Gandhi Announces Resignation Questions about West End Deal Remain Unanswered

The D.C. Chief Financial Officer’s economic impact statement about the West End land sale provided contradictory information, and failed to fully analyze an extremely complicated deal involving publicly owned city assets, the DC Library Renaissance Project has found.

The information that D.C. Council members were provided by the CFO, while not untrue, omitted a key variable: the estimated fair market value of the land to be sold. Without further analysis of their own, Council members would not have had adequate information to evaluate the deal.

At stake is the value of three properties in the West End “sold” to a developer, Eastbanc, through a complex and unprecedented land swap. The deal calls for a new library facility, new firehouse, and new affordable housing — together worth $30 million according to Eastbanc — in lieu of payment for the land.

The CFO’s report states, based on values from its own tax database and those of an independent valuator, that the land sale would reduce the city’s assets by approximately $30 million. The Mayor, D.C. Council members, and community groups assumed that $30 million in new construction matched the $30 million reduction in assets, making the deal seem reasonable.

In his testimony, however, the CFO noted that deed and recordation fees totaling $1.45 million would be forgiven as part of the deal. Since deed and recordation fees in D.C. are based on a formula of 1.45% of the total estimated fair market value, the real value of the land is $100 million, not $30 million. So transferring ownership to Eastbanc is a giveaway worth roughly $70 million.

In addition, Eastbanc asked for help to complete the affordable housing, claiming it could not make a profit without a subsidy. In April 2012, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that the city would provide an additional $7 million in cash to Eastbanc so it would construct the legally required affordable housing.

The CFO’s office is an independent agency charged with providing objective and unbiased information to the Mayor, City Council, and city agencies regarding fiscal matters. D.C. Council members often rely on information from the CFO to make decisions. They should be able to count on a full and faithful analysis. If the omission was deliberate, it could constitute corruption. If the CFO’s office simply made a mistake, it was incompetent.

The waiving of deed and recordation fees is not uncommon or unjustified when eventual resale is the goal of a construction project, as in this West End deal. The far more serious issue is that the $100 million number, the fair market value on which the $1.45 million fee is based, was omitted from the Financial Impact Statement.

Come to the West End Do the Math Forum Saturday February 9.

Press Release: Expanded Library Hours Put Forward by Jack Evans

July 10, 2012
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Expanded Library Hours Put Forward by Jack Evans

Ward Two Councilmember Jack Evans introduced legislation today, to restore library hours to the full schedule residents have advocated for, and which the FY2013 budget failed to provide. The bill calls for 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM hours Monday through Thursday, 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM on Friday and Saturday, and noon to 5:00 PM on Sunday.

According to a press release from his office, Evans said “I hear from residents around the District on a regular basis about our inadequate library hours and this bill is the first step in fixing the problem. I am confident that out of our $10 billion budget, we can find $10 million to make this a reality.”

“These hours are needed to realize the return on investment of the District’s $180 million library transformation over the last five years,” said Robin Diener of the DC Library Renaissance Project, an advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for the restoration of hours. “They bring DC in line with the best library systems around the country, such as Seattle’s, which also invested heavily in rebuilding its library system in recent years.”

Diener commended Evans for his responsiveness to library users, noting that Ward Two has three new libraries – Georgetown, Northwest One, and Shaw. Plans for the future of the city’s central library, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, also located in Ward Two, are currently being studied by an outside consultant.

Since the legislation was introduced during the final DC Council session before summer recess, it’s not clear if the funding for hours could be legislated in time for the start of FY2013 (on October 1, 2012), but Evans’ spokesperson Andrew Huff indicated by email that Evans had been in discussion with DCPL’s chief librarian about hiring timeline should the hours be approved. Also unclear is how the legislation would affect the Council’s funding “wishlist,” which included Sunday hours for libraries citywide, subject to availability of additional revenue to be identified by the District’s Chief Financial Officer in a quarterly report that is anticipated shortly.


Sent from Robin Diener
DC Library Renaissance Project
1530 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Why Build New Libraries to Keep Them Closed?

Over the last five years, DC Libraries have undergone a $180 million capital investment in “transformation”: 14 new buildings with more space, improved energy efficiency, greatly expanded computer access. It stands to reason that we need more money to support a system that is larger and serving far more people than it was in 2008 (the last time DC had a full complement of hours including all mornings, four evenings, and Sundays).

