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.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

City Councilman Brad Lander Tells Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats He's Still Eager To Support His Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library Despite Investigations Into Fraud- Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon Is Milquetoast on Perceiving Problems

In his inimitably perpetually chipper way, the supposedly “progressive” city council member Brad Lander said that he was still very eager to support his deal selling and shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library.  This is the deal that his pal, BPL president Linda Johnson, has described as model for transactions being done in all three NYC library systems.
Council member Brad lander at CBID Thursday night
Here is the exchange between Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White and Mr. Lander where he expressed his eagerness to support the deal at a meeting of Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats.
MDDW:  Since you've voted on the Library, the New York Post says that your library deal doesn't pass the smell test, and a complaint has been filed with the Attorney General's office with documentation about how the books were cooked at the Brooklyn Public Library. Now you need to vote on the library at the Brooklyn Borough board level. Am I going to assume from what you've just said that you are still eager to defend this deal?

Lander: Yes absolutely!

Luckily I don't take the New York Post ss my arbiter of what's good government.

They were clear with us that they didn't choose the winning bidder solely based on the highest bid. They had a range of criteria.  I think they chose a good bid. I think Steve [Councilman Levin] made the project a lot better.

I think it's good for the Brooklyn Heights library I think It's good for the public library system as a whole. I support it. I support the work of the people are looking up in Sunset Park. So I understand we disagree on this. I'm glad.
The New York Post article, (Developer with ties to de Blasio scores job, despite being outbid, by Aaron Short, February 21, 2016) in the context of describing how the de Blasio administration doing a favor for a friend, revealed how the library gave site to a developer whose bid was lower than at least two other bidders and 20% lower than the going rate Brooklyn Heights.  Plus the bid, topped by another bid 12% more was inferior in other respects.  Plus, as stated in the Post: “Not only was his bid lower than others, Kramer was the only competitor to propose placing the required affordable housing units off-site - at a location two miles away in Clinton Hill.”  Library and city officials had, obviously inconsistently in view of the information now supplied, explained that the reason for having the so-called “affordable” units off-site was so that the dollar amount of Kramer’s bid could be higher.

The thing about the other criteria in the “range of criteria” that Lander mentioned: When Kramer was selected he announced to the public that now that because, now that his company had been awarded the bid for the library site “starting from scratch . .  just beginning” and that he could “now shamelessly steal” from his competitors to design what might actually be built.  That meant that any developer that was selected would, for instance, have gone with the same Saint Ann’s air rights acquisition deal and the same interim library deal.  In fact, the library design that Kramer ultimately reveled months later, a much taller builing had virtually no relationship to the original design associated with the award of the project to him.  (See: Saturday, October 18, 2014,  "We're Starting From Scratch!" Says Developer Getting Brooklyn Heights Library Site- So How Tall Luxury Building Replacing Library Will Be And What It Will Look Like Is Unknown!)

At City Planning Commission it was discussed how the money from selling the library (and theoretical need for it) was the "main argument" for selling the library.  But as the BPL will actually net very little when the library is sold when the math is all properly done the proportionate difference in net amounts collected by taking the low bid will be much greater, perhaps the difference between netting $15 million or netting $21 million.

Even this needs to be put in context: David Kramer (of the Hudson Companies) was the low bidder for a library that should not even be sold.  Kramer and the other developers were only bidding for the value of the library site as a vacant lot.  They were being asked by the BPL and its trustees to bid only for the "tear-down" value of the library.  These bids were in no way related to the value of the library to the public from the public's perspective, because de Blasio and the BPL trustees were selling off the library with no appraisal of the value of the library from the public's perspective.  And it is important to remember that what we are speaking of is a recently enlarged and fully upgraded library that would cost more than $120 million to replace.
Information about the complaint filed with the Attorney General’s office is available here:  Sunday, January 31, 2016, Love Brooklyn Libraries Files Complaint With Attorney General Eric Schneiderman That Brooklyn Public Library Understates Capital Funds In Order to Sell Heights Library.

