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.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Letters To New York City Planning Commissioners Requesting Recusals With Respect To Vote on Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of Brooklyn Heights Library

Below is a letter from Citizens Defending Libraries that was delivered today to the New York City planning commissioners that have calendared a vote for this coming Monday, November 2nd on whether to approve the sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.

The letter requesting that a number of the planning commissioners recuse themselves, based on conflicts of interest, from the precedent setting vote on whether to sell off this important and valuable public asset, was delivered with another open letter specifically to Commissioner Cheryl Cohen Effron about her vote and influences that exist to affect it.  See: Friday, October 30, 2015, Open Letter To NYC Planning Commissioner Cheryl Cohen Effron Respecting Her Vote About Selling & Shrinking the Brooklyn Heights Library, Other Libraries The Revson Foundation, Center for an Urban Future, And More.

Also delivered to the commissioners today was another letter similarly requesting recusal of commissioners: See the letter below it from Laurie Frey on which Citizens Defending Libraries was copied.

The commissioners took oral testimony about the proposed sale on September 22nd and have since further discussed the proposal a number of times and received additional testimony about the proposal.  See: Report on Tuesday, September 22nd City Planning Commission Hearing On Proposed Sale and Shrinkage of Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries (it includes links to video).

Note: As the commissioners receive physical copies of their correspondence (submission of fifteen copies is required) the letters they received di not include hyper-links.  Links have been add below for the web reader's convenience.

Letter New York City Planning Commissioners Requesting Recusals (from Citizens Defending Libraries)

October 30, 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:

Selling a very important and valuable public asset like the Brooklyn’s downtown central destination library at 280 Cadman Plaza, setting an extraordinary precedent in the process, should not be done by City Planning Commissioners who are not free from conflicts of interests that will affect the careful balancing of the judgments they must make.  Accordingly, we ask again that all New York City Planning Commissioners who have conflicts of interest recuse themselves.

Two commissioners have already recused themselves (we think very properly):  Michelle de la Uz and Joseph Douek.

We think there is ample evidence however that the commissioners have heretofore given insufficient examination to the need of other commissioners to also recuse themselves.  We further question the downplaying of matters involved in connection with the decisions that would otherwise appropriately highlight the need for commissioners to recuse themselves.

For instance, why in a transaction where the transfer of development rights must involve negotiation, modification and signing of agreements with Forest City Ratner does it appear that all such therefore appropriate references to Forest City Ratner have been scrupulous expunged from the applicant’s package and the materials being presented and certified?

Likewise, why would all the approvals authorizing city officials to take the significant actions with respect to Forest City Ratner by changing the terms of the special permit for the zoning and development rights be turned into a consent item on the commissioners’ agenda, side-stepping a direct affirmative vote and discussion with the substitution of an unaccountable, presumed and automatic vote?

This chosen procedural evasion wounds the public even more because it means that the commissioners will similarly side-step and not vote forthrightly and out in the open about whether public space and parkland at the north end of the library should be eliminated.  That parkland and open space is protected by the terms of the same special permit  Because of the inscription to be found there we call that park in question (funded by charitable donations specifically raised for it) Truth Park.”  That means the irony is that via this procedural maneuver the elimination of “Truth Park” will take place secretly in the shadows.  Could anything be more symbolically fitting?

We believe that with appropriate consideration, which we hereby request, the following commissioners likely have conflicts of interest requiring them to also recuse themselves:
    1.    Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod: For the reasons stated in our prior testimony concerning the involvement of the Episcopal Diocese of New York in real estate matters relating to the sale of New York City Libraries and also because he is a former president of one of the co-applicants, specifically the NYCEDC, and because we understand, that during his tenure at EDC as president the high profile deal with Forest City Ratner modification of which is now before the board for approval, was put into place.
    2.    Kenneth J. Knuckles, Esq: Because of business relationships with Forest City Ratner.
    3.    Irwin G. Cantor, P.E: Because of business relationships with Forest City Ratner and because of the Tishman Speyer relationship to the contemporaneously planned selling of the Donnell Library using the same model as this proposed Brooklyn Heights transaction now before the commissioner with an overlap of people involved behind the scenes.
    4.    Cheryl Cohen Effron: Because of her relationships with those selling and promoting the sale of libraries, including the Offensends, Sharon Greenberger, the library heads, including BPL president Linda Johnson (president of one of the co-applicants) and the Center for an Urban Future and Commissioner Effron’s simultaneous active involvement with libraries and library policy together with her board membership on the Revson Foundation which has been funding the efforts of various different entities that promote library sales.
    5.    Richard W. Eaddy: Because of business relationships with Forest City Ratner.
    6.    Orlando MarĂ­n: Because of professional relationships with the Bluestone Organization (at whose office he sometimes answers the phone): Bluestone is a partner with The Hudson Companies, a co-applicant, in the Gowanus Green project.
    7.    Larisa Ortiz: Because one of the co-applicants, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), is her client.
We thank the commissioners in advance for the attention we feel this deserves and pray they will do the right thing.


