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, December 20, 2015

PRESS RELEASE: De Blasio, reversing campaign pledge, commences selling NYC libraries delivering, in Grinch mode, huge shrinkage

New York City 
WHAT: Mayor de Blasio is expected to break a significant campaign promise he made calling for a halt to the sale and shrinkage of New York City libraries.  The mayor is expected to approve the precedent-setting proposed fire sale of a major public asset, Brooklyn's second biggest library, the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.  Tainting Mayor de Blasio's expected decision is: 1.) the fact that de Blasio has been  taking money from the developer and 2.) on December 16th it was announced that the mayoral controlled  Department of Education is redeploying substantial resources to promote the library sale.
WHEN:  Imminent
WHAT ELSE?:  Citizens Defending Libraries is available to provide facts about the Mayor de Blasio's decision and about the city library sales.
Did New Yorkers do something so very naughty that they deserve this huge lump of coal for the holidays from their mayor?: De Blasio reversing his campaign pledge is, with his expected approval of the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, launching the sale and shrinkage of New York City libraries.  Mayor de Blasio is imminently expected to approve the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in downtown Brooklyn with a special focus on business, career and education.

The library was recently expanded and fully upgraded so that it's is one of the most modern in the system and advanced in terms of solely needed computer support.  De Blasio’s approval of the sale allows the library to be “replaced” with another library shrunk to just 42% of the current library’s size (63,000 square feet) that will be stuck in the bottom of a privately owned tower of luxury residential condominiums to be built by the developer purchasing this city-owned property.   The “replacement” library will have just 15,000 square feet above ground instead of the almost 38,000 square feet above ground the existing library has now.  A very substantial proportion of the space to be visited by the public in this vastly shrunken library will be shifted underground.  Presently, none of the space the public visits at the existing library is underground, only two half-floors that are used for books storage.

In the bottom of privately owned residential building the mistake of shrinking this library can never afterward be corrected and it cannot ever grow in the future.

The proposed sale and shrinkage is a close replication of the 2007 Donnell Library sale debacle, the first, for which a "replacement" library in the luxury tower opened last March is still nowhere in sight.

Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson told the City Council at its hearing about the Brooklyn Heights sale (a  first ever proposal of this kind before the council) that the sale was 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.

At the BPL trustee meeting last Tuesday (the 15th), the trustees applauding this sell-off and shrinkage were reminded how sale of this library was chosen as a “demonstration” for what was possible.  They were told that this was a “huge turning point for the library system” and “across the city in general” with Johnson `pioneering’ the future of libraries.  They were also told that Alicia Glenn, de Blasio’s Deputy Mayor for Development had adopted this project as "her own" pushing “it across the finish line.”

These plans are opposite to what candidate de Blasio promised.

When de Blasio was running for mayor he stood on the steps of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library on Fifth Avenue with Citizens Defending Libraries and called for a halt to the sale and shrinkage of New York City public libraries and specifically cited and included the Brooklyn Heights Library among the examples of what he was talking about.  Candidate de Blasio said that:
“It’s public land and public facilities and public value under threat. . . and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties”
Permission is hereby granted to use video clips, images and audio of de Blasio saying this contained in the following videos (and we can also supply an audio file upon request):
Selling Our Libraries!


Will Steve Levin Save the Brooklyn Heights Library?

The de Blasio administration will almost certainly maintain that the Mayor is not violating his campaign promises about not selling this and other libraries because the mayor believes that the city is getting appropriate value for the sale of this library.  That, however, is not true.  The developer is paying nowhere near the value of the library from the public’s perspective given that this fully upgraded library would cost over $120 million to replace.  Instead the only consideration of value for this library that has been offered by the BPL and the city’s Economic Development Corporation selling the library has been from the developer’s perspective, just its “tear-down” value.  It’s essentially valuing the library property as if it were just a vacant lot.  In fact the developer will probably pay less than he would for a vacant lot given that the developer will have demolition costs to absorb.

The BPL has previously said the city will net only $40 million from this transaction, but, on Tuesday, Johnson told her board the city will be actually be netting less than that amount although the previous $40 million estimate is what Johnson and a number of members of the City Council, including local City Councilman Steve Levin, have continued to publicize.  Citizens Defending Libraries believes that the figure to be netted is considerably less with approximately $20 million probably being needed to outfit the replacement library lopped off the top of the $52 million gross price paid by the developer and many other additional expenses the BPL has refused to reckon into its faulty math promoting the developer’s real estate transaction.

Mayoral underfunding of the libraries is being given as the excuse to sell and shrink the library which underfunding by now mayor de Blasio certain key members of the City Council say is not possible for the council to override.  When de Blasio became mayor he did not restore cuts to the libraries put in place by the Bloomberg administration despite the libraries being used 40% more in terms of programming and 59% more in terms of circulation, most of that being physical books.

Not only has de Blasio not restored the Bloomberg cuts, at the beginning of this budget year, with cuts to his own prior year’s budget, he also reintroduced the so-called “budget dance” that was supposedly abandoned when his administration took office.  That helped a subsequent addition of funds to the budget this year look bigger, although it is described as not enough to abandon the Bloomberg generated library sale plans.

In setting up the transaction for de Blasio’s approval with a vote at City Council (Wednesday, the 16th), David Greenfield, chair of the Council’s Land Use Committee said that “the reality is that our public libraries are underfunded” and that we can’t hope that the resources for needed repairs “are going to fall from the sky.”  Greenfield’s professed hopelessness is despite the fact the city has a very substantial and escalating budget surplus, with the City Comptroller Scott Stringer observing that evidence of the city’s flush situation is that the city, remarkably, has no out-year budget gaps.

