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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

2018 Brooklyn Heights Association Annual Meeting - (The BHA promoted the sale and shrinkage of the Central Destination Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library)

2018 Annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting
Wednesday night was the annual meeting of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

Two non-affiliated community grassroots groups were there handing out flyers to promote worthy causes.  One group was assisted in its flyering efforts by the BHA president, but the BHA president sought to quash the flyering work of the other group.  Can you guess which is which?
    •    FLAC (Flower Lovers Against Corruption) was handing out a flyer urging protection of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden against overdevelopment in the form of an upzoning that would result in the intrusion of huge towers around what is supposed to be the protected perimeter surrounding the Garden.  With those new towers the Garden would no longer be experienced as a the bucolic nature preservation it is.

    •    Citizens Defending Libraries was handing out a flyer urging the protection of another public commons, our libraries, and urging that the Brooklyn Heights Association lobby for a bigger “replacement” library to replace the Central Destination Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library that the BHA helped destroy.
The group that the BHA didn’t want handing out information to the attending public was us, Citizens Defending Libraries, and the fact that the Brooklyn Heights Association would seeks to stymie us as we informed the community that we were beseeching the Heights Association to come out for a bigger better library (while selectively helping our comrade-in-arms activist group also looking to preserve the public commons and realm), is indicative of the increasingly elitist and dictatorial behavior of the Heights Association.   . . . Is it purely coincidence that this was the year that the Heights Association abandoned its three decade tradition of fundraising house tours because board no longer thought the general public should be invited in to see the stately homes of neighborhood residents?

Every year in recent history the Brooklyn Heights Association has conducted its annual meetings in ways that increasingly circumscribe public feedback, comment and input about what people want in the community.   The timing of such curtailment coincides to a great degree with something the BHA did against the community’s wishes and disregarding its objections: That was the BHA coming out in favor of selling and shrinking the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the Central Destination Business, Career and Education Brooklyn Heights Library in downtown Brooklyn.

Here are the two flyers, FLAC’s and our Citizens Defending Libraries flyer respectively, handed out at the annual meeting.

FLAC Flyer - Click to enlarge

* * * *
Citizens Defending Libraries flyer
Here is the text of the Citizens Defending Libraries flyer:
For years running the Brooklyn Heights Association supported the sale and shrinkage of the second biggest library in Brooklyn, the central destination downtown Brooklyn Heights Business, Career and Education Library.  As a result, replaced in a luxury tower shrink-and-sink deal, that library, now a hole in the ground, will be smaller, more underground and will have far fewer books (while a looming tower overshadows Cadman Plaza Park).

Not long before, BHA support had won the community the expansion and complete upgrade of the library.  It is not too late for the BHA to reverse course again and lobby for a bigger replacement library.  (This would also restore funds raided from the Department of Education!) 
(pushing our libraries out the door to plundering plutocrats, handing them over to developers) HAS CONSEQUENCES
It has been noted that if Steve Mnuchin had been vigorously prosecuted at the local level for his business’s mortgage fraud, misrepresentations, backdating and falsification of documents to rev up the pace of his OneWest foreclosure mill, he wouldn’t be Treasury Secretary, appointed by Donald Trump today- Similarly, had NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigated the shrink-and-sink Donnell Library plunder with Blackstone’s Stephen A. Schwarzman involved on the selling side and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner as principal financial beneficiary, those two Trump henchmen might not be in significant positions of power today.  The whole political landscape at the national level could be different, not to mention having healthier local politics.

When our local officials and organizations allow the corrupt plundering of valuable public assets, like the shrink-and-sink Brooklyn Heights Library deal modeled on the sale of Donnell with some of the same people in the background, it feeds the beasts who go on to prey on us in so many other ways.

It doesn’t serve us that Stephen A. Schwarzman, spearheading Trump’s economic policy and sale of American infrastructure, is also one of Senator Schumer’s biggest donors, just as Schumer’s wife’s connections with selling libraries and privatizing public assets also do not.  City Councilman Steve Levin misleadingly assured that he would do his job and insist on transparency respecting the library sales but, betraying his constituents, never has. Thus the lack of transparency in Brooklyn Heights helps Donnell sink unchallenged into the sunset (even as Preet Bhrara investigated the mayor’s play-to-play).