                            Michael D. D. White
                            Citizens Defending Libraries

* * *  *

Letter New York City Planning Commissioners Requesting Recusals (from Laurie Frey)

Click to enlarge

October 30, 2015

Via Hand Delivery

The City Planning Commission of
The City of New York
22 Reade Street
New York, New York 10007
Re:   ULURP Application M860392AZSK, 150399PPK, I50400PQK Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn Borough, Block 239, Lot 16
Dear Commissioners,

I write with regard to the above-referenced land review application. Based on a review of the public record, the Commissioners need to ensure they will avoid the appearance of impropriety with regard to potential conflicts of interest. Commissioners De La Uz and Douek have already recused themselves, yet others also appear to have a reason for recusal. Commissioners who have, have had or potentially will have (again) a business or client relationship with any party or entity interested in the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library should tender a recusal.

The Commissioners of course know they are obligated to avoid the appearance that their public action will benefit their private interests. In this instance, however, it may not be obvious which corporate entities will potentially benefit from approval of the application. For example, documents filed with the NYC Department of Finance but not included in the application reveal that the property interest attaching to the adjacent Lot 1 (which constitutes a merged zoning lot with the subject parcel, Lot 16) accrues to the Forest City Ratner Companies, the long-term ground leaseholder. As a party financially interested in the existing zoning lot merger and potentially in the anticipated new merger agreement which will be executed if the library parcel is sold, Forest City Ratner will potentially realize a benefit if the application is approved and the project goes forward.

Commissioners are Obliged to Avoid the Appearance of Impropriety

Commissioners Knuckles, Cantor and Eaddy and/or partners in their various firms have a previously established business relationship with Forest City Ratner. Commissioner Knuckles's development corporation, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, has been involved with Forest City Ratner in Harlem real estate development, and Commissioner Cantor's firm was involved with Forest City Ratner in the 8 Spruce Street project in Manhattan. Commissioner Eaddy's firm, Savills Studley, has negotiated with Forest City Ratner on behalf of Savills Studley's client(s). The Commissioners involved with firms doing business with Forest City Ratner should, in good faith, recuse themselves.

Similarly, Commissioner Ortiz's private firm, Larissa Ortiz Associates, lists one of the co-applicants of the above-referenced application, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), as a "Select Client." The NYCEDC also has a property interest in merged Lots 1 and 16 as a long-term leaseholder, like Forest City Ratner.

Commissioner Marin's professional association with the Bluestone Organization presents a potential conflict of interest. Bluestone is a partner with The Hudson Companies (in another Brooklyn project, Gowanus Green), and the NYCEDC has selected The Hudson Companies to develop the Brooklyn Heights Library parcel if the Commission approves the disposition. The Hudson Companies' subsidiary, Cadman Associates, LLC, is a co-applicant.

Additionally, Commissioner Effron is listed as a member of the Board of Directors of the Revson Foundation, a private foundation having a direct financial relationship through its grants program with another co-applicant, the Brooklyn Public Library.

To avoid an appearance of impropriety, the Commissioners associated with private firms doing business with any one of the co-applicants or any one of the parties interested in the subject property—including Forest City Ratner, The Hudson Companies, the NYCEDC, and the Brooklyn Public Library—should recuse themselves from taking action on the disposition of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

The Impartiality of the Chair Must be Preserved

This application also highlights the need to preserve the impartiality of the Chair. Chairman Weisbrod is the former NYCEDC President. During Chairman Weisbrod's tenure at the NYCEDC, the subject property was before the City Planning Commission with regard to a special permit applying to the merged Lots 1 and 16, and public officers are prohibited from taking action on projects they worked on during their previous employment.

More to the point, the Lot 16 deed will be conveyed to the NYCEDC (albeit via a shell corporation, the NYC Land Development Corporation) if the Commission approves the proposed disposition. Chairman Weisbrod will be put in the uncomfortable position of appearing to use his public office to convey a parcel of valuable public land, currently valued at $52 million, to his former employer.

The concerns in this letter are raised based on various online resources which may or may not be completely accurate. The Commissioners have a better knowledge regarding their own potential conflicting interests. As a concerned citizen, I urge the Commissioners to provide the above-indicated recusals to ensure the highest in public integrity. The Commission is obliged to—and must—only take action which is untainted by any appearances of impropriety, if the already fragile public trust in government action is to be upheld.


Ms. Laurie Frey
xxx West xxth Street
New York, NY 10025

New York, New York
Dated: October 30, 2015

cc:     Hon. Bill de Blasio, Mayor
         Hon. Letitia James, Public Advocate
         Hon. Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President
         NYC Conflicts of Interest Board
         Brooklyn Borough Board
         Brooklyn Community Board 2
         Citizens Defending Libraries

Commissioners Knuckles alongside Forest City Ratner.'s representative at their groundbreaking for a Harlem real estate development
Forest City ratnre's building?  Yes.  And there is Commissioners Cantor's name.

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