It should not come as a surprise that the modernized libraries are leaner, greener, and more efficient. The Board of Library Trustees’ request for $10 million over last year’s bare bones budget — for a return merely to 2008 funding levels — would be a 13% savings when adjusted for inflation! This is an amazing bargain, especially considering the increased numbers of people being served.

In 2006, during the Library Listening Sessions of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, people prioritized “being open.” So much so that then-Library Committee Chair Kathy Patterson fought to open library branches on Sunday. Sunday proved to be the Library’s busiest day of the week. The cost to open DC’s branch libraries on Sundays in FY2013 would be only $1.8 million.

The Task Force recommended that new Libraries be regarded as “gathering space.” Notable libraries across the country were described as the nation’s new “living rooms.” Four District libraries that had been closed for rebuilding in 2004 had to cancel and redesign their plans because residents demanded more meeting space.

Coming in second after “being open” was everything else: collections, literacy, computer access, and programs for children, teens, seniors, handicapped, and homeless patrons.

It’s impossible for libraries to provide any of these when they are closed.

Press Release: ULI’s Tentative Recommendation to Keep MLK a Library

November 20, 2011
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

ULI’s Tentative Recommendation to Keep MLK a Library

Washington, DC — It has taken 12 years, but library advocates appear to have scored a partial victory in the struggle to restore and improve the long-degraded Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building and to keep it as the location of the city’s central library.

Over a decade ago, in 2000, award-wining local architect Kent Cooper and the Urban Design Committee of the American Institute of Architects released their pro bono study of how to correct the MLK library’s long acknowledged design flaws.  Though cited often in the years since, the AIA/Cooper study was ignored by then-Mayor Williams, who wanted a new library on the old convention center site.

Earlier this year, DC Public Library (DCPL) hired the Urban Land Institute (ULI), at a cost of $120,000, to do another MLK study – this time exploring ways to “leverage” the value of the building in order to afford to build a new central library or find ways to pay for renovation to the 40-year-old landmark, which was designed by Mies van der Rohe.

The ULI’s preliminary report, presented on Friday, favors co-tenancy, either residential or office, over sale.  

Ironically, their design suggestions relied heavily on the AIA/Cooper 2000 report solutions, including what appears to be uncredited use of the drawings.  

That the central library is likely to remain in the MLK building comes as a relief to library activists. But they’re disappointed that the ULI panel proposed shrinking the city’s central library from its current 440,000 sq ft to about 225,000 sq ft. to accommodate a co-tenant. Smaller central libraries are supposedly a “trend,” but most of the acclaimed new central libraries, built in recent years in cities comparable to DC, are substantially larger than 225,000 sq ft.

Moreover, the report by the panel’s financial expert, Mike Reynolds of the Concord Group, depicted the District’s financial health as excellent. This undercut the central premise of the panel’s work: that the District must find ways to “leverage” the value of MLK building.

In his brief presentation, Reynolds did not even mention the city’s AAA bond rating, the $180 million taxpayer investment in beautiful transformations of 14 neighborhood libraries across the city over the past five years, or the announcement by Library Trustees President John Hill on Wednesday that another $100-million-plus is expected from the FY 2013 round of capital budget planning to rebuild the remaining 10 branches.

Residents may wonder why a city doing so well can’t afford to renovate its historic central library. They might address that question to the DC officials listed below — and perhaps cc ULI Chair Wayne Ratkovich, who might include that query in the ULI’s final report to be issued in 60 days.

Library Committee Chair Tommy Wells (Ward 6), [email protected]

Finance and Revenue Committee Chair Jack Evans (Ward 2) [email protected]

Library Trustees President John Hill, [email protected]

Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper [email protected]

Mayor Vincent Gray  [email protected]

Wayne Ratkovich, Chair, ULI Panel  [email protected]



Press Release: Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

November 18, 2011
Contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Ralph Nader Asks Mayor Gray to Appoint Citizens Task Force on MLK

Washington, DC — Ralph Nader and Robin Diener of the Library Renaissance Project have asked Mayor Gray to appoint a Citizens Task Force on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, in a letter of November 16.  The Project has been calling for a citizen-based look at possibilities for the central library since 2006 after legislation to sell MLK backed by then-Mayor Anthony Williams was defeated. 

The renewed call for a citizen task force is particularly timely since Library officials, who have repeatedly rejected the suggestion as “premature,” have now out of the blue commissioned a study of the MLK Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).  The ULI will release a full report in 60 days but made public its preliminary findings today:

The ULI study has come under fire for having no local residents on its panel, for being costly ($120,000) at a time when the city was scraping bottom to find the $318,00 needed to keep MLK open on Sundays, and for being biased towards a predetermined outcome.

