a new library were built on another site first, something that could be done with a revolving fund.)   Another question of trust: The Fifth Avenue Committee which says it can be trusted to stand up for community interests has also shown a lack of faith in that respect by promoting the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library rather than joining in the opposition to the sale of the library and other public assets.
 Attached as one addendum was a print-out of the following Citizens Defending Libraries web page:
Tuesday, March 10, 2015, Floor Plans of the Brooklyn Heights Library Considered In Light of the Library's Proposed Sale and Shrinkage
The following, extracted from a posted Citizens Defending Libraries web page was attached as a second addendum:
Description of Brooklyn Community Board 2 Votes
(This is a portion of materials upon Citizens Defending Libraries web page reporting on the CB2 library votes:   Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 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)

Ms. Gallo's Motion

Here is the motion Doreen Gallo made.  It is relatively self-explanatory about some of the strong-arming that contributed to the vote that night.
        WHEREAS, Land Use Committee of Brooklyn Community Board 2 (Committee) met on June 17, 2015 to hold a hearing with respect to and consider a proposal to sell and shrink the publicly owned Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn; and

        WHEREAS, after presentations by the developer and the Brooklyn Public Library to sell and shrink the library and conducting the hearing where the Committee listened to the public, the Committee discussed the proposal and voted twice NOT to approve the proposal: The first vote on (all three pieces of the proposal) failed by 6:6 (6 yes - 4 no votes and 2 abstentions); the second non-approval vote (only two pieces, leaving out modification of the agreement with Ratner) was a more profound defeat for the proposal 5:7 (5 yes, 5 no and 2 abstentions); and

        WHEREAS, also as part of its decisions at its June 17th meeting the Committee voted twice NOT to meet again to consider the this matter: The first 4:7 (four to meet and 7 not meet), the second vote 5:7 (five to take more time to make a decision and 7 not to take more time to make a decision); and

        WHEREAS, these votes not to approve the proposal and not to meet again about approving the sale and shrinkage of the library were valid as final outcomes of the Committee's process; and

        WHEREAS, the June 17th votes could and should have been let stand as the Committee's final action; and

        WHEREAS, the Committee subsequently convened a hastily scheduled, previously uncalendared  meeting on July 6, 2015, the day after the Fourth of July Weekend, where for voting and discussion purposes the Committee members were different and did not represent the same group of committee members who had participated in and benefitted from the presentations and being present to listening to the public at the hearing; and

        WHEREAS, there wasn't sufficient means by which the reconstituted version of the Committee could be as adequately and comparably informed as the Committee originally constituted when it conducted all the predicate actions to its June 17th vote, including presence at the hearing; and

        WHEREAS, the CB2 Chair stated to the CB2 Executive Committee that the meeting had been convened so that the Committee would now do "what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at" the Wednesday hearing, specifically without having to listen to the public before coming to a decision; and

        WHEREAS, the Committee had, according to Robert's Rules, already properly conducted and concluded its business without having to reconvene making this instruction incorrect and therefore improper, seeming to put pressure on the reconstituted Committee for a particular vote and means to achieve it; and

        WHEREAS, the outcome of the July 6, 2015 Committee meeting of reconstituted members was somewhat confused in a number of respects including with respect to provisos and caveats about the project which would be unenforceable:

        WHEREAS, the Committee on June 17, 2015, as constituted the day of the presentations and hearing, thereupon adjourned its meeting, the business of the meeting and the hearing held that day completed, now therefore be it resolved:

        Section 1.  The votes of non-approval of the proposal passed by the Committee, as originally constituted on June 17, 2015, the day of the presentations, hearing, and ensuing discussion should be let stand as the final proper outcome and disposition of the Committee's process.

        Section 2.   The subsequent vote of the Committee on July 6, 2015 should be set aside, as failing to supersede the original proper and final disposition of the June 17, 2015 non-approval votes of the Committee conducting its proceedings in connection with the approval request before it that day.

Ms. Gallo's motion was not voted on.  Instead Chair MacRea called upon CB2 member Jon Quint (not present at the previous Land Use Committee meetings) to address Ms. Gallo.

Mr. Quint said that "in response to" Ms. Gallo's "position":
"The committee decides how it operates, and if the committee decided it wanted to reconvene and take an action that's a vote, that's a decision that the committee itself can make.

        * * *

The fact is that now that the board has convened, it can take any action it wants.

