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.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Our Testimony To Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams About Proposal To Turn Sunset Park Library Into Another No-bid Real Estate Deal

This is Citizens Defending Libraries testimony submitted to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams today about the proposal to turn the Sunset Park Library into another no-bid real estate deal.

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November 14, 2016

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Re:    Proposal to turn Sunset Park Library into another no-bid real estate deal

Dear Borough President Adams:

Since when do we have to turn our libraries into real estate projects serving real estate priorities, clandestinely conceived and managed ones at that?

Citizens Defending Libraries would like to think that since it shone a light and let the community know about the long-secret plans to turn the Sunset Park Library into a multi-use real estate project, that what was proposed became a better project in response.  Indeed, it is a bigger library, now proposed to be essentially the same size as what the shrink-and-sink disposal of the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn’s heretofore second biggest library, will produce.

But approving this project is feeding the beast that ravages us and it is doubtful that this is what the community wants.  At the Community Board 7 Land Use Committee hearing testimonies were so relentlessly supplied by people with economic and employment relationships with the developer and the BPL (now itself styled as a development agency) that the hearing officer cautioned that these individuals should all preface their remarks by noting their conflicts of interest.  As more and more “testimony” was given by people with such conflicts, FAC employees, board members and the like, they were told that they COULD testify, but the moderator suggested that they should refrain because they drowning out the community and usurping the limited about of time available to speak.  Still, more and more FAC trustees, employees and BPL employees spoke.

The BPL suggested at one point that they didn’t think that people coming from outside the community should speak, and, in fact, virtually no one from outside the Sunset Park Community spoke except that the majority of these economically interested, salaried speakers were exactly that: From outside the community.

It was the same with hearings, including those held right here last year, when the Brooklyn Heights shrink-and-sink scam was proposed.  The Fifth Avenue Committee similarly marched out its economically interested troops to testify that Brooklyn’s second biggest library should be sold to net a minuscule fraction of its value to the public, handed off to a luxury tower developer in a pay-to-play de Blasio deal that we all understand is now under criminal investigation.  Thus, with this deal, and the Brooklyn Heights deal, we see a perpetuation of the bottom line no-bid hand-offs that began with the Donnell shrink-and-sink deal involving Donald Trump’s son-in-law and principal advisor, Jared Kushner, as a principal beneficiary.

Why is the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) along with other real estate and interests adverse to those of the public interests allowed such influence and sway over the BPL and its board?  Why is  Jamie Torres Springer, a real estate-company-employed spouse of the head of the EDC, allowed to be the head of the board of the Fifth Avenue Committee, the developer here, helping to push so many library sales?

It is all too incestuous, far too conflicted and way too much against the public interest.

The Sunset Park Library deal was conceived in secret, arriving full-blown without community or public input, and has been rammed down the public’s throat.  It is a subtraction from what the public owns, a significant subtraction, from the assets of the library system.  The proposed replacement library, stuck underneath a privately-owned residential building can never grow in the future.  That would not be so if the proposal were instead to build a  publicly-owned, public purpose office building.

And the larger library that Sunset Park might get if this clandestinely conceived deal is approved?  That depends on promises the BPL and developer cannot be trusted to keep!

In the course of the ULURP process for the Brooklyn Heights Library sale (that went on here) it was promised that the Heights library would not be shut and moved to a smaller, less adequate temporary library until the developer had closed on the transaction, ponied up the money the BPL says (at least pretextually) is the reason it is destroying the library.  That promise was not kept.

The BPL promised that the library would never suffer demolition until the public was thoroughly protected against loss and the possibility of the replacement library not being built.  That promise is not being kept either.  The developer is being allowed to trash and demolish the library while it is still publicly owned public property.  The developer with the deal under criminal investigation is being allowed to rush, once again damning the best interests of the public. The BPL doesn’t expect the developer to acquire the property for another two months. .  if even that happens.

Because the BPL says what it will do with Sunset Park is dependent upon the Heights deal, those broken promises also directly affect the Sunset Park Library proposal now being considered.

And while we ask about the secrecy with which this and other library deals were conceived and pursued and whether that secrecy should be tolerated, we should also ask why one of the country’s top private spy agencies like Booz Allen Hamilton, working almost exclusively for the federal government, should have been engaged to be so intricately involved in the overhaul of New York City Libraries and their destruction. . .

. . .  Our libraries are supposed to be a public commons, a zone of free speech and freedom of thought and concomitantly a zone with protected privacies.  They are not supposed to be a playground for developers or at the disposal of anyone else.


Michael D. D. White
Citizens Defending Libraries

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