Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, December 14, 2015

PRESS RELEASE & ADVISORY- City Council Vote On Library Sell-Off & Shrinkage Program Prototype Imminent- As Comptroller & Public Advocate weigh in de Blasio raids DOE funds to promote sales

New York City
WHAT/PRESS CONFERENCE: Citizens Defending Libraries will hold a press conference respecting the New York City Council's expected vote, probably this Wednesday, on the precedent-setting proposed fire sale of a major public asset, Brooklyn's second biggest library, the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.  A decision from Mayor de Blasio (who has been taking money from the developer and whose Department of Education as of Thursday per an announcement last Thursday is redeploying substantial resources to promote the library sale) is expected soon afterward if the Council approves.
WHEN: Tuesday, December 15, 2015, 3:00 P.M. (The City Council's vote is expected the next day.)
WHERE: Steps of City Hall, City Hall Park New York, New York 10007
The City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to approve the sale and drastic shrinkage of Brooklyn's second largest library, the Brooklyn Heights Library (includes the Business, Career and recently expanded Education Library), the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.

If the City Council votes in favor of this program prototype it is expected that Mayor de Blasio will approve it not long after that.   Mayor de Blasio has been taking money from the developer and his team while their application to acquire and shrink the library was pending.

Last Thursday, with the surprise announcement of a backroom deal that had been apparently kept under-wraps until the last moment before the pending City Council committee votes, a list of changes to the deal was announced, mostly involving ponying up additional public expenditures to promote this launch of New York City library sales.  City Councilman Steve Levin announced what had been non-transparently arranged.

Citizens Defending Libraries itemized responses to those changes is available here: 
Thursday, December 10, 2015, Citizens Defending Libraries Statement in Response To Councilman Levins' Decision To Approve Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library (stated by BPL president Linda Johnson to be a "model" for future NYC library deals)
The most significant set of new public expenditures on the list involves a hefty raid on the budget of the mayoral-controlled Department of Education to 1.) acquire 9,000 square feet in Brooklyn Heights from the developer, 2.) outfit that space at significant expense, and 3.) operate that expense as a new K-12 educational facility (it would be entirely underground).
The City Council's vote will be the Council's first-ever vote on the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of a major New York City library with the construction of a 400 foot luxury tower at the site to replace it.

NYC Comptroller and Public Advocate Weigh In

The last minute announcement of changes being thrown into the mix came as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Pubic Advocate Tish James both weighed in with letters critical of the library sale.

The comptroller wrote that, “of particular concern” is the “lack of a comprehensive public plan to address the capital needs of the library system” and that the Brooklyn Public Library:
has not provided the public with a comprehensive capital plan that explains how the one-time revenue from the sale of BHL will fix those needs. Indeed, the projected revenue from the BHL plan will cover less than one-fifth of the stated need and will not increase revenue to the library over the long-term.
Days ago the Comptroller observed that the city is in a time of plenty, facing no out-year budget gaps.  Selling off libraries, de de Blasio is acting like these are lean years and the Comptroller noted that: “It is simply unsustainable for the City to rely solely on the disposition of property to cover capital needs without fixing the systemic causes for the capital gap.”

Public Advocate James wrote to say about the provision of “poor door” style off-site so-called “affordable” housing units being presented as an excuse to sell and shrink the library:
Supporting affordable housing and preserving public assets like libraries must not be competing imperatives. We should not be asked to choose between our need for affordable housing and our libraries.
Both the Comptroller and Public Advocate addressed the issue of the libraries value.

Public Advocate James wrote:
I am also concerned about the site is being valued accurately and whether New York City is receiving proper compensation from the developer. Moreover, I want to ensure that we end the underfunding of our libraries and give our libraries the financial support they badly need and deserve.
The Comptroller further noted that it is “essential that any sale of public land must be in the public's best interest and that the public receives the highest value possible, in both use and dollars.” Although the library, recently enlarged and fully upgraded, has significant value to the public (it would cost $120+ million to replace), the BPL is selling it to net a figure well below $40 million.

In this recent video the Comptroller expresses (12/3) serious concerns about the deal.

Stringer: Serious Concerns w/Brooklyn Heights Library Plan

The Comptroller called upon the Brooklyn Public Library to do something it has so far refused to do, to identify the “additional properties (if any) that it intends to sell.”

Plan as Prototype With Other Library Sales Not far Behind

That challenge to the BPL from the Comptroller is all the more important because, at the City Council hearing concerning this sale, Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson declared that the sale and shrinkage is looked at as a "model" for transactions underway with respect to libraries throughout the city, not just for other libraries in her BPL system, but also for Queens and the NYPL.

In the video below respecting the decision to be made by the Council, BPL president Linda Johnson says the sale is a "model" for libraries throughout the city, not only in her Brooklyn Public Library system, but also Queens and the NYPL.  And Johnson compliments Councilman Brad Lander, a promoter of the library sale, as being "very clever" before being shushed by her fellow library president Tony Marx of the NYPL.  Councilman Lander also states that for us to sell libraries developers "must make a profit."


    Will Steve Levin Save the Brooklyn Heights Library?

