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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Despite $3.7 Million Major Remodel, City Forgot the Fire Escape: More Money Needed

Fire Escape Blunder Will Cost $300,000

Exterior Stairs to be Added to Front of 
Police Department Building

Emeryville's Public Safety Building is Still Unsafe

Emeryville's chief building official announced Tuesday the City will likely have to build an external stairway out the front of the two story police headquarters building because the City failed to provide an emergency fire exit during a major $3.7 million remodel of the building in 2012.  The second floor front public lobby at the police department building on Powell Street, is accessible by elevator only and has had no fire escape since 2012 or sometime after, when the building was cleared for occupancy, possibly erroneously, by the City's own Chief Building Official, Victor Gonzales, an "oversight" he says.
Emeryville's Police Department
Existing Entryway
The new fire escape will have to come
out through these upstairs windows, catwalk
over to the left and then down a flight of stairs.
Mr Gonzales, who makes $155,000 per year as head of the Building Department at City Hall admitted the lack of a legal fire escape for the ironically named Emeryville Public Safety Building must be fixed even though he himself signed off on the building. "Mistakes were made and we're working on a fix" he said before he mentioned the external stairs solution.  Preliminary estimates for legal egress stairs range up to $300,000 and would have to be paid via Emeryville's taxpayer funded Capital Improvement Program, a fund with an already overextended and fully earmarked project wish list.
The police building was overhauled in a major remodel completed in 2012, ironically done in part to improve safety, including fire safety, at a cost of at least $3.7 million according to the chief architect for the project.  The Tattler reported a $2.7 million figure in a December 2016 story, a number obtained from the City of Emeryville but the architect reports the 3.7 higher number.

The architect, Don Dommer of Oakland's Don Dommer Associates, told the Tattler he recalled he provided a legal "path of travel" for egress in the event of a fire and that unauthorized work done without benefit of his plans may have been subsequently done.  The Tattler is waiting to receive a set of the plans of the 2012 remodel project to be made available by a public records request, due in 9 days.  The Chief of Police, Jennifer Tejada has requested the plans be redacted owing to their sensitive nature.

City to Red Tag its Own Building?
Further complicating the public safety issue in the remodel and the concomitant embarrassment for the City, is a binding Certificate of Occupancy document uncovered by the Tattler that requires the City to vacate the police department building because of the lack of legal public egress.  The April 27th, 2012 C of O document that conditionally permits the Police Department and the public use of the building, mandates the permission for use be revoked and the Certificate of Occupancy be void if the "prescribed codes or regulations of the City of Emeryville are not met".
Second Floor Public Lobby: Fire Trap
The windows will be replaced with egress doors.

In a bizarre turn, the same person who signed off on the police building's fitness in 2012, Victor Gonzales, being the Chief Building Official, is the same person whom the Certificate of Occupancy now requires to 'red tag' the building, causing its forced evacuation.
While the building has been in a technical state of violation, probably since completion of the 2012 remodel project, only since the earlier Tattler story made the lack of legal egress condition known to the Emeryville Building Department in 2016, has it been imperative the building be red tagged.  Before that Tattler story, Mr Gonzales theoretically could have made the argument he didn't know the building lacked a fire escape. However, in the wake of the current Tattler story, the City Attorney, Micheal Guina said he is looking into what could be a conflict of interest or a state of jeopardy; Mr Gonzales being the same person to enforce the illegal condition he signed off on.   Thus being the power of a chief building official.
Beyond Mr Gonzales's obvious reluctance to implicate himself, the only way for the City to obey the core provision of its own legal document, the police building Certificate of Occupancy now, would be to tender an admission of incompetency, an unlikely event.

Still, Mr Guina told the Tattler he will consider the implications of the tricky exigency and report his decision to the City Council soon.

Attempting to defuse what's becoming a volatile situation for City Hall, Mr Gonzales, who's bailiwick is the construction trade, buildings and the public safety therein, told the Tattler Tuesday his oversight is understandable, "I'm doing the best I can. Everybody makes mistakes".  Besides, he said, the public safety has thus far "not been put at risk", "have there been any fires?" he asked.
Damning Document
Portends Homeless Cops
It's "....shall become void", not 'might become void'.