Sign our petition on the web: Citizens Defending Libraries
The BHA reported this year that it had constructively received a donation of $2 million from the law firm of  Jenner & Block for the pro bono work that attorney Richard Ziegler has done attempting to block development of towers at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Unfortunately, the faltering fights against development in the park, the over-tall Pierrehouse included (same architect involved in trashing the library) are examples of fights where the BHA entered the fray late.  “A stitch in time saves nine.”
The Heights Association’s cause–de-jour at the meeting is an effort by the association to get legislation passed in Albany to allow reconstruction of the cantilevered BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) roadways under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade to be handled through a “Design Build” contract rather than through the normal competitive bid processes that are normally prescribed for this kind of public construction.  The Brooklyn Heights Association is promoting passage of the legislation with a petition and other lobbying efforts including a bus trip to Albany.

The BHA’s featured speaker of the evening, NYC Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner and Chief Bridge Officer Robert Collyer, addressed the subject.  Interestingly, he mentioned that the Pier 6 Towers being built near the BQE in Brooklyn Bridge Park and other luxury towers going up in the vicinity were going to make the needed repairs to the BQE more difficult to do.  He said that the impending tower construction was creating a “narrow window” to get the repairs done as efficiently as possible.  We know that some library defenders have raised the question of how construction to build the luxury tower to replace the library may conflict awkwardly with BQE repairs as it is predicted that the Hudson Companies construction at the former library site will often block both Clinton Street and Cadman Plaza West.  This might happen just as traffic from the BQE is diverted through the same set of neighborhood streets.

Collyer noted that Furman Street under the BQE needed to be raised because of climate warming and rising sea levels.  He said there was no plan to raise the levels of the BQE roadways.

When Mr. Collyer was asked why the “Design Build” legislation was not yet enacted, he said that it had not passed in the NYS senate, but said that he did not comment on politics.

The Brooklyn Heights Association has communicated to the community its conclusion that the BQE should be reconstructed via a “Design Build,” contract and it has communicated this to the community as if it is a no-brainer.  It did not offer for discussion any of the reasons that “Design Build” could be less preferable.  The BHA may have reached the right conclusion about this, but it is hardly a no-brainer.

“Design Build” diminishes certain competitive bid and cost protections.  It also scrambles loyalties and duties of those doing the construction for better and/or worse giving the overseeing city public works engineers less control over the project.  It could possibly be argued that the balance of interests in play if a “Design Build” contract is used for this section of the BQE is that the work, including work on the Heights Promenade would be completed more quickly, but at a higher cost paid for by all the city’s residents.  (Neither is absolutely provable or certain.)

Through performance specifications, one has to be careful that “Design Build” does not encourage inappropriate cost cutting on the part of the contractors.  For instance, costs may be cut that increase the cost of maintenance and repair later on.  That is one reason that one of the several variations of “Design Build” contracts are DBOM contracts, “Design-Build-Operate-Maintain” contracts.  But as you contemplate such a concept, you may begin to recognize how “Design Build” partakes in an overall and increasing tendency to contract out more and more of the traditional work of government to the private sector.

There is plenty of work, there are plenty of endeavors, that, final analysis are probably best handled by the private sector, but when more and more work is handed off to private sector and the government that is supposed to oversee that work and is simultaneously starved of resources it can be a problem.  It is especial a problem when there is corruption that needs to be protected against.  It should be remembered that government is supposed to be the guardian of the public interest, even if it is more and more often abdicating or selling off that function.

Point of interest: When it came to the sale and shrinkage of the library, Citizens Defending Libraries asked the Brooklyn Heights Association to get involved in fighting the corruption involved and the Brooklyn Heights Association declined.

Quite a few times during the meeting Mr. Collyer was asked about what design decisions were being made with respect to repairing the BQE and answered that he didn’t know, that was to be determined . . . (in essence by a contracting out).  His answers in this regard were quite consistent with being headed toward a contracting out of such analysis to the private sector with a “Design Build” handling of the matter.

Here are articles about the considerations inherent in deciding whether or not to do a “Design Build” contract.
    •    American City and County- The growth (and growing pains) of design-build construction, Edward J. Pabor and Richard Pennington, April 1, 2012 (terrible date for a serious article)

    •    Schiff Hardin- Seven Legal Issues Unique to Design-Build, by Mark C. Friedlander, June 5, 2015

    •    Design-Build Effectiveness Study, Final Report, Prepared for: USDOT - Federal Highway Administration, January 2006
Want to read more about the meeting?  Here is where you can go:
    •    Brooklyn Daily Eagle- Repairs to Brooklyn Heights BQE & Promenade hit home at BHA Annual Meeting- Waterfront tunnel not option, dire local traffic scene feared; Bus trip to lobby Albany, By Mary Frost

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