Comptroller Stringer’s office wrote to Deputy Mayor Glen December 9th objecting to the transaction: “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.”

Councilman Brad Lander who has been pushing hard for the sale of this library and others endorsed Greenfield’s glum assertion that resources for any alternative course of action would be unavailable from Mayor de Blasio saying, “we are not going to get there in the near term, honestly this decade.”  (The end of the “decade” would be the end of a de Blasio second term.)

City Council majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer also weighed in.  He is chair of the Council’s Cultural Committee overseeing libraries and has been a strong proponent of the library sales.  Van Bramer said “the fact is that several mayoral administrations long neglected the capital needs of our libraries.”    Councilman Van Bramer’s saying “several mayoral administrations,” would seeming implicate the Giuliani administration, but under the Giuliani administration libraries, like SIBL that de Blasio now wants to sell were being expanded.  The Brooklyn Heights Library was expanded and fully upgraded at the very tail end of the Dinkins administration, just as Giuliani was coming in.

In actuality, according to the Brooklyn Public Library minutes (November 2008), the neglect of capital needs, or their intentional deferral resulting a backlog, began concurrently with the launching of the BPL’s  "Strategic Real Estate Plan," pursuant to arrangement that fall with the Bloomberg administration’s NYC Office of Budget and Management.

Similar to these expressed City Council justifications, when the City Planning Commission considered the sale City Planning Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin said the main argument for selling the library was to get funds that would supposedly go to other libraries.   But, City Councilman Brad Lander has previously stated with respect to other attempts to assure future library funding from the city that there is no way to assure that it will happen because administrations and legislatures cannot bind future ones respecting future budget years, that bottom line it is “not constitutional” to seek to bind future budget decisions.

Citizens Defending Libraries believes that using underfunding of libraries as an excuse to hand off sweet deals to the real estate industry actually creates a perverse incentive to continue to underfund them in the future.

Frighteningly, this sale may not be a de Blasio precedent for selling off just New York City libraries.  When this proposal was before the City Planning Commission, Mayor de Blasio’s Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod indicated that he viewed this as a precedent equally applicable to a program of selling public schools for redevelopment.  The question of whether administration priorities would be development or education are raised by the way that with the planning of this project under Deputy Mayor for Development Glen the de Blasio administration raided Department of Education funds to commit to a suspect ill-described, probably ill-conceived, so-called “STEM Lab” revealed at the eleventh hour to push this library sale through.  The 9,000 square foot “STEM Lab,” for which there is no city precedent, is a possible three-classroom K-12 facility.  Investigate and you may find that the DOE said that, if they were forced to take this underground space off the developer’s hands, they would really have preferred to put a gym in it.

The deal is described as “unlocking” the city’s unused development rights, but little mention is made of the fact that in 1986 the city transferred out about half of its development rights to Forest City Ratner and that only reason the developer’s 400 foot luxury tower is so tall is that the deal has “unlocked” the development rights of Saint Ann’s a neighboring private school which will thereby significantly benefits form the transaction, but do so without demolition and loss of its building.  The details for the benefits Saint Ann’s private school is getting remain mostly secret.

Mayor de Blasio may try to justify this transaction saying that, in order to build a much bigger building, the developer buying the property is building so-called “affordable” housing units “poor door”  far away from Brooklyn Heights in another school district (only five of the units that might be considered more truly “affordable” would be large enough for families), but Public Advocate Tish James wrote the city council objecting to the sale of the library saying:
“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.”
Along with the Department of Education commitments revealed at the eleventh hour to push this library sale through.other plans were revealed (or not) that modified the transaction dressing it up for passage by the City Council that don't bear up well under close scrutiny.  For instance, the BPL announced a new library in DUMBO, but BPL minutes show this was originally planned back in 2007 when the Brooklyn Heights Library and Donnell Library sale plan were being planned and undertaken.  The DUMBO library, only 5,000 square feet, was considered by the BPL to be a model for much smaller libraries.  With the shrinking 2,500 square foot library in the Walentas BAM South project (286 Ashland Place) we now seem to have two of these very small libraries.  (The DUMBO library was originally supposed to be just 1,700 square feet.)  (Anything less than 10,000 square feet for a library is considered woefully small.”)

Will Mayor de Blasio try to say that the Brooklyn Heights Library sale has become a much better deal than it was in July of 2013 when he called for a halt to it?  If he does, he will be ignoring all the facts that have come out since that make it obvious it is far, far worse one.  . .  Beyond that, the only other important change in facts was de Blasio taking money from the developer's team while their application, ultimately selected by his administration was pending.

Other libraries being sold and shrunk?  The 34th Street Science, Industry and Business Library built in 1996 is proposed to be sold.  When that is sold, it is proposed to shrink Mid-Manhattan as a result.  The second floor of the Williamsburg Library was given away to a private firm which was also offered and almost got a substantial portion of the Red Hook Library's space.   The Sunset Park Library is being made the subject of a real estate deal kept under wraps that the community is now objecting to.  There are indications that the Pacific Branch is being eyed for sale again.  Libraries like Clinton Hill are being looked at in conjunction with inducing proposed upzonings.

The list is long enough already, but the plans of those running the libraries still remain largely undisclosed..

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:


                                                                  #   #   #

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

No comments:

Post a Comment