Replication of Infamous Donnell Library Sale Debacle

The deal closely replicates (and was planned at the same time as) the infamous sale of the Donnell Library which did not require City Council approval because that library was not owned by the city as is typically the case, although city money had been used to renovate the Donnell not long before to provide a new teen center and state-of-the-art media center.

November 7th was the 8th anniversary of the announcement of the sudden, secretive sale of the Donnell Library.  Last March the luxury hotel, the luxury condominium building, the luxury restaurants replacing the Donnell Library all opened, but the promised shrunken (less than one-third size) "replacement" Donnell library is nowhere in sight. The NYPL's current, relentlessly postponed expected completion date for that library, to be mostly underground and largely bookless, is  "Summer 2016."  Like the proposed Brooklyn Heights transactions a pittance was received for the library's sale.
See: Priorities To Be Replicated?: Private Luxury Now Abounding Where Former Donnell Library Stood, A "Replacement" Library Is Nowhere In Sight,  Saturday, November 7, 2015.
See also our 3+ minute video about proposed library sales:
Selling Our Libraries!
Library Recently Expanded and Fully Upgraded

The Downtown Brooklyn library is a $120+ million public asset that was expanded and fully upgraded in 1993, one of the most modern in the Brooklyn system, but is being sold to net New York City's general fund considerably less than $40 million.  When the math is finally done there might even be a loss.  The library is now proposed to be shrunk to 26,620 square feet, 42% of the current 63,000 square feet.  (Until the announcement of the under wraps changes days ago, it was to be shrunk to 21,000 square feet.)  Although the proposed sale would lock in this preordained shrinkage, the Brooklyn Public Library has not yet designed a replacement library.

More Models for Shrinking Libraries

One more set of new public expenditures unveiled to promote this deal is the creation of a tiny new library in DUMBO.  Although Councilman Levin announced this plan as though it were newly conceived, BPL minute show that BPL's plan for it was conceived in 2007, the same time the plan for selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Donnell library was undertaken.  The planned size for the DUMBO library (5,000 square feet) is exceedingly small for a library and is unfortunately viewed as a template for conditioning the public to accept smaller “Out-Post” libraries in the future, substituting for what we currently have.

It was referred to as new library model the BPL was piloting.  We'll see what future iterations of the tiny library model bring.  The BPL first version of what it wished for this model was for the DUMBO "Out-Post" library to be only 1,700 square feet.  (Anything less than 10,000 square feet for a library is considered woefully small.”)

It wasn’t explained whether the city would own this library as is normally the case, or the process that will apply to its acquisition.  There is high likelihood its real estate would only be leased (as previously contemplated) with capital expenditures involved to outfit a temporary facility.

Councilman Levin inaccurately stated that the DUMBO library would be the first new library in Brooklyn in 80 years, ignoring the very small 2,500 square foot library planned for the BAM South project, the Two-Trees Walentas 286 Ashland Place project (down in size from a once promised 15,000 square feet) and ignoring the new Kensington Library replacing a facility that was previously leased.


Selling and shrinking libraries is an attack on Democracy, but with off-site so-called "affordable housing" to be built "poor door" fashion in another school district (to generate building rights bonuses) the project also raises serious issues of discrimination.  See:
Evicted From Library And Exiled To Unaffordable Housing
Citizens Defending Libraries finds pubic response consistent and nearly universal. Citizens Defending Libraries collected testimonies from over 2,000 individuals opposing this proposed sale shrinkage in just over two weeks.  Citizens Defending Libraries has over 25,000 signatories to its petitions opposing the sale of this and other NYC libraries.  Citizens Defending Libraries also has a widely signed letter of support calling for New York City libraries to be properly funded not sold, signed by, among others: The Committee To Save The New York Public Library, The Cobble Hill Association, The DUMBO Neighborhood Association, the Boerum Hill Association and the Park Slope Civic Association.

Critics of the Brooklyn Heights Library sale plans have included Common Cause New York and New York City budget expert Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. 

Links to other coverage of  the pending City Council vote is available here:
Thursday, December 10, 2015, Links Respecting City Council land Use and Subcommittee Vote (and Steve Levin community betrayal) Respecting Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library As Prototype For Future.
One thing the Council must wrestle with in voting Wednesday is how the traditional deference to the local City Council Member, which in this case is technically Steve Levin, conflicts with the interest all the Council Members have not to cast a vote that puts their own libraries in jeopardy from this program-launching precedent.  In this regard the Council Members should remember that the library in question is intended to serve New Yorkers all around, throughout all of Brooklyn and, at a minimum all of lower Manhattan.  That plus the ugliness of Levin’s backroom deal announced at the last minute should help them make the right decision.

Carolyn E. McIntyre, Michael D. D. White
Michael White, 718-834-6184, mddwhite [at] aol.com
Carolyn McIntyre, 917-757-6542 cemac62 [at] aol.com

Follow us on Twitter: @defendinglibraries

For photos and videos of prior Citizens Defending Libraries rallies opposing the sale, shrinkage, underfunding of New York City libraries, and elimination of books and librarians in the two and a half+ years since its founding, see:


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Citizens Defending Libraries
(718) 797-5207
@DefendLibraries on twitter
backpack362 [at] aol.com
Citizens Defending Libraries
(718) 797-5207
@DefendLibraries on twitter

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