Monday, June 18, 2018

After Rubio: School Board Hopefuls Need a Litmus Test

Emery Unified School District:
Emeryville's Last Bastion of 
Pure Civic Dysfunction

With a New Superintendent and a New Board President,
Will We Have Turned a Page?

We're Guessing NO

The only change that will come will be from the ballot box

News Analysis/Opinion
Last week two more teachers announced they will not be returning to Emery Unified School District in the fall.  That adds to the eight that already announced earlier for a total of ten this, the last year of John Rubio as Emery superintendent.  Really bad, but an improvement over last year's 37% teacher exodus.  Emery, under John Rubio, infamously can't hold on to its teachers. 
Mr Rubio's anti-teacher tactics, described by the teachers themselves as "bullying" and "racist", however bad, are nothing new for Emery superintendents.  The last two out of three supes here tried to outright destroy the teachers union.  The last one, Debbra Lindo, offered to testify against Emery's teachers in the union busting Vergara case after receiving a vote of 'no confidence' from 92% the entire teaching staff in their 2012 Teachers Resolution.  Rabidly anti-teacher policy: It's an ongoing pattern and practise at Emery.

 But now it would seem Emery is changing.  The leadership, if you can call it that, is falling like dominoes; we're getting a new superintendent and just last week the School Board ganged up and kicked President Cruz Vargas out of his leadership position.  Normally you would expect after a substantive course change with that kind of power shift, a move towards competency at least would be forthcoming.  But this after all is Emery, and therefore it's ossified.
Every time a superintendent is removed or a School Board is replaced or a breathlessly announced new program is initiated, we inevitably drift back into the same culture of dysfunction centered around incompetency, lack of transparency, authoritarianism and a general aversion to evidence-based policy.  Politics as usual. The results for Emery where the rubber meets the road, are low enrollment numbers and low student academics resulting in failing school 'growth' and a district-wide lowered ranking.  The only way forward by the way (and the only way not tried at Emery), is to support our teachers, not engage in a war against them, the heretofore default Emery programmatic expediency from an uncreative and ossified School Board.

The debacle at the June 14th School Board meeting is emblematic of the culture of decline that has a stranglehold at Emery.
To wit: A power hungry and vituperative Board President pissed off one too many colleagues (as well as the Superintendent) and found himself kicked to the curb.  Stepping in to correct a locus of dysfunction; that would normally be considered a good move made by a public entity trying to center itself around what should be its core duty.  But again, this is Emery.  So what ensued instead was just another political power struggle.  What could have been a moment of accountability  turned instead into just so much more counterproductive churlishness.  Due to Board factious infighting, what the people of Emeryville now have is a School Board president and vice president that none of us ever voted for; in what should be a democratically elected body we now have two unelected and unaccountable leaders.  That's a terrible place to be with a new superintendent coming in.
The Definition of Out Of Touch
He's working for the kids...blah, blah blah.
In reality, Board member Donn Merriam  joined
colleagues Bailey Langner and Cruz Vargas
in saying NO to affordable housing
for Emeryville families. 
72% of Emeryville voters
disagree with them. 

Post Vargas, there is no reason other than pompous impetuosity that the people of Emeryville couldn't have figured into the equation.  What about democracy, Emery? You know, the people themselves getting the chance to have the people they picked govern this public enterprise?

If the Emery School Board weren't so highly dysfunctional, the Board President would now be the people's choice....the one who faced the voters and who the voters said they liked to run Emery; namely Barbara Inch.  But politics as usual has taken hold once again. This is not a good sign.  It foretells that where we're headed is where we've been.  Again.  A new superintendent, who presents us with a moment of great possibility, will be infected by incestuously base and venal Board politics.  Again.

Now presents a rare chance to actually change this District the Board has refused to seize.
It's rare because we have a new superintendent who wants to do the right thing (but needs a competent Board).  Rare, because this time our new superintendent will be the beneficiary of a "threesy" election this November.  Three Board members will be selected by Emeryville voters.  This aligning of the stars could actually change this school district.
But Emeryville voters will have to step up.  We cannot leave this to the usual lying poseurs seeking office.  Anyone running for School Board needs to face a litmus test.  The test need not be anything only needs to be radical for Emery.  Below are the minimum bars needed for prospective School Board members at Emery:

  • Do they accept high teacher retention as a worthy goal? 
  • Will they work to ensure high teacher retention is achieved?
  • If Emery again fails to retain teachers (as compared with other districts), will the prospective Board member intervene?  How exactly?
  • Will criticism from parents or the citizenry be encouraged?  How?
  • Will bad news or flawed policies be openly discussed?
  • Will rational and evidence-based policy be the default?  Will the prospective Board member be open to public discussion and debate, supported by the evidence, about merging Emery with a neighboring school district if that's shown to be the best course for the students?
  • Will all parents be treated equally?  How about law abiding but unpopular and critical parents?  Will they be treated the same as popular and flattering parents by the Board member?
  • Will the Board member generally support teachers over administrators?
  • Will they own up to failures on their own?
  • Will they be available to parents, the citizens and the press?  Even a critical but law abiding press?
  • Do they think it's possible to measure the job performance of a schools superintendent?  How?

Three out of four current Emery School Board members would fail every bar above.  If a majority of School Board members passed the above bars, the end result would be better educational prospects for Emeryville's children.
We need to leverage this new Superintendent's skills with a normal, not dysfunctional School Board.  A normal school board.  That's something Emeryville hasn't had for more than a generation so it's easy to see how naysayers will spin this.  Our normal IS dysfunction.  But it really doesn't have to be that way.
This opportunity may not come this way again for another generation.  We can't squander this: We need to elect three new School Board members that have a progressive vision of public education.  That's Emeryville by the way: progressive.  All we need to do is keep out the ego driven charlatans, poseurs and con men.  We only have to elect the same kind of people we've been electing for the City Council: not necessarily great, just competent and reflective of our values.  That should be an easy lift.  Remember, we recently elected Donn Merriam to the School Board and he rallied against Measure C, the affordable housing for families bond initiative that passed by 72% of Emeryville voters.  Donn would never have passed our litmus test.  We could have stopped the sociopathic Donn Merriam.  Let's make sure we don't elect another sociopath to the Board.

Let's use a litmus test this time.

Emeryville voters: Imagine a school district that's not in the news....a school district quietly doing its job.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Cruz Vargas Ousted in School Board Shake Up

Cruz Vargas Forced Out as Board President

Brynnda Collins Voted in New President

Breaking News
Tonight, the Emery School Board took dramatic action against their colleague President Cruz Vargas, stripping him of his presidency in an unprecedented mid season forced "reorganization" initiated by unknown Board member(s) and outgoing Superintendent John Rubio.  Mr Vargas attempted to stop the vote that ousted him, invoking ultimate authority, by a unique interpretation of Board bylaws that would require the president to approve the agenda of any attempt to place such a vote before the Board.
Mr Vargas told the assembled crowd that since he did not approve the issue to be placed on the agenda and that therefore the Superintendent "did not follow appropriate Board bylaws" by bringing it to discussion and ultimately a vote, then any such vote to strip him of his power would not be binding.  However, Mr Vargas could not get any Board members to support his attempt to stop the vote and an attorney retained by the Board attending the meeting disagreed with his attempt to scuttle the referendum and the vote proceeded without incident.
Former Emery School Board President
Cruz Vargas

His colleagues removed him from
Board President position.

Unspecified malfeasance on the part of Mr Vargas has been cited as reason for tonight's dramatic purge according to rumors but no District employees would confirm the allegations on the record.  Without any supporters among his colleagues, the vote tonight leaves Cruz Vargas on the Board but without position; the lowest level Board member.

Further exacerbating the dramatic negative public perception at Emery tonight is the Board's untoward and anti-democratic selection of Brynnda Collins as the new president.  Ms Collins was appointed to the Board of Trustees by the Board itself and she has never faced the people of Emeryville, winning an election.  Compared to Board Member Barbara Inch who is demonstrably the most popular politician in Emeryville history.  Ms Inch won 2773 votes when she ran for the Board in 2016, more than any other elected official on the School Board or even on the City Council.
Regardless, Ms Collins acceded in a 4-1 vote tonight (Merriam dissenting) of her colleagues while Bailey Langner, another appointed Board member who has never faced Emeryville voters, becomes the new vice president, in also a 4-1 vote (Inch dissenting).  Mr Vargas, once he lost his gambit to stop the vote, voted for Ms Collins to be the new president.