The fact that the committee was a different. . Ah- constituted differently than at the time it remet is irrelevant, because the board. . er . the committee is its own judge of what it can do.

The public hearing was all the opportunity for the public to be heard

Once the public hearing was concluded, the committee members whether they heard the public or not, and I and every other board member received, before the July 7th meeting, [sic: actually July 6th meeting] a very extensive, and very well done summary of what had occurred at the public hearing, so that fact is that the committee action that was taken on July 7th [sic: actually July 6th] was proper.  The motion that they made was proper.  Its now before this committee [sic board].
He then stressed that the board could take any action it wanted ignoring what the committee did.

However, the description of the way that the process for generating the new substitute votes taken by the committee given by Chair Shirley McRea's at the June 22, 2015 CB2 Executive Committee meeting does not exactly quite jibe with the interpretation Mr. Quint as parliamentarian was giving for why the substitute vote was proper.  There Ms. McCrea announced , "I will take this opportunity to say that this item is being sent back to committee" and in connection with this she referred cryptically to the CB2 members knowing that they had "received an email from the board office" explaining that the item was sent back to committee to set the stage for the July 15th vote.

She further explained at that meeting:
Now the follow-up meeting to last Wednesday's meeting, and everyone needs to be very clear on this, the public hearings are closed, There are no more hearings on the BPL.  It's over.  It's done with.   It was done on Wednesday.  When this committee meets next it will be to do what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at last Wednesday's meeting without having sat there for three, four, five hours and then trying to come to some decision.  I just want everyone to be clear on that: It is not a repeat of the public hearing.  This is for the committee now to come together and do the business of the committee.
As for the record of the hearing that CB2 members received as referred to the Mr. Quint?: Perhaps it was sufficient as minutes, but some who testified felt the briefer summaries censored the points they made and corrections requested were not made: For instance, including testimony that Mayor de Blasio was taking money from the development team while the team's application to acquire the library for development was pending.  . .  Those testifying who thought that by submitting testimony in writing the might circumvent any problems with undue truncation of their thoughts found that their written testimony was also not passed on to the other CB2 members. . .

. . . At the second, hastily convened, July 6th Land Use Committee the public was not permitted to speak until after the committee's vote.  But then, a long line of community members lined up to speak unanimously against the sale.  Again, these statement from the public, the only ones made after, and with a chance to reaction the formulation of new "conditions," was not relayed to the rest of the CB2 members.

Meanwhile, CB2 was distributing pro-sale-and-shrinkage material to the CB2 members to the deciding CB2 members, like a new article seemingly planted in the New York Times article written by a Saint Ann's parent (not disclosing herself to be such) suggesting that the deciding CB2 members "might be interested" in her pro-library sale and shrinkage "observations" and presumably her message too.  At the same time the CB2 office was not passing along other negative viewpoints expressed and sent to the CB2 members,** because it was outside the time limit for things to be considered by the CB2 members.
(* "Ginia Bellafante, who writes the "Big City" column in the Metropolitan section of the New York Times, apparently walked over from her Brooklyn Heights home to attend the community board's public hearing on the ULURP applications associated with the Brooklyn Public Library's plans for its Brooklyn Heights and Business and Career branches.  The applications are on the agenda for this Wednesday's general meeting, to be held at 6:00 pm at St. Francis College.  I thought the members of Community Board 2 and its Land Use Committee might be interested in Ms. Bellafante's observations."- District Manager Robert Perris.)

(** Versus:  "Sean, thank you for your submission.  The public hearing is closed and the community board is not accepting additional testimony.  Rob" [District Manager Robert Perris]-  That was in response to "Landmark West! submits the attached testimony for your consideration in regards to your vote on the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Branch.  We are very concerned about this potential and hope you consider our testimony.   . .   Sean Khorsandi, Advocacy Director, Landmark West")
Although CB2 could have allowed the public comment to speak at the beginning of its meeting, before the vote, its intention to allow the public to speak only afterward didn't depart from the way it usually conducts business. . .    But deciding on the sale of a major $120 million publicly owned asset, one of the most significant libraries in the city, is highly unusual, essentially unprecedented.  That considered, every decision CB2 made from manipulating to supersede the vote made the day of, and responding to, the hearing testimony on, served to insulate and put the CB2 members at a far remove from the public and the CB2 members possible effective education about the significant action they were taking.

Influence of Brooklyn Heights Association on CB2 Votes

The Brooklyn Heights Association, with (private school) Saint Ann's connected decision-makers steering it, factored in profoundly to the voting outcomes. . . .

