Friday, June 26, 2015

Embarrassment of Past Riches!: Augmentation of NYC Book Space At Two Business Libraries Simultaneously- Only Recently The Brooklyn Heights Association Fought For Larger, Not Smaller Libraries

Click to enlarge if you dare- The Library-squashing tower that would benefit Saint Ann's private school and a developer if built, but not the public.
Do you know that in the 1990s, not so very long ago at all, New York City substantially augmented its library resources by spending to create more library space at two major central destination business libraries simultaneously?  And, if you rewind the clock, looking at one of those libraries, the Brooklyn Heights Association was in the thick of things fighting for more library space. . .

. .   Now, as fate (or the real estate industry) would have it, both of those central destination business libraries are besieged by those who would sell them, hand them out as juicy deals.

. .  And, for reasons that seem suspicious, the Brooklyn Heights Association now finds itself on the other side, advocating to shrink the library it once fought to enlarge.

The First Ever Hearing On Selling and Shrinking a Public Library- Running Into the BHA

Wednesday June 17, 2015 was the first ever hearing about selling and shrinking a NYC library, the Brooklyn Heights Library, Brooklyn's central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn on Cadman Plaza West at Tillary and Clinton, was held before the Land use Committee of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2.
Patrick Killackey, president of the Brooklyn Heigts Association now favoring the sale and shrinkage of Brooklyn's Brooklyn Heights Library.- From the Brooklyn Eagle
At the end of the hearing I approached Patrick Killackey, the new president of the board of the Brooklyn Heights Association, and told him the BHA was long overdue in following through to reconsider and change the position it took in favor of selling and shrinking the library, a reconsideration Killackey’s predecessor, Alexandra Bowie, said publicly the BHA might be willing to entertain when I questioned her as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries at the February 24, 2015 annual Brooklyn Heights Association meeting:
"I will take that up with our library committee, which is how we operate, and if the library committee feels that it wants to revisit the question, then I will take it to the full board," Bowie said.
Bklyn Hts Blog: Who do you support?
The BHA’s original decision to support the sale and shrinkage of the library was rushed, secretive, lacking in public input and suspect in a number of ways.  We have asked the BHA to change course from the start, including at the previous, 2014 BHA annual meeting.  Back then, as well, it was very clear that public sentiment was strong on our side.

The last time I approached Mr. Killackey entreating that the BHA finally reconsider its position was at the May 9, 2015 annual Brooklyn Heights Association house tour where a majority of those on the tour wore our Citizens Defending Libraries “Don’t Sell Our Libraries” buttons.  Mr. Killackey told me then he was “off duty.”

I am sure Mr. Killackey believed I came on strong as I approached him after the hearing, and I probably did as I was very annoyed that at the hearing the BHA had just delivered inane testimony in favor of selling and shrinking the library Ms. Bowie herself standing to read it into the microphone.  Mr. Killackey may also have felt beset upon under the circumstances, because the hearing that had just concluded was packed with people.  Setting aside those people whose salaries (via the real estate industry or closely analogous situations) depended upon the testimony being in favor of a library sale and shrinkage, the hearing testimony was virtually unanimously opposed to selling and shrinking the library, leaving the Brooklyn Heights Association an odd outlier.
People told me they left the hearing more passionately opposed to the library sale and shrinkages than when they arrived.  This was after listening to Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson protest to a groaning audience that “the BPL is not in the real estate business.”  And it was after hearing the developer refuse to say what Saint Ann's school is being paid as a result of the library’s sale and shrinkage because, he averred, “it's a private transaction” . . .  even though it is driving a public one!

I told Mr. Killackey that the BHA should be meeting with Citizens Defending Libraries and that we could educate the BHA about what was wrong with their position and the way that it had been reached.  Mr. Killackey seemed insulted and told me that I didn’t know anything about him or what he already knew about the library sale.