Regardless of the vote of no confidence by Mr Vargas's colleagues, Mr Rubio, who's final Emery meeting as Emery Superintendent will be later this month, is credited with bringing the item to a vote; giving credence to rumors of a growing rift between the Superintendent and the now former Board President.  Speculation among the public, already circulating regarding rumored behind the scenes misdeeds and peccadilloes by Mr Vargas, will likely run free in the wake of tonight's Board action.  As such, the Tattler will report any substantiated revelations moving forward.

Mr Vargas has refused to answer questions from the Tattler regarding his controversial tenure as Board President.

Monday, June 11, 2018

New Schools Superintendent Named for Emery

The Board of Trustees of the Emery Unified School District has selected Dr Quiauna Scott for their new Superintendent of the Schools after a two month search process.  Ms Scott, who had recently been Director of Instruction at Union City's New Haven School District, will take her seat as Emery's newest chief in July.  After several seasons of rancor at Emery, District officials are hoping Ms Scott will help turn the struggling little school district around after back to back dysfunctional superintendents have brought Emery low.
Dr Scott replaces embattled four year Superintendent John Rubio who subjected Emery to the worst teacher retention record in the entire Bay Area while overseeing a student academic slide during his term.
Dr Quiauna Scott
Emery's newest Superintendent

A politicized advisory committee, hand selected by the Board majority, helped winnow down the pool of nearly 20 candidates and in a closed door process, the School Board interviewed three finalists before voting on Dr Scott unanimously.  In a nod to existential problems at Emery, candidates were questioned on the District's teacher retention record as well as the district's ongoing problems with enrollment including difficulties the district has had attracting Emeryville parents, especially for their older children.

Although Ms Scott has been in public education for 19 years, both as a teacher and an administrator, this will be her first stint as a schools superintendent.

The Board will officially appoint Dr Scott as Superintendent at their June 14th meeting.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Unhealthy" Trees Must Be Cut Says Staff: 'Trust Us' They Say

Council Members Medina and Martinez, the Staff is Lying to You,
What More Evidence Do You Need?

Do You Value Our Street Trees or the Staff?

An Open Letter to Council Members Medina and Martinez

As a City Council member, how would you know if your support staff, those paid to provide objective analysis to assist you in your public policy decisions, were subverting you?  Would you get a clue for instance if they told you street trees a developer wants to cut down are "unhealthy" if you can see with your own eyes said trees are bigger, fuller and leafier than trees across the street the staff says are healthy?   How about if you didn't want to trust your own lying eyes?  What if the City's own paid arborist confirmed the trees in question are in fact healthy?  Would you then begin to suspect the information the staff is providing isn't reliable?
Would you start to think perhaps the staff has a hidden agenda if, at a City Council meeting where they were urging you on behalf of the developer to vote to cut down the trees, they told you it's urgent and you had to decide about the trees that evening but then later after discussion when it became clear  to them the Council majority was going to vote to save the trees, then the staff changed their minds and said there's suddenly plenty of time and to postpone the issue for a later meeting?  Would that tend to make you think the staff aren't exactly straight shooters?
How about if you knew that every time a developer requested approval to cut down our street trees, every single time since 2003, some 81 trees in all, the staff recommended YES regardless of the Urban Forestry Ordinance?

Emeryville's City staff says these trees are "unhealthy"
Good only for a chainsaw.
The City's own arborist on the other hand
calls them "healthy".
Would any of that help you to realize these employees of yours, handpicked by a former Council majority that infamously worked primarily in the interest of developers, are hiding information from you that would tend to make you vote to save our trees?
At least two of your colleagues, Scott Donahue and Christian Patz appear to have gotten the message about the staff at the Planning Department (Mayor John Bauters is conflicted out and can't vote on this issue because he lives closer than 500 feet from the project).  We're wondering why you two haven't gotten it.  What more do you need?  The people of Emeryville are waiting for their interests to be taken up by you.

So who is it specifically, that can't ever see the value in our Urban Forestry Ordinance?  It's Emeryville's Planning Director Charlie Bryant, the left over from the days when Councilwoman Nora Davis helped usher in every proposed development project including all the suburban style low slung auto dependent shopping malls we're now saddled with.  He's the same guy that recommended approval of every developer requested demolition of all those single family homes in our General Plan identified Zones of Stability over the years.  You'll recall Mr Bryant wanted to tear them all down on behalf of all the developers but also he didn't want you to know the homes in question were even in the Zones of Stability and therefore to be saved (barring extenuating circumstances).  Charlie didn't want you to know, so he kept that information hidden from you for years as you voted to let developers bulldoze all those historic single family homes.  He only started informing you these homes are in the Zones of Stability after the Tattler exposed him, by the way.