Text of letter follows:

The Honorable Vincent Gray
Mayor, District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20004

November 16, 2011

Dear Mayor Gray:

Library Trustees President John Hill recently announced the recruitment of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to “assess” the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library building.

Unlike the American Institute of Architects Urban Design Committee study of MLK in 2000 performed pro-bono, ULI is charging the Library $120,000 for its study. Just a month ago, we were searching for $318,000 to keep MLK open on Sundays.

Further, we learned that no District residents will be seated on the panel. While we might understand having “fresh eyes on” the situation, we don’t accept the disenfranchisement of residents and library users from assessing the “value” of their central library building.

In 2005, District citizens and their representatives, including you, rejected legislation to dispose of the MLK building. Ever since, our organization and others have called for a Citizen Task Force on the Future of MLK to plan and fundraise for a renewed central library.  Library officials have repeatedly rejected this idea as “premature.”

Now, out of the blue, Library officials say a new “review” is needed.  If so, it should be delivered to a Citizen Task Force as part of comprehensive planning for the remainder of the library system — including MLK.  The library system, a ready-made network of “town halls” throughout the city, is ideally suited to gathering input.

Five years into the “Transformation” of the DC Public Library system, much has been accomplished. Let us now take the opportunity to evaluate the transformation and plan the renewal of the remainder of the system, including MLK central library.

We call upon you, Mr. Mayor, to appoint and convene The Citizen Task Force on MLK that, among other things, would consider any ULI findings or recommendations.


Ralph Nader, Founder                                      Robin Diener, Director

No DC Residents on MLK Advisory Panel

November 9, 2011
contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

No DC Residents on MLK Advisory Panel

Washington, DC — None of the eight panelists named to participate in an assessment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) live in or near the District of Columbia, according to descriptions on the DC Public Library (DCPL) website.

Five of the eight are based in California. The closest is from Richmond.

The panelists are leading a process to “assess and review the value” of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library building, and to “make recommendations on how to leverage the value of the building to benefit the District of Columbia,” according to a DCPL press release. The process will consist of interviews conducted by the ULI panel with parties invited by Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper. Only invited parties will have the opportunity to be interviewed by the panel.

DC residents and library users are, however, invited to direct comments to the Board of Library Trustees on Wednesday November 16 at 6 PM at the Southwest Library, located at 900 Wesley Place, SW, a short walk from the Waterfront metro stop. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]

The public is also invited to the ULI panel’s presentation of findings and recommendations on Friday November 18 from 9 to 11 AM in the Great Hall of the MLK Library, located at 901 G Street, NW, a short walk from either Metro Center or Gallery Place metro stops.

Sent from Robin Diener
Director, Library Renaissance Project
1530 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
202 431-9254

Tommy Wells Announces Book Discussion Group

Councilmember Tommy Wells, Chair of the Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning Committee has chosen Triumph of the City, by Edward Glaeser as the first selection for his Tommy’s Traveling Book Club. The inaugural session is scheduled for Monday December 5th at 6:30 PM at the Shaw/Watha T. Daniel Library. Joining him in leading the discussion will be Harriet Tregoning, Director of the DC Office of Planning. The book club is a joint partnership with the Federation of Friends of the Library and will meet quarterly at different libraries around the city.

The public is invited to participate.

Click on the below link for information and to sign up for the initial meeting

Triumph of the City is nonfiction, intended for the general reader.  Edward Glaeser is an economist based at Harvard.  The book argues that cities attract dense concentrations of educated people who collaboratively innovate, create jobs, drive investment, keep rents low, and expend less energy per capita.  Marshaling history, anecdote, and economics, the author creates what has been called a “paean to the city.”

Trustees Hire Urban Land Institute to Advise on MLK Library

October 31, 2011
contact Robin Diener
202 431-9254

Trustees Hire Urban Land Institute to Advise on MLK Library

Washington, DC — 
The DC Public Library issued a press release on Friday formally announcing the hiring of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to lead a panel to “to review and assess the value” of  MLK Library, and to “make recommendations on how to leverage the value of the building to benefit the District of Columbia.”

The ULI will receive $120,000 in payment from the Library, out of its capital budget.

Earlier this month, MLK faced closure on Sundays due to a shortfall of $318,000.