Fighting To Properly Fund Libraries

We then got into a discussion where Mr. Killackey made the point that NYC libraries have always been underfunded and have always had to fight for funds.  I have had a number of discussions with various people recently and it seems to me that this is a talking point that people arguing for the sell-off and shrinkage of libraries are now using to contradict what we have made a point of saying: NYC libraries are being underfunded at an unprecedentedly low level as an excuse to sell them off.
The explanation for library underfunding!  It's easy to see: The generation of deals like this, the 50-story building replacing the Donnell library.  And the proposal to replicate the Donnell sale swindle with a 38-story building replacing the Brooklyn Heights Library.
If you see things the way we do then what seems to be a very hard thing to explain becomes easy to explain: You ask “why should a `progressive’ mayor be engaged in an unprecedented underfunding of the libraries in a time of plenty?” - Then you look at the huge luxury condominium tower proposed to replace the Brooklyn Heights Library, shrinking it down to one-third size, and you say that’s the answer staring me starkly in the face!  And the answer is all the more obvious when you realize that the real estate development team “lurking right behind the curtain” to build it is sending money to the mayor.  See:  Saturday, June 6, 2015, WNYC Reports Mayor de Blasio's "Furiously Raising Funds"- Including From Developers "Lurking Behind The Curtain" of Library Real Estate Sales- And WNYC's Money?

We Used To Fight For Funds To Expand Libraries: Business Libraries As Case In Point

Mr. Killackey is correct that there is a history of libraries needing to fight for their funds from the city, just as every department or entity seeking city funding fights to justify its case for funds.  But the libraries never before had to fight for funds so that underfunding wouldn’t be a reason to sell and shrink libraries.  Au contraire, in the past, libraries were fighting for funds to expand.  And fighting for funds to expand vs. fighting for funds not to sell and shrink libraries is  hardly an apples to apples comparison.
Two central destination libraries (the Downtown Brooklyn heights Library and SIBL) that were both funded at the same time, both with a special focus on business.  The facilities for library patrons were thus mightily expanded, an embarrassment of rishes.  And now both may vanish at the same time? 
Example?: A really good one is this very library that Killackey’s BHA is advocating be sold and shrunk.  In June of 1992 Crain’s New York Business was reporting about the expansion going on at this library.  The point of the article was that the BPL’s fight to fund the library was going to be more uphill because of competition as the city simultaneously went forward with another expansion of library space,  plans for the NYPL’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) at 34th Street in the former B. Altman’s building:
The usually subdued leadership at the Brooklyn Public Library is peeved that Brooklyn’s pre-eminent business library is being cast aside as city and state officials build a library that may duplicate work already done by Brooklyn Public.
Not to worry: Both central destination business library expansions were fully funded and completed in the end.
The BPL spent $5 million, the equivalent of nearly $10 million in today’s dollars, on its central destination Brooklyn Library.  Opened in 1962 with 90,000 books its collection was by then up, substantially, to 130,000 volumes, plus periodicals and other resource materials.  The library reopened Tuesday, October 12, 1993 in a no-cost-overrun renovation.  The library added new second floor space over two of its wings.  It involved a substantial gutting for the installation of upgraded mechanical, wiring, air conditioning and heating (an automatic system), energy efficient lighting, while providing and adding space for on-line computer services recognizing the “technological revolution.”  It alleviated what had been “a cramped atmosphere.”  (See: Heights Press: Library Reopens Next Tuesday, by Roanan Geberer, October 7, 1993 and Library Renovation is Moving Along, by Roanan Geberer, July 23, 1992.)  The Building (now 63,000 square feet) was thereby expanded “by nearly a third.” (See: The Phoenix, Expansion Work To Close Branch For 12-16 Months, Michael Armstrong, May 2-10, 1991.)

In Manhattan, SIBL moved forward to completion, opening in the spring of 1995.  It’s 160,000 square feet of new additional library space cost $100 million (consider adjusting that for an equivalent in today’s dollars).

Reverse Course On Both Business Libraries- Simultaneously?

The Crain’s June 1992 article discussed to what extent these two libraries competed with each other, duplicating services, but what library patrons got was investment and expansion of such services at both sites simultaneously.  Now, with a proposed concurrent sale of both libraries, library patrons would lose services at both locations simultaneously. . .

. .   In fact, part of SIBL has already been sold.  In 2012 the NYPL quietly sold off 87% of SIBL’s space for just $60.8 million.  What it sold off was space where books could be stored and readily retrieved from.  With the sale books disappeared from the site, most of what in the 1992 Crain’s article NYPL president Timothy Heally described as SIBL’s “overused . .  business and science collection” of 2.5 million volumes.  Librarians tell us many of these volumes now take appreciable extra time to retrieve for patrons because they are in Chicago.  According to Crain’s, SIBL was also “a depository for patents and government documents from not only the United States, but nations of the European Community.”  Similarly, the Brooklyn library enlarged in 1993 was a designated Federal Depository (and still is).