Among other things at the June 17th hearing the BHA testified urging the sale and shrinkage of the library.

. . .  This might be TMI, but, taking it up a notch, all of the four votes of the 17th (and any on the 6th) would have been one more in our favor if Judy Stanton, Executive Director and an employee of the BHA, had been precluded from voting based on her conflict of interest. What makes this conflict of interest significant is that the key deciders (with a compounding improper preponderance under the way it was set up) on the BHA library committee were connected with Saint Ann's).

Albeit, this raises the question of Irene Janner, also a BHA employee.  On the 17th she voted against the sale and shrinkage of the library.  Subtracting her out for conflict of interest would have had the same effect of putting her in the negative column since the requirement was for a required number of affirmative votes.

On the 17th Ms. Janner spoke cogently about how there is absolutely no assurance that any money is going to the libraries from this sale (1000% true) and I think she also spoke of the burden on the schools and the committee's previous position on that.  Wednesday night she sat silently, stonily expressing nothing, and switched her vote in favor of what she's previously opposed knowledgeably and eloquently.  On the 6th, she was "on vacation" but on that date Judy Stanton stated that the developer calling the BHA office (presumably speaking to Ms. Stanton too) while calling for Ms. Janner.  Stanton provided this information when it was asked whether anyone on the Land Use committee had been contacted by the developer to lobby them.
* * * * 
Supplemental Testimony

October 5, 2015

City Planning Commission
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007

Re: Submission of supplemental testimony against the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn. (ULURP C15039 PPK - Oral testimony taken by Commissioners on September 22, 2015)
Dear City Planning Commission:

This is submitted as additional supplemental testimony with respect to this ULURP proceeding asking for public input about whether public approval should be given for the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton.

In an October 3, 2013, Brooklyn Eagle article by reporter Mary Frost about the receipt of proposals from developers in response to the Request For Proposals that was issued for the library site BPL it was reported that BPL spokesperson Emma Woods:
    . .  denied that the site’s developer would have to buy air rights from a third party to build a profitable project, as alleged by the advocacy group Citizens Defending Libraries. “This level of development does not require transfer of any additional development rights, and we do not expect additional development rights to be acquired for this site.”
(See: A ‘sizable number’ of developers eyeing Brooklyn Heights Library site.)

Was Wood’s inaccurate denial intended to head off community concerns about the size of the building being built, to disguise the involvement of and private profit accruing to Saint Ann’s school, or to cast doubt about the reliability of information furnished by Citizens Defending Libraries?

During the oral testimony on September 22nd Commissioner Effron asked EDC’s representative Ron Holbrook about the awareness of the transfer of the Saint Ann’s rights and whether that awareness was “at the same time” the RFP was being done, whether they were “simultaneous”?  Commissioner Effron  was told that they were, indeed,  “simultaneous,.” and that one of the factors that allows the building “as-of-right” as asked for in the RFPs is the transfer of Saint Ann’s rights, and that the building is “actually impossible” without the zoning lot merger that incorporates the Saint Ann’s rights.

We offer the above mainly to point out that while the BPL’s representations intended for public consumption in October 2013 may have been convenient or expedient to the BPL’s  purposes that particular fall, they proved, with the release of additional information over time, to be flatly inaccurate and misleading.


                            Michael D. D. White
                            Citizens Defending Libraries

Additional Supplemental Testimony

October 9, 2015

City Planning Commission
22 Reade Street
New York, NY 10007
Attn: Yvette V. Gruel
- (212) 720-3370 -

Re: Submission of supplemental testimony against the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn. (ULURP C15039 PPK - Oral testimony taken by Commissioners on September 22, 2015)

Dear City Planning Commission:

The attached is submitted as supplemental testimony with respect to this ULURP proceeding asking for public input about whether public approval should be given for the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton.

At their meeting on Monday, October 5, 2015, the commissions, during discussion of the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library, several times stated or otherwise indicated that there were various matters respecting the proposed sale about which they still needed to better inform themselves.  (For instance commissioners Cantor and Ortiz both indicated they needed to be informed about the way that the sale and shrinkage of the 53rd Street Donnell Library across from MoMA compares and relates to the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  The relationship of the Heights proposal to the decried Donnell debacle is actually exceedingly stark.)