All those years, he chose not to divulge that critical information that would tend to make you, the City Council, vote to save the homes.  Just like how he's now kept from you the arborist's report, commissioned to inform you on the health status of these Horton Street trees the developer of the Sherwin Williams project wants to cut down.  He thinks it's better if you're not informed and to just take him at his word these trees are unhealthy and should be cut down.

Also unmentioned at the April meeting was the fate of the Sherwin Street trees. a different set of trees abutting the Sherwin Williams project.  Those trees were voted to be cut by the Planning Commission on the recommendation of the staff.  The reasons offered by the staff on these trees have nothing to do with underground utilities like the Horton Street trees.  No, the Sherwin Street trees must be cut down because they don't fit the staff's vision of a "unified street scape", an aesthetic vision not supported by the Urban Forestry Ordinance it should be noted.  Breezily, the Planning Commission dutifully voted to kill those trees the arborist also deemed "healthy".  Incidentally, the City Council never got a chance to weigh in on the Sherwin Street trees.
But back at Horton Street, 'underground utilities' should by now be seen as a ruse.  The real staff plan is to do the developer's bidding and cut the Sherwin Williams trees down using any argument that seems plausible.  Underground wires, unseen and scary seem just the ticket.

These "unhealthy" trees seem to be
doing the job we expect trees to do.
The last time you, the City Council talked about these trees was April 17th at your Council meeting.  You'll recall the staff said you must decide right then and there and you should vote to cut the trees because there will be utilities under the street and sidewalk from the project that will most likely kill the trees anyway.  There is no time to waste the staff told you...the situation is urgent: the schedule won't permit you any time to reconsider this at a later meeting.  "Is there two weeks?" asked Councilwoman Ally Medina.  You all were told NO.  But then Councilman Christian Patz, feeling gratuitously pressured asked the staff, "Why didn't we foresee this as a problem when we did the Conditions of Approval?" at an earlier meeting, months before.  Clearly irritated at being given what he called a Hobson's choice and feeling unnecessarily backed into a corner, Councilman Patz wanted to know why the staff didn't do it's job and give the decision makers ample time to decide.  We want to know that as well.  We also want to know why you, Councilwomen Martinez and Medina, aren't also concerned enough about this.  Mr Patz's question incidentally, went unanswered at the April meeting.

It's now June 10th, 54 days after the staff initially and breathlessly told you there's no time left to decide about cutting down the Sherwin Williams trees.  After your colleagues on the Council made it clear to the staff they would vote NO at the meeting, after the staff then quickly reconnoitered and said they'll bring the issue back with more information about the trees (maybe they can be saved?), now it's 54 days later and the staff still hasn't brought the issue back to you.  What are they waiting for?  What before was cast as burning now has turned into lackadaisical.  They seem totally unperturbed.  It looks like it wasn't so urgent after all.  The staff was yet again found to be working in the interests of a developer, sowing a frantic and hasty City Council vote.  This shouldn't surprise anyone paying attention over the years.

They'll come back at you presumably with some new reason to cut down the Sherwin Williams trees at a future City Council meeting.  At this point the staff should have zero credibility.  Nothing they tell you moving forward should be trusted.  Regarding these trees, you should seek outside counsel.

With such a terrible record of your staff hiding information from you, why do you, Ms Martinez and Ms Medina so willingly assume they're on the up and up every time?  We want to save our mature street trees here in Emeryville.  How can you know that?  Because of our democratically vetted Urban Forestry Ordinance.  We don't care about developers and their Emeryville City staff minions.  We want you to see the forest for the trees.  We care about our public commons including our trees and we want you to as well.
This City Council is progressive like the people of Emeryville are.  The staff sure isn't.  Why can't we seem to get past this anachronistic pro-developer staff and usher in a new staff that reflects the desires of the people of Emeryville?  We're not paying you to be nice and to go along to get along...we're paying you to work on our behalf.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Breaking News- Measure C Wins