The unsold portion of SIBL that’s threatened by the NYPL’s announced intent to sell it, constitutes, just as it is all by itself, a very valuable viable library notwithstanding that so much of its book storage space has been sold off.  That’s even though SIBL now has far fewer books than the 90,000 volumes the Brooklyn library had on premises when it opened in 1962.  By contrast, in Crain’s in 1992 the NYPL bragged that SIBL’s book count was “20 times that of Brooklyn’s” and that it had “60,000 periodical titles.”

Visit SIBL at 34th Street and Madison and see what you find there.  It continues, in beautifully designed fashion, to have every imaginable resource that a library intended to provide a platform for and to work with computer resources is supposed to provide.  Although SIBL’s book count has been devastatingly diminished, it has expanses of currently empty shelves that could be refilled, this at a time when library circulation is up about 60% with almost all of that increase being physical, not digital books.

Knowledgeable About The Turnaround?

Mr. Killackey's thus-it-has-ever-been-so assertion that libraries have always had to fight for their funding with his accompanying implication that we are not now facing a new threat as their sale is blames on that underfunding, ignores that fact that throughout the Giuliani administration we were expending public funds to expand libraries.  It was only when the Bloomberg administration came in, also looking at selling off other public assets (schools, public housing, etc), that we made a 180% turnaround.  It ignores how the BPL’s minutes document that before the BPL was planning to sell libraries there was no backlog of capital library expenditures.  It ignores how the minutes of the BPL document that when the plans to sell libraries were being launched the BPL agreed with the city to defer and build up those capital repairs rather than fund them and that this was done in tandem with an effort to “strengthen the argument for” its “strategic real estate plan” to sell and shrink libraries.  All of this had been documented in Noticing New York, but Mr. Killackey seems unaware (.Sunday, August 31, 2014, Mostly In Plain Sight (A Few Conscious Removals Notwithstanding) Minutes Of Brooklyn Public Library Tell Shocking Details Of Strategies To Sell Brooklyn's Public Libraries.)
As Mr.Killackey says, I don’t know what he knows, but what he knows seems to ignore how, at approximately the same time, just after Bloomberg got his third term, he dramatically started cutting funding to libraries even as library use was increasing greatly.  The de Blasio administration, proceeding with library sales, has not restored those cuts.

When The BHA Fought For a Bigger Library and Smaller, More Contextual Buildings

too "bulky" said BHA
The expansion of the Brooklyn Heights library with the 1991-1993 construction effected an increase to the library’s space for which the Brooklyn Heights Association had been fighting for a number of years.  In 1985 when the Brooklyn Heights Association was fighting Forest City Ratner’s huge new One Pierrepont Plaza building planned for erection next to the Brooklyn library as too “bulky,” a deal was reached allowing the Ratner building greater height in exchange for cutbacks at its top and Ratner’s promise to give 12,000 square feet in the building to the library for it to expand into.  This sweetener was intended to deal with the overcrowding at the library’s adjacent site.  (See: Pact on Brooklyn Tower Reached, By Josh Barbanel, October 25, 1985.)  Ratner’s building was completed in 1988.

Library Space Promised to Sweeten Deals For Bigger Development- Not Delivered

Ratner’s 1985 offer of library space as a sweetener to induce approval for a bigger development is reminiscent of how in discussions of transforming libraries into mixed-use redevelopments there has been crass frankness about the manipulative offer of libraries as a “placating gesture” to get the public to approve greater development.  More recently, Two Trees Development offered the public 15,000 square feet of new library space in its BAM South luxury tower as sweetener for a substantial increase in the size of the permitted building, a deal handed out to it from the city by the Bloomberg administration that, like the 1985 Ratner deal, was given away without a bid.

Interestingly, Ratner apparently was never required to make good on its 1985 pact for the libray space sweetener.  Similarly, on May 27, 2007 BPL spokesman David Woloch quietly confessed to CB2’s Youth and Education Committee that instead of providing the 15,000 square feet of library sweetener space in the BAM South project once promised, Two Trees would be giving just 2,500 square feet, one-sixth of what was originally promised.  (See: Friday, February 1, 2013, City Strategy Of Withholding Basic City Services To Blackmail Public Into Accepting Bigger Development.)

The proposed luxury condominium tower that would squash the library down to one-third size dwarfs the adjacent1988 Ratner tower and has no cutbacks.