Accordingly, organized under a listing of those things the commissioners indicated on October 5th that they were in any way still wondering about or stating they needed more information about we have supplied the information we think the commissioners need to know and consider.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries
Information In Response To Statements By City Planning Commissioners Respecting What they Said They Need To Know More About During Their October 5, 2015 Discussion About Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s Central Destination Library in Downtown Brooklyn
1.    Commissioner Cantor asked if the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library could be compared and related to the sale of the 53rd Street Donnell Library across from MoMA and Commissioner Ortiz said that she needed more information about the sale of Donnell in order to be able to make any comparison.  There is already material supplied to the commissioners in earlier testimony on this subject, but the answer is stark: The two transactions are very definitely related and follow almost exactly the same model with the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library closely mimicking the nearly universally decried 2007 sale of the Donnell Library:
    a.    The two transactions were both conceived at essentially the same time, 2007.
    b.    The 2007 Donnell Library sale was handled by NYPL Chief Operating Officer David Offensend.  (Offensend came from Evercore a spin-off of the Blackstone Group.)   The conception in 2007 of the Heights library sale involved Mr.Offensend’s wife, Janet Offensend, acting in a key role as Brooklyn Public Library trustee as plans to convert libraries into real estate deals were originated.
    c.    The Donnell sale was pursued secretively until suddenly announced as was the case with the Brooklyn Heights plan that was not publicly announced until 2013.
    d.    Both plans substantially shrink recently renovated and publicly financed libraries (Donnell from 97,000 square feet down to 28,000 square feet and Brooklyn Heights from 63,000 square feet to an RFP specified 21,000 square feet.)
    e.    Both plans wind up shifting a substantial portion of the publicly used space underground.
    f.    Both plans get rid of many, many books even as the public persists in desiring the presence of those physical books at the libraries.
    g.    Both plans were associated with ideas of accomplishing consolidating shrinkage of the libraries, proposing to cram huge amounts of theoretically “shifted” space into a central location library.
    h.    Both plans, with libraries in each case under a luxury residential tower, mean the newly shrunken library cannot ever be enlarged in the future if that shrinkage was a mistake or for any other reason.
    i.    Both plans involve huge benefits to developers and others in real estate while the public gets an insulting and laughably small amount of net cash from the sale.  At the very height of the real estate bubble the NYPL netted substantially less than $33 million from its sale of the 97,000 square foot Donnell which was documented to be on what was, at the time, the most valuable commercial block in Manhattan (via a somewhat interrelating Tishman Speyer sale) while the penthouse in the 50 story building replacing Donnell went on the market for $60 million.
    j.    Both plans are decried by the public as obvious boondoggles.  (Since the Heights deal was decried by de Blasio in 2013 the facts revealed with respect to it have gotten progressively worse.)
    k.    Both plans involve an undue exertion of interest from the real estate industry at the board level of the libraries supplanting the core missions of libraries.
The Brooklyn Public Library has tried to assert that there is one key difference between the Donnell Library sale (which both BPL and NYPL officials have been forced to acknowledge as a mistake).  They have asserted that difference is that the Brooklyn Heights deal will give the BPL rights to terminate if the deal if it is not progressing satisfactorily.  But it is a distinction without a difference because NYPL’s Offensend had the ability to terminate (plus also restructure) the Donnell deal when it was recognized to be a bad deal and was not progressing and he did not exercise that available option.

2.    Commissioner Ortiz expressed concern that the RFP to sell the library that spoke only in terms of getting maximum tear-down value of the library was biased rather than neutral about getting best possible real public value going forward into the future.   Commissioner Ortiz’s concern is confirmed by the developer information conferences held by the Brooklyn Public Library and Economic Development Corporation in July of 2013 where the developers were told that doing more for the public other than improving price (for instance providing more library space or more above-ground library space) was not going to improve their prospects of winning the RFP.  At the same time developers were also told that the contract wouldn’t necessarily go to the highest bidder:  Other things such as feasibility and a convincing "zoning calculation" were to go into the mix.   The only possible addendum to the above? : As previously pointed out, during the oral testimony EDC’s representative told Commissioner Ortiz that a significant factor in the decision was evaluating `heavily’ that the developer (Hudson) had presented the proposal of providing an approximately 7,000 square foot temporary space to house the interim replacement for the currently 63,000 square foot library.  (In other words, this very short-term consideration was the tail wagging the dog respecting the disposal of a major significant long-term capital asset?)