Measure C Wins With 72% of the Vote

Election Night Breaking-
Emeryville's contentious housing affordability Tuesday vote was called early this morning by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters: YES on Measure C winning 72% to 28%.  At one o'clock this morning the county reported all five precincts in, votes totaling 972 for to 386 against.  Measure C had to pass with two thirds of the total votes.
The Tattler will report more on the story later as Measure C news comes in.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Measure C Beckons Residents to Finally Do Something About Housing

Measure C: A Chance to Finally Do Something Consequential Against the High Cost 
of Housing

The Costs of Doing Nothing Are Too High

The Emeryville housing bond initiative known as Measure C is on Tuesday's ballot, giving voters a chance to finally do something about the crazy high cost of housing in our town and deal with its associated problems like chronic homelessness and the displacement of existing but vulnerable renters by helping them buy a home in our community.  Rising housing costs present a problem that has been well described but not adequately dealt with and Measure C puts a solution in our hands rather than simply continuing to trust in market vagaries who's result so far has been the $3600 Emeryville studio apartment owned by foreign investors.  Oops, make that $3700....the rent just went up again.

It's not that we haven't been building housing in Emeryville; our population has doubled in the last ten years.  Over that time we've gone from a city of homeowners to a city of renters as developers keep throwing up apartment buildings as fast as they can, trying to cash in on the high rent bonanza.  But all the harried building hasn't brought down the cost of housing.  In fact, the more housing we build here, the higher the cost of housing becomes, a reverse corollary that turns on its head the old supply and demand saw.  After 20 years building housing at a frenetic pace and with the limited amount of space now available, the sky-high cost of housing in Emeryville is clearly a beast that we, through the private sector, cannot build our way out of moving forward.

It's bad for Emeryville but let's not fool ourselves, the lack of affordable housing is a regional problem and no one thing we do in our little town to address this growing threat, not even the passing of Measure C, the first attempt to deal with it (by plebiscite), will completely solve the problem here.
But make no mistake either, Measure C will go a long way towards solving this existential problem, at least in our little corner of the Bay Area.  And by "a long way" we mean a long way.
This common sense and fair housing solution for Emeryville promises to be a game changer; likely up to at least $300 million spent on our little town to help thwart the seemingly inexorable rise in the cost of housing....that's enough to truly make a difference.  And that's what Measure C is designed to do.

The problems associated with high Bay Area housing costs are hugely complex and the solution can't be facile market dependency; we need a cogent big solution to this big problem.  The critical game changing components of Measure C with its relatively modest $50 million in local bond funding are its attendant State and Federal matching funds, a monster $300-$400 million brick that will bolster the relatively small amount Emeryville property owners are going to kick in.  It's $50 million on steroids, jacked up to as much as $400 million for a 1.2 square mile city.  That's an opportunity we should seize; a chance to face a major problem squarely with a rational solution and a large hammer.

Measure C is a progressive tax.  At $49.12 per $100,000 of assessed property value, a cost born 70% to 80% by businesses in our town, in a town of renters, the average Emeryville resident stands to pay nothing or almost nothing.  Homeowners will pay dependent on when they bought their homes.  Those who have lived here a long time, primarily the elderly, will pay less because the tax is assessed on the value of the property at the time of purchase, not on the current market value.  That means the average homeowner will pay just $10.50 per month.
The business sector picks up 3/4 of the tab for Measure C, taking the pressure off residents.  For instance Pixar/Disney, a miserly multi-billion dollar corporation in our town will pay $10,000 per month, a cost they will not be able to weasel out of as they and other corporations have infamously done with a loophole in Emeryville's business tax.

Another nice benefit of Measure C is that Emeryville will be able to finally clear up its portfolio of blighted and vacant land the City already owns, land set aside by the former Redevelopment Agency for this use.  Taking land acquisition off the table will help deliver more affordable units at a lower building cost.

Measure C is a well written and well conceived solution to this vexing problem and that's why its been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Alameda County, the Sierra Club, the entire Emeryville City Council, the Green Party, Residents for a Livable Emeryville, SEIU Local 1021, the League of Woman Voters and the East Bay Express.  And now to that list add the Emeryville Tattler.