At a June 10, 2015 BPL presentation to Brooklyn's Community Board 7, Mr. Woloch assured members of the Sunset Park Community that if its library is torn down for redevelopment into a mixed-use facility there will be no bait and switch, that what is promised will be built.  The Sunset Park plans were first disclosed here in Noticing New York with the BPL catching up to give out information afterwards.  In a sense there has been a victory in that for the first time since Citizens Defending Libraries has been on the scene a library being sold is proposed to be enlarged, in this case to 20,600 square feet, virtually the same size the central destination 63,000 square foot downtown library is proposed to be shrunk to.

Illusory Promises- One Reason the BHA is Wrong
Unfulfilled and unenforceable promises provide a perfect segue for talking about more of what is wrong with the Brooklyn Heights Association’s position to back the sale and shrinkage of the library.  A top reason the BHA gives for selling and shrinking the library is that, “proceeds from the sale will go to the BPL, which will use them to renovate other branch libraries.”

This is wrong on a number of counts:
    1.    As one of the CB2 Land Use Committee members noted there is no way to assure that net funds, if any, would actually go to such funding of other libraries.  There is no way to track it through or assure that New York City, to whom the money would go, would actually give more money to the libraries as a result.  The city could actually just give less overall to the libraries.  There is only the vaguest idea that morally money ought to come back to the libraries, but the libraries are already funded at an immorally low level, below what was compacted with Andrew Carnegie when he gave libraries to the city.  What's more, if low funding translates this way into hand-offs to real estate developers, we are only apt to see more of this kind of low funding in the future.

    2.    The BPL is being totally untransparent about how there will be virtually no net proceeds from the sale of the library.  It may wind up with a negative cash result.  The BPL is disguising, underestimating and refusing to acknowledge the costs that must be netted out of the transaction.

    3.    The proposed self-cannibalizing sale of this library doesn’t generate resources for the library; it involves a huge loss of library resources.  It would cost $60 million to rebuild the library building.  The building together with the land there and the rights to expand for additional public uses there mean the dollar value fo the library to the public is well over $100 million, probably around $120 million. . . and yet the BPL would net virtually nothing from a sale, perhaps less than zero.  (See: Sunday, June 14, 2015, Selling a $100 Million Plus Library For What? A Pittance! More Transparency Please.)
More On Why the BHA is Off Track, Including The Saint Ann's Problem

The BHA’s testimony also includes a reference to the private Saint Ann's School in weirdly suggesting with rather out-of-the-blue belatedness that perhaps there should be some negotiation for a larger library:
Given the recent announcement that Saint Ann's School will not purchase the space originally assigned to them, we urge the Brooklyn Public Library to consider negotiating with Hudson for additional space in the building. In the event that the underground space is unsold, we welcome Hudson's plan to excavate less of the site.
If the reverse-course shrinkage of this library is truly the colossal mistake most people think it is and the library should therefore be larger, or if in the future it's determined the library should be larger because the city, borough, central business district and surrounding residential neighborhood are all growing fast (which they all are) there is a problem: Stuck in the bottom of a residential luxury tower, the library can never be enlarged afterwards.*  Yet the BHA suggests negotiating for a larger library, but is ready to just shrug if those negotiations don’t work out?  Come now!  How contradictory can you get?
(* Sunset Park has a similar problem where a no-bid. behind-the-scenes process now puts that library on track to be put in the bottom of a residential, not a commercial, building, and also precluded the use of anther better site for the expanded library.)
Perhaps more important, the BHA’s mention of Saint Ann’s School in its testimony is deceptive.  It makes it sound like Saint Ann’s was paying for the space it was getting in the building rather, than as was the case, being paid with the transfer of that space for its development rights.  Remember the developer refusing to say how much Saint Ann’s is being paid?   The BHA’s wording also makes it sound like Saint Ann’s School was no longer going to be involved in the transaction, a misleading impression the developer and BPL apparently tried to foster right before the hearing.

If fact, it must be recognized that private Saint Ann’s School is getting a substantial pay day due to the fact that because the library, a publicly owned asset, is being sold and shrunk, Saint Ann’s can sell its development rights free-and-clear without the nuisance and cost of having to demolish and reconstruct its own building.