Two days before the first scheduled closing, Mayor Vincent Gray located monies to keep the central library open on Sundays, at the urging of Libraries Committee Chair Tommy Wells, and numerous other individuals and groups.


Sent from Robin Diener
Director, Library Renaissance Project

1530 P Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

202 431-9254

Election, Accomplishments, and Future Priorities featured at Annual Meeting of Federation of Friends of DCPL

At its Annual Meeting on October 20, the governing board of the Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library elected new officers, reviewed past activities, and prioritized future ones amid an atmosphere of high accomplishment.

Chief among the Federation’s achievements were an inaugural “Preview” event that kicked off the Citywide Book Sale in September, a second year of financial support for Summer Reading programs, and a thorough revision of the group’s bylaws.

  • The Citywide Book Sale was augmented for the first time by book donations and volunteers from Friends groups across the city. The Preview event raised $4500 in two hours on a rainy Thursday, and was much enjoyed as an occasion to bring Friends groups together.
  • Funds from the Preview will go to DCPL’s 2012 Summer Reading programs.  The Federation supported programs with $27,000 in funding from local Friends groups in 2011.
  • A thorough revision of the bylaws included the creation of a new executive officer position of Membership Secretary and designated the alternating of officer elections in odd and even years.

President Susan Haight of the West End Library Friends, and Secretary Wendy Blair of the Literary Friends of DCPL were both re-elected.  Acting President of the newly formed Friends of MLK Library LaToya Thomas was elected to the newly established position of Membership Secretary.

All terms run for two years.  However, per the new changes to the bylaws, elections will now alternate — with the aforementioned positions to be elected in odd years, and the Vice President and Treasurer in even years.  Rosalyn Christian of Friends of R L Christian serves as Vice President of the Federation.  Robert Hass of the West End Library Friends is Acting Treasurer.

The governing board consists of designated representatives from each member Friends of the Library group.  The Federation has active participation from most of the library system’s 24 branches and the MLK central libray, as well as citywide groups like the Literary Friends, and also welcomes non-voting associate members like the Library Renaissance Project.

Officers of the Federation of Friends of DCPL:

  1. President:                           Susan Haight, West End Library Friends
  2. Vice President:                   Rosalyn Christian, Friends of R L Christian
  3. Secretary:                           Wendy Blair, Literary Friends of DCPL 
  4. Treasurer (acting):              Robert Haas, West End Library Friends 
  5. Membership Secretary       LaToya Thomas, MLK Library Friends

Federation website:



Mayor Gray Finds Funds to Keep MLK Open on Sundays

For Immediate Release

Mayor Vincent Gray’s office Friday announced that Sunday hours at the MLK Library would not be cut.  The central library had been scheduled to close on Sundays for the coming fiscal year beginning this weekend October 2. (Press release from Mayor’s Office at link below.)

A rally to protest the closure will become an occasion to announce the restoration of funds. The Library has invited the public to a celebration on Sunday at 1 pm at the MLK Library. Council member Tommy Wells and Mayor Gray are expected to be on hand.

Wells, the newly assigned chair of the Committee on Libraries, Parks, Recreation and Planning, took the lead in publicly pressing the Mayor to reconsider a move that would have left the District without any Public Library open on Sundays. All neighborhood branches libraries have been closed on Sundays since 2009.

The Federation of Friends of the Library — a citywide advocacy group — also played a large, ongoing role in the restoration. Members from across the city testified at budget hearings and lobbied insistently behind the scenes.  During their Citywide Book Sale Preview at MLK on September 8, Wells was publicly asked to keep the building open.

A few days later, at the Board of Library Trustees meeting, Wells vowed to “do everything in my power” to find the money to keep the MLK library open on Sundays. At a breakfast meeting with the Mayor and  DC City Council a few days ago, Wells pointedly raised the subject, causing a tweeting furor by reporters that further raised the profile of the issue.

One day later, the DC Federation of Civic Associations issued a resolution calling for the Mayor to “reverse this decision.”

Over the last several years, the city has spent approx $180M in capital funds to rebuild or restore 14 libraries throughout the city, while at the same time severely cutting library operating funds.

“This is the first step towards reversing the cuts in library hours sustained in recent years.  We should commit to keeping these valuable buildings in operation as many hours as possible — a relatively small cost — to fulfill the promise of a costly building program that is succeeding in bringing patrons back to the libraries in droves,”   said Library Renaissance Project Director, Robin Diener.

“The new libraries have dramatically increased usage. That was the goal in building them. We have to support that.”