|The Brooklyn Heights Library as it stands now (left) and as it would be squeezed down to just 42% in the bottom of 400 foot luxury tower replacing it (right)|
Last night at the Brooklyn Public Library trustees meeting the announced sale received more than one round of hearty applause from the trustees and we heard how this library was chosen as a "demonstration" for what was possible. The trustees were told that this was a “huge turning point for the library system” and “across the city in general” with Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson `pioneering’ the future of libraries.
Let’s be clear here, we are demolishing a sturdy, recently enlarged, and fully upgraded library, one of the most modern in the BPL system. We are proposing to shrink it down to just 42% of its current size (63,000 square feet). We will wind up with just 15,000 square feet above ground instead of the almost 38,000 square feet we have now. And, we will have to wait years to get even that after demolition of this valuable asset.
No thought has been given to the library’s value to the public, costing more than $120 million to replace. We are selling it off to net a minuscule fraction of that amount. This is a central destination library located in the downtown serving all of Brooklyn and a substantial part of lower Manhattan with a special focus of business, career and education.
What’s appalling is the way that the library is being sold off as the result of a back room deal that apparently has been secretly in the oven for some time now. We learned at the BPL trustees meeting last night how Alicia Glen, de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor for development adopted this Bloomberg initiated sell-off “as her own” pushing it “across the finish line.”
We still don’t have all the facts but we know that the secret deal goes back weeks with many days spent at City Hall and the BPL referring to months of preparation and very worrisomely we see the Department of Education under the mayor’s control stepping in to pony up untold sums as part of the package. This seems to reflect a mayor hellbent to see the library sold to the developer.
It would be nice if people who cared about schools were looking after schools and people who care about libraries were looking after libraries, but instead we get this recipe for misfortune: A deputy mayor for development handing out these resources to make deals with developers who send money to the mayor.
It’s telling that what exactly the so-called “STEM lab” facility is that DOE is buying to facilitate the deal is only going to be figured out some time in the future.
Unfortunately, with the revelations of just the last week or so, we have learned a lot about Councilman Steve Levin and his embrace of the de Blasio maneuvering that is not to Levin’s credit. It is clear that the Councilman has a strange philosophy of government that involves a huge lack of transparency, failing to keep promises and perform obligations basic to his elected office while feeding misinformation to his constituents.
At the BPL trustees meeting last night we also learned that tucked into Levin’s deal list is an earmarking to intercept library sale proceeds to go for enlarging the Greenpoint Library (in his district). It is not necessarily bad, but was undisclosed to the public and possibly the City Council Members voting.
How much of this did the City Council know?: Talking with members today, apparently not much.
Especially frightening today was the surreal way that incorrect and misleading information was cited as the reason for the vote. Councilman Brad Lander and David Greenfield made speeches repeating claims by Levin and BPL’s Johnson that the deal means a net “$40 million” will go to other libraries even though Johnson told her own board last night that number will be smaller. (We calculate it is actually still much less even than that if the math is done properly.)
Councilmen Greenfield and Lander said (respectively) that we have to sell libraries because we can’t expect “the money to fall from the sky” to do anything else “at least through the end of this decade.” Really? When the city has one of the largest ever surpluses? Let’s remember that before Bloomberg and de Blasio we had money to expand our libraries, not be artificially backed into deals that serve the real estate industry. . . Let’s also note that Lander has said that we can’t obligate legislators or administrations to spend more money on libraries in the future so there can be absolutely no assurance of greater spending on libraries in the future as result of such sales.
It has been clear that with these library sales we have been witness to the exercise of an enormous amount of power. What we did not see today was the exercise by the City Council of the power that it has to protect the public.
We must view the new era the City Council seemingly ushered in with its vote today as an absolutely unacceptable future. Accordingly, we have our work cut out for us.