What had Lander just said when White guessed correctly that Lander would still announce himself as an enthusiastic supporter of the library deal?  Lander said:
Lander:  Let me Touch three topics that I'm willing to take questions on. I've talked about the library here many times in the past. We passed it. I supported it. I think Steve fought very hard and got us a really good deal.
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon at CBID Thursday night
Just prior to Lander answering these questions Assemblyman Jo Anne Simon has answered White’s similar questions about her stance the library fraud investigations, presaging, in a milquetoast fashion, the official line that Lander would be handing out.
MDDW: I was wondering if you had any reaction to the Post article of a couple of days ago about how David Kramer on the library is very far away from being the high bidder and very far away from being the best bidder.

Simon: Well `best' is a . . a. .  a term of opinion. Right? And in terms of highest bidder, as I understand it, I have no knowledge other than what I read in the Post about it.

It appears that there were other aspects of the bid that made it more attractive to the library. I don't know. I have nothing to do, to say about that. I have no particular knowledge about it. Obviously the issue about value, and what that value is, and what that deal is for the library may be a little different than just the raw dollars. So, you know, the Post mentioned that too.

MDDW: Well the library has only been able to express things that made it better that were not actually the case. So you get right back to the money. It was an inferior bid in ways that they said were making this inferior so that we will get more money.

Simon: I can't agree or disagree with your characterization. I just know what I read in the Post. And the dollar amount was less than some other bidders. That's a process that I wasn't a part of so I don't know.

MDDW: What do you think that you and the elected officials should be doing as a result?

Simon: Well, you know, the Library is not under the jurisdiction of the state government for purposes of that kind of thing. This is a sale of city-owned land.

MDDW: It's actually regulated by the state Department of Education.

Simon: The sale of city land. . .

MDDW: It's regulated by the State Department of Education.

Simon: So is every profession except the law. Every single profession. So if you're talking about the licensing or the certification of librarians, Yes.

MDDW: No, I'm talking about the library itself.

Simon: Well, you'll have to show me where that is, And show me how that is something that in anyway is subject to the state legislature. But, you know, I think that's for future conversations as far as that goes. I don't know that that legislature has anything that it can do about it, and so, I noticed that council member Lander came in. I don't want to put this on you [Lander], but you may understand more about this than I do, as a city Council representative when it came to the library and the zoning...

. . . These are not uncomplicated issues as you may imagine.
Jo Anne Simon's predecessor, Assemblywoman Joan Millman, not shirking her duties, was a key figure in New York State Assembly hearing that delved with critical suspicion into the sale of New York City libraries, that, among other things receive funding from the State.  See: Thursday, June 27, 2013, Testimony By Citizens Defending Libraries At June 27, 2013 State Assembly Committee Hearing On Selling New York City Libraries.
Senator Velmanette Montgomery at CBID
 Senator Velmanette Montgomery also spoke to CBID.  White spared her from answering a question about the library but she was furnished with the handouts given out at the meeting that appear at the end of this post.  (Ms. Simon impatiently cast them aside when they were handed to her.)

Mr. White also did not ask Dan Wiley, aide to Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez about how the congresswoman was reacting to the latest revelations about the library deal not passing the smell test.  The main subject of conversation with respect to Ms. Velazquez is that she is up for reelection and has an opponent, Yungman Lee, a Chinese a lawyer and banker running against her in the primary.

Citizens Defending Libraries also came equipped with with this handout.


And another handout was a list of links plus an attachment of the letter Levin has failed for months to send demanding transparency from the BPL in connection wth its library sales:

The text of that flyer reads as follows:
Why isn’t Councilman Stephen Levin demanding transparency from the Brooklyn Public Library and sending the letter to do so (attached) that he long ago promised?
SEE: (From Citizens Defending Libraries) Open Letter To Councilman Steve Levin About His Letter To Brooklyn Public Library Demanding Transparency About Library Sales

See how Levin’s failure to demand transparency just doesn’t square with his ostensible reasons for his “approving” the sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library:
Monday, December 28, 2015, "An Open Letter Regarding the Brooklyn Heights Library Project"- Obfuscation From Councilman Steve Levin Concerning His Betrayal of The Community By Approving The Sale and Shrinkage of Our Library

SEE also:

You can click on the first "Open Letter" link above to see the ext of the letter Levin has refused to send following through on his obligation and promise to demand transparency and which we distributed to the audience in the form below:
Resolution Calling Upon Stephen T. Levin
To Perform and Fulfill His Responsibilities as a City Councilman
And Demand Transparency From Brooklyn Public Library
Respecting the Future of the Brooklyn Heights Library and Brooklyn’s Other Libraries
Whereas, the Independent Neighborhood Democrats (IND) recognizes the critical and expanding role that Brooklyn's public library system, and all its libraries, including particularly the central destination downtown Brooklyn Heights Library and other libraries threatened by plans that are oblivious to their value to the public and treat them as real estate deals benefitting private parties, and