The best answer to the question of what will best benefit the public is hardly going to come from developers bidding the tear-down value of a library: It is going to come from the creative ideas the public and public-spirited institutions can readily come up with if given the chance.  We are talking about a library and public space in Downtown’s Brooklyn that is also where the new Brooklyn Tech Triangle is being developed.

3.    Commissioner Cantor (responding to concern Commissioner Ortiz expressed about selling a valuable public asset) asked whether it was premature to be selling the library.  (Presumably asking whether this is an asset whose value has not yet substantially waned.)  Yes, it is obviously premature to think about selling this valuable public asset.  If the commissioners look at the information that has already been supplied in previous testimony, the commissioners should note that this building, now proposed to be shrunk down to one-third size (in the face of library use that has escalated 40% programmatically and 59% in terms of circulation), was just substantially enlarged and fully upgraded and renovated at the end of 1993.  That makes it effectively a building that is five years younger than the adjacent Ratner building where Hillary Clinton has located her national campaign headquarters.  While the Center for an Urban Future has said that one of the main problems the Brooklyn Public Libraries face is that Brooklyn public libraries are, on average, 65 years old, and need to be modernized in terms of electrical outlets and support for computers . .  But this building is one of the newest and best in the system, excellently equipped in these respects since that was all addressed effectively by the 1993 upgrade, expansion and renovation.

4.    Commissioner Ortiz wondered whether the “ship” might have “sailed” with respect to making a decision about whether our public asset should be protected and she wondered, if it was to be assumed the “ship” had “sailed,” could the issue at hand be properly addressed by making sure that something so stupid is not done again.  There is absolutely no way that the ship can have sailed on this issue of whether it is stupid and incredibly unwise and short-sighted to sell this valuable public asset.  This, right now, as required by the City Charter, is the public process to determine whether it is wise or unwise to dispose of this city-owned asset.  Heretofore, there has been absolutely no public process in this respect.  The only public processes that have occurred to date have involved minor details with respect to the preordained sale of the library and its shrinkage down to a preordained smaller size.  As a matter of record, the Brooklyn Public Library and city officials specifically excluded from the public processes to date, any discussion of whether the library should be sold, any discussion of whether the library should be shrunk as preordained, and specifically excluded from participation in, for instance, the “Community Advisory Committee” those who opposed the sale and shrinkage of the library.  Their reason for such exclusion was their assertions that this ULURP process would necessarily be where the question of whether the library should actually be sold or shrunk would get addressed and decided.  Therefore, this cannot be a ship that has in any respect sailed.

Further, the notion that we can do the inexcusable and the terrible if we promise not to do it again ignores the fact that after the Donnell sale everyone said “never again.”  (The fact that the Donnell sale did not go through ULURP is irrelevant.)  The public is no longer willing to accept as sincere excuses for the inexcusable, repeated reuse of promises of “never again” that afterward simply recede perpetually, with repeated breakage, to a future that is always on the horizon, never arriving.

5.    Commissioner Levin, noting that the proposed return of capital funds for libraries from the sale for the Brooklyn Heights Library, the “main argument” for the proposed sale, was only vaguely and insufficiently addressed by the document (the Memorandum of Understanding “MOU”) supposedly addressing this point and wondered if it would be sufficient to “tune up” that document.  Similarly, Commissioner Effron said she agreed with Levin that it was essential to assure net funds obtained from a library tear-down sale would be truly supplemental to and not substitute for tax levy dollars, nor should such funds get the city or taxpayers “off the hook” for “years and years”of neglect of funding.

Commissioner Levin’s observation that the MOU does not assure that the libraries would get any promised capital funds as a result is consistent with the observations of the representatives of elected officials referred to in previously provided testimony.  Commissioner Levin referred to how the testimony from the “public library folks” was that what was wanted or expected was a “real commitment” that these funds would go to libraries.  If Ms. Levin was referring to the actual public or to the library advocates when she referred to “public library folks,” we want to make clear that neither the library advocates nor most of the public is seeking such a “real commitment,” because we know it is not possible and because we think that instituting a program of self-cannibalizing sales that shrink the library system is self-defeating, not viable and not desirable.  Also, if Commissioner Levin speaking of “public library folks” meant to refer to Brooklyn Public Library administration officials, we think of these people as the “real estate folks,” and  Commissioner Levin also sounds as if she has not yet had a chance to read our previously submitted testimony with specific quotes where the BPL’s spokesperson dealt with the BPL’s failure to provide an enforceable MOU by essentially making light of the subject.

