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.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

PRESS RELEASE & NEWS ADVISORY- NYC planning commissioners challenged to recuse themselves on Monday's library vote.

New York City

WHAT: New York City Planning Commissioners, with many commissioners asked to recuse themselves, has calendared a precedent-setting vote on the proposed fire sale of a major public asset, central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn
WHEN: Monday, November 2, 2015, 1:00 P.M.
WHERE: Spector Hall, 22 Reade Street, New York, New York 10007
WHAT ELSE?:  Citizens Defending Libraries will be on hand to provide facts about the Commissions' decision and its significance plus the need of certain commissioners to recuse themselves.

The New York City planning commissioners 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 precedent setting vote will be the first-ever New York City Planning Commission vote on the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of a major New York City library (proposed to be turned into a real estate deal).  The deal closely replicates the infamous sale of the Donnell Library which did not require commission approval.

Citizens Defending Libraries has identified multiple as yet unacknowledged business relationships connecting a list of the commissioners to those involved in the real estate deal flowing out of the library's proposed sale and shrinkage.  Accordingly, Citizens Defending Libraries has asked commissioners who could be influenced to act contrary to the public's interest to recognize these conflicts and recuse themselves from this very important vote.

Two Commissioners Already Recused

Citizens Defending Libraries is gratified that two city planning commissioners recused themselves immediately and are not participating in the vote: Commissioners Michelle de la Uz and Joseph Douek.  Ms. de la Uz is recused because she heads the Fifth Avenue Committee which is looking at purchasing other Brooklyn libraries and is presently engaged in another transaction, redeveloping of the Sunset Park Library into a mult-use facility, which the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) has tied to the Brooklyn Heights Library sale, asserting that it could benefit from the Heights library sale.  Mr. Douek is recused in part because he is currently one of the trustees of the BPL which is advocating for the real estate deal selling  and shrinking the library.   Mr. Doueck also has a relationship to the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) another of the co-applicants asking for the library to be sold and shrunk:. Mr. Doueck was Brooklyn's representative to the EDC's Board of Directors and served on the EDC board while the formulation of library sale was in progress.

Seven More Commissioners With Similar Conflicts Now Identified By Citizens Defending Libraries Should Also Recuse Themselves  

Seven other of the city planning commissioners should also recuse themselves from the proposed vote because they have significant professional ties and business entanglements with those involved in the proposed transaction that would transform the downtown central destination library into a major real estate deal.  These relationships, not yet the subject of public acknowledgment (or at least a number of them), have now been identified by Citizens Defending Libraries and form the basis of the request for their recusal.

Some of the reasons for recusal overlap with the reasons that two of the commissioners have already recused and dealing with the co-applicants.  Three of the requested approvals concern relationships with Forest City Ratner whose property was combined with the library's for development purposes in 1986 in agreements that the commissioners must approve modification of for the deal to proceed.

The perhaps startling number of commissioners asked to recuse themselves can be accounted for by a number of things deserving public attention: Because so many of the New York City Planning Commission commissioners are deeply enmeshed in their own private real estate careers, *the ubiquity of Forest City Ratner as a developer, and lastly because all of New York City's many libraries have now become an attractive target for transformation into real estate deals.

Commissioners Being Asked to Recuse

Here is a list of the additional commissioners requested to be recused:
    1.    Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod: Chair Weisbrod chose not to recuse himself despite the reasons presented by Citizens Defending Libraries September 22nd, specifically because of the involvement of the Episcopal Diocese of New York in real estate matters relating to the sale of New York City Libraries.  Mr. Weisbrod previously had a position (ending 2011) where he was responsible for the real estate of the Episcopal Diocese of New York owned by Trinity Church while the church's pension fund engaged in transactions that were part of the New York Public Library's Central Library Plan. While Chair Weisbrod did not chose to recuse for those reasons, Citizens Defending Libraries has since learned that Mr. Weisbrod was also a former president of one of the co-applicants in this transaction, specifically the EDC.  During his tenure as president of EDC the high profile deal with Forest City Ratner, modification of which is now before the board for approval, was put into place.
    2.    Cheryl Cohen Effron: Ms. Effron has multiple relationships with many of the people involved in promoting the sale of New York City libraries.  That includes working directly with Linda Johnson, president of the BPL, one of the co-applicants to sell and shrink the library.  It also includes being on the board of the Revson Foundation formulating policy with Sharon Greenberger the former Chief of Staff to Daniel Doctoroff, Deputy Mayor for Development for the Bloomberg amdministartion who as a BPL trustee worked with Janet Offensend to structure this and other library sale transactions.  The Revson Foundation granted money to the Sunset Park Library transaction tied in with this one, a reason Commissioner de la Uz has already recused.  The Revson Foundation has also given money to a number of other organizations promoting NYC library sales, including the Center for an Urban Future whose representatives testified more than once during these proceeding that the Brooklyn Heights Library (and others) should be sold based on reports the center did funded by the Revson Foundation.  Effron has been simultaneously involved on the "Benefit Committees" for Center for an Urban Future galas (for at least two years) working with David Offensend who, as COO of the NYPL sold the Donnell Library while his wife, Janet was involved as BPL trustee structuring the nearly identical proposed sale.  David Offensend was also working to sell the Mid-Manhattan Library and Science, industry and Business Library as part of the Central Library Plan.
    3.    Larisa Ortiz: Like Chair Weisbrod and Commissioner Douek who recused himself, Ms. Ortiz has a significant relationship to one of the co-applicants, the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC).  EDC is her "Select Client."
    4.    Orlando MarĂ­n: Because of professional relationships with the Bluestone Organization (at whose office he sometimes answers the phone) the commissioner should recuse himself: Bluestone is a partner with The Hudson Companies, a co-applicant, in the Gowanus Green project.  The Hudson Companies, David Kramer's organization, is the proposed purchaser of the Brooklyn Heights library who would develop the luxury tower (a vastly shrunken library at its base) to replace it at that site.
    5.    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.
    6.    Kenneth J. Knuckles, Esq: Because of business relationships with Forest City Ratner.
    7.    Richard W. Eaddy: Because of business relationships with Forest City Ratner.
To view letters that Citizens Defending Libraries has sent to the commissioners respecting their need to deal with these conflicts of interest, 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.
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
The Brooklyn Borough President has recommended the proposed project not be approved.

What does the public want?: Citizens Defending Libraries finds public response consistent and nearly universal. 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.

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:


See also our latest masterpiece video (3 minutes 50 seconds):  Selling Our Libraries!

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