Whereas, in our growing city, our libraries play a critical and necessarily expanding role in the lives of the city’s residents, providing them with books, information, technology, meeting space and other resources and activities they rely upon to improve and enhance their intellectual, social and economic well being, and

Whereas, Stephen T. Levin holds the office of Council member for the 33rd District of the New York City Council and it is a most fundamental obligation of the office he holds to demand transparency from any institution such as the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) funded extensively by city funds, and most particularly when that institution is involved in promoting the sale of a significant and valuable city-owned asset like the Brooklyn Heights Library as well as other libraries, and

Whereas, in the fall of 2014 Stephen T. Levin represented to members of Citizens Defending Libraries that he would fulfill the obligations of his office in demanding such transparency, and

Whereas, on Thursday, January 22, 2015 Independent Neighborhood Democrats held a forum about the Brooklyn public libraries that gave special focus to the proposed sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library where representatives of the Brooklyn Library acknowledged they should be more transparent but the BPL never followed through in that regard, and

Whereas, Independent Neighborhood Democrats has previously passed resolutions opposing the lack of transparency with respect to the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, and

Whereas, since the spring of 2015 Stephen T. Levin has repeatedly represented to members of Citizens Defending Libraries that he would follow through on his obligations as a Council member by sending a letter to the BPL demanding such transparency and an existing publicly available draft of that letter furnished to Stephen T. Levin makes clear what should be demanded in the way of transparency (including but not limited to the “Strategic Real Estate Plan” and the “Revson Study” and information about costs and a proper appraisal of value from the public’s perspective) and makes it easy for him to follow through by sending it, and

Whereas, the obligation and duty of Stephen T. Levin persist unextinguished notwithstanding that Stephen T. Levin has voted in favor selling the Brooklyn Heights Library without demanding transparency of the BPL beforehand, and

Whereas, it is bad policy that is exceedingly deleterious to the public interest for Stephen T. Levin to take actions that further any proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights library or other libraries before he has demanded such transparency, and the BPL has responded by appropriately and timely furnishing such transparency giving the public a chance to examine its records, now therefore be it

Resolved that the Independent Neighborhood Democrats call upon Stephen T. Levin to immediately, forthwith and without further delay, and certainly by a date no more than two week’s hence, demand such transparency from the BPL including by sending an appropriate letter to do so.

Resolved that the Independent Neighborhood calls upon Stephen T. Levin to take all necessary and appropriate steps to follow up in insisting on such transparency from the BPL.

Resolved that the Independent Neighborhood calls upon Stephen T. Levin not to take any further steps to advance the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library including any affirmative vote by him or his representative at the Brooklyn Borough Board at the very least until he has made such demands, sent such letter, and the BPL has responded by appropriately and timely furnishing such transparency giving the public a chance to examine its records.

Resolved the Independent Neighborhood Democrats calls upon all our elected officials to similarly demand and insist on such transparency from the BPL and to take no further actions advancing any real estate plans of the BPL involving sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library or other Brooklyn libraries at least until the BPL has responded by appropriately and timely furnishing such transparency giving the public a chance to examine its records.

Adopted __________________ by Executive Board

1 comment:

  1. BRAVO to the Citizens Defending Libraries. I wish all the groups fighting the massive corruption of DeBlasio, his city council cronies, executives (think Alicia Glenn), his utterly corrupt city agencies (think HPD, DOB, HDC,& Dept of Finance), and the compromised courts would join forces and leverage our outrage and efforts to stop the fraudulent collusion between city and state government of real estate developers. I'm talking about the two deed revocation properties, the Brooklyn Bridge development, the E. 88th Street project, the tenants at 125 Court Street, the Brooklyn Heights Library, and any other pay to play project. The thing they have in common is fraud, corruption, and the refusal to enforce the law. Our collective efforts would be awesome display of the power of the people to take back New York City. And hopefully put an end to DeBlasio's whiney and delusional insistence that he is a target of billionaires because he speaks truth to power.