The way in which the BPL’s spokesperson was pretty much almost joking about this unenforceability is probably because (as previous testimony we submitted dealt with) it is truly impossible to in any way actually assure these funds will be used as Commissioners Levin and Effron were saying they should be used and, which use, was noted to be the “main argument” for this proposed loss-to-the-public sale of the library.  In fact, for starters, there was never any thought that, even as promoted by the BPL, the actual proposal wasn’t intended to get the city and BPL off the hook for funding that was previously neglected and deferred.  In other words, it was intended to allow for exactly what Commissioner Effron says shouldn’t happen.  We note again that the BPL minutes show that the relatively recent past deferral of funding (not a significant problem before that) was put into place in conjunction with the institution of plans to sell and shrink libraries.
6.    Commissioner Levin asked about the resulting imbalance if this public asset, an ancillary support for school and educational needs, is sold for more development that will further burden the school system and Commissioner Effron wondered if ensuring that supporting public infrastructure is maintained as development proceeds apace is within the jurisdiction of the City Planning Commission.   The concern Commissioner Levin expressed about the balance and burdens between development and supporting public infrastructure is quite critical and we addressed it in previous testimony that we provided to address Chair Weisbrod’s question about the relationship of the library to the schools.  Repeated below is what we provided in that prior submission to the commissioners:
        As for the second question, the relationship of the library to schools is two-fold, one relationship an augmenting one, the other the inverse.  As high school student Nicholas Cancar testified the library is, itself, an educational facility, providing educational services ancillary to those services the schools provide directly.  For some, the ancillary services and refuge alternatives a library provides may work well to fill in gaps when the services of a school may, for one or another reason, be failing particular students.  Inversely, there is the overall issue of our public infrastructure, including particularly our education infrastructure, needing to keep pace with the rapid pace of development in this city.  That is why many are calling for a moratorium on unnecessary discretionary development such as the proposed redevelopment of the library site until we have caught up and dealt with local school PS8 being at 140% of capacity.
Shrinking the library to build a luxury tower at one and the same time removes an ancillary supporting educational resource while burdening the educational system additionally.
Are these concerns that should be within the jurisdiction of the City Planning Commission?  We certainly think so: What is the function of city planning if it doesn’t address precisely these kinds of issues?

7.    Commissioner Levin (while citing as the “main argument” for proceeding with any sale that funds could possibly be netted and returned for library funding from the “tear-down” value of the Brooklyn Heights Library) noted the perplexing concern of the myriad competing theoretical public benefits to be weighed in the proposed transaction.  Commissioner Ortiz added, “in the spirit of” Commissioner Levin’s comments, that these were being weighed against this is the sale of a public asset.  Chair Weisbrod suggested that the transaction should be regarded as “multifaceted and complex.”

Commissioner Levin expressed her frustration about dealing with these equations after discussion of the proposed so-called “affordable” housing units to be built way off site, the building of which is one supposed “benefit” for which the existing library is proposed to be sacrificed.  The units are being built way off site supposedly to get more of them.  Unlike space at the library (nonsegragated), those units of housing will be privately owned by an owner who will charge occupants rent to use the space although that “rent” through regulation will be subject to a ceiling.  (The developer is building what are known as “inclusionary” units with regulated rents in order to be allowed to build a bigger luxury tower at the downtown library site with the building rights obtained from sale of the library and from Saint Ann’s, a private school.)  Commissioner Levin’s comments followed discussion about how some of those  privately owned so-called “affordable’ housing units and space devoted to them would be given up to create commercial street level space because that commercial space is to be considered an even more superior public benefit to the housing units.  The commercial space will, again, unlike the library, be privately owned by an owner who will charge rent for it, this time unregulated rent. “Multifaceted and complex” or not, the public is getting tired of intricacies designed to serve as pretexts and to distract from the big picture of what is being taken from the public. Such tinkering around the edges should not distract anyone from the overwhelming and inexcusable losses being proposed here.

8.    Chair Weisbrod noted that the Brooklyn Borough President (in rejecting the BPL’s proposal to site a new ‘replacement” library in an acquired condominium unit in the 400-foot luxury tower that would displace the library) perhaps ought to have specified where else, in terms of a site, the city investment in having the library should be.  We think the answer is clear.  It is clear from what the Borough President said: Instead of putting the library in a newly created condominium unit in a luxury tower, the library can and should, in the future, be on that site where it currently is, perhaps including, but not limited to, some variation on the possibilities present themselves by having the library sited there in there future.

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