Who were the BHA’s library deciders, that core to the BHA committee that passed its judgment that the library should be sold and shrunk in this developer-pleasing transaction?
BHA board member library deciders conferring at the June 17th hearing- Both on the BHA's library committee- Right Alexandra Bowie who delivered testimony- Left Erica Belsey Worth high-end architect and Saint Ann's parent.
Alexandra Bowie, who operated with great secrecy at the beginning, was one of them.  Some years ago when Ms. Bowie was still President of the BHA and Mr. Killackey was still an unelevated board member, my wife and I tried to express concern about what Ms. Bowie had said to us about the users of the library that came to the library from the nearby projects.  Mr. Killackey was dismissive of our concerns.
Architect and Saint Ann's parent Inger Yancey- The Yancey's were an early founding family of Saint Ann's School.”
Other BHA board members who are library deciders for the BHA and therefore for the entire neighborhood that the BHA is suppose to represent?:  Erika Belsey Worth and Inger Yancey.  Both are architects.  Both are Saint Ann’s parents.  Ms. Belsey Worth designs for those with a more refined taste who can afford it. As for Ms. Yancey, reading the Brooklyn Eagle it is apparently a point of pride that:  “The Yancey's were an early founding family of Saint Ann's School.”   

Frankly, this is unfair and lacks proper process.

A Dead-locked CB2 Land Use Committee and A Declared End To Public Hearing Input While The Developer Continues To Lobby

After the hearing the CB2 Land Use Committee deadlocked and did not vote to approve the library sale and shrinkage.  One reason expressed by committee members was the lack of any true assurance that any funds, net or otherwise, from the sale and shrinkage would actually go back to the libraries.  That concern took hold despite the fact that the BHA blithely ignores that problem.  Another reason expressed was that the committee had previously voted not to approve any big new developments until the infrastructure problem of local school PS8, at 140% over capacity is attended to. .  It was recognized that voting to approve the transfer of the public land to build this tower would have overridden this stance established by the committee’s previous vote. . .

. . .  What we see is a worsening imbalance as we try provide the public infrastructure necessary to keep up with development as privatization of once-public assets accelerates with transfers such of these.

The deadlock was apparently unexpected, the BPL and the developer having timed their progress in requesting a vote to their belief that with behind-the-scenes lobbying they had locked up the votes they needed.

Hopefully the committee was also influenced in its vote by: The public testimony; the BPL’s total lack of transparency with respect to this and other proposed library sales; and the value of the asset being sold versus the insanely low price for which it would be sold off.

As the CB2 Land Use Committee debated its vote there was kibitzing from the some public in attendance calling attention to the fact that two of the CB2 Land Use Committee members are salaried employees of the BHA.  It was asserted that these two members should recuse themselves and not vote.  That’s an interestingly hard call to make because at that very moment those two  members seemed to be doing the right thing and making the right points about why the proposal to sell the library was a problem.  But if the two members who are employees of the BHA were to recuse themselves it could wind up in essentially the same place because a majority of affirmation votes is required for the committee to approve the sale and shrinkage and recusals, like negative votes or abstentions would all similarly subtract from that required total.

The CB2 Land Use Committee is going to be asked to vote on the proposed library sale and shrinkage yet again. 
June 12, 2015 CB2 Executive Committee meeting
At the June 12, 2015 CB2 Executive Committee meeting, CB2 Chair Shirley McRea announced that approval of the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library was being sent back to the committee referring to “an email from the board office.”  Chair McRae said that July 6th was being looked at for the date for the new committee meeting, but that they were having difficulty setting it up. Following the committee meeting she said it was planned that the full CB2 board would take up the matter July 15th.

Ms. McRae told the room:
Now the follow-up meeting to last Wednesday’s meeting, and everyone needs to be very clear on this, the public hearings are closed, There are no more hearings on the BPL.  It’s over.  It's done with.   It was done on Wednesday.  When this committee meets next it will be to do what they were supposed to. .  What should have taken place, what should have taken place at last Wednesday’s meeting without having sat there for three, four, five hours and then trying to come to some decision.  I just want everyone to be clear on that: It is not a repeat of the public hearing.  This is for the committee now to come together and do the business of the committee.
Maybe the “hearing” is technically over, but that Wednesday the 17th, immediately the hearing, the developer was lobbying the committee members to change their votes, so it is not as if the CB2 land Use Committee isn’t still hearing things from the developer.  Hopefully, they will also still be hearing things from the public and it would be nice if one of the things they hear was the Brooklyn Heights Association admitting their decision was seriously flawed and wrong and admitting to the position that we should not be selling and shrinking a valuable library for a pittance.

The BHA we should stand up with us and the rest of the community against these deals that don’t benefit the public, but do benefit private parties with private interests antagonistic to the public’s, a developer sending campaign contributions to the mayor and a private school.
Two Tom Otterness sculptures at the 14th Street Station on the A-Train.  Which way will the library struggles turn out? With book lovers on top?  Or with all our public wealth transferred to the monied interests who will dispense a few pennies as handouts?

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