Pixar (and other businesses) will finally pay!
The business community picks up 3/4 of the Measure C tab.  The home-owning elderly in Emeryville like former City Councilwoman Nora Davis, won't have to pay much at all.   
Naysayers representing business interests like local blogger Rob Arias have been railing against it.  But how much does Rob Arias care about Emeryville?  The numbers tell the story: less than $10 per month.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Emeryville's Feckless Noise Ordinance

Second in a Series:
How's Emeryville Doing?

Residents Not Helped by
Noise Ordinance

Staff Can't Imagine an Ordinance That
Would Constrain the Business Community  

Introducing a new Tattler feature, How's Emeryville Doing?  Beginning with our story on the Urban Forestry Ordinance, we're investigating Emeryville's codes, laws and planning edicts to determine how effective they are.  Should we keep them as they are or amend some of these guiding mandates?  Or should we get rid of them?  Look to How's Emeryville Doing to cut through the artifice built up by those who stand to benefit by inaction and ineffectiveness in our governing documents.

News Analysis
Emeryville's City Hall staff recently recommended to the City Council a developer's Noise Ordinance waiver request be denied, marking the first time in the eight year history of the ordinance the staff has ruled in favor of the citizens interests over the business sector.  May 1st is a red letter date in Emeryville history; the date the Council, accepting a staff request, told a developer NO to a Noise Ordinance waiver request, specifically in this case the developer of the Marketplace project, who requested permission to work every Saturday over the next year.

An interview with staff didn't lead to any more understanding of the extraordinary May 1st denial; they simply referred us to their Report to the Council.  The report says the denial recommendation was based on the developer's insistence the City look after his bottom line by helping to speed up the work schedule.  However that same reason has been offered up before by other developers seeking waivers and that has never been cited as reason enough for staff to recommend denial of a waiver request.  In fact, the developer of an earlier phase of this same project asked for and received a waiver based on the same reason and the Council, by default, ruled that desires of developers to speed up their projects now qualifies as reason enough to grant waivers.

All this leads us to question if reason is even at play at City Hall with regard to the Noise Ordinance or is it just capriciousness instead?  Perhaps the staff finally became embarrassed by all the negative Tattler stories.  It should be noted on the four occasions since 2010 when the City Council has denied waivers, the meetings were attended by a vocal contingent of angry neighbors.

Regardless, the May 1st denial begs the question: how effective is Emeryville's Noise Ordinance?  How's Emeryville doing?  A Tattler Public Records Request reveals a very weak law that defers to the interests of developers over residents.

Of 25 total requests for waivers to the Noise Ordinance since 2010-
2 were withdrawn by the applicant
1 was recommended to be denied by the staff
4 were denied by the Council (includes the May 1st denial)
19 were approved

Rare as an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker 
A denial to a developer for a Noise Ordinance waiver:
The rarest of all City Hall documents

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Blogger Rob Arias Objects to City Housing Bond

Community Blogger Who Objects to City Housing Bond Bought Affordable Unit 
in 2003 

Emeryville’s Most Vocal Opponent of Measure C Took Advantage of City Program to Buy Swanky Condo 
at 40% Off 

1500 Park Avenue
Luxury lofts for the well heeled
...and Rob Arias.
by Lillian Tracy Schroth and Brian Donahue

Emeryville blogger Rob Arias taps out tweets protesting the city's affordable housing bond from his upscale loft in one of the city’s most fashionable buildings.  With it's soaring ceilings, giant windows and large shared roof deck, it’s the kind of place low- and middle-income people only dream about.  Including Rob Arias. 

But unlike many aspiring homeowners in the Bay Area, Rob got lucky.  He was able to realize his dream thanks to the city of Emeryville, which required the developer of 1500 Park Avenue to include affordable units.  That's right.   Rob Arias lives in the kind of moderate-income housing he now thinks is a bad idea ... for everyone else.

Mr Arias, a self-proclaimed community booster and family man, has been working hard for the past few weeks to crush support for the city’s proposed housing bond, designed to help families just like his afford to own a home in Emeryville.  According to Mr Arias, the cost – at least to his family – is too much.

But the cost to many other families who struggle with skyrocketing rents and home prices edging toward $1 million is much higher.  They live in cramped apartments, work multiple jobs, and are eventually forced to move away or become homeless.  According to the City of Emeryville, $83,000 in annual income is needed to rent a one-room apartment in town.

"Measure C will give us tools to prevent the displacement of vulnerable people, including seniors and young families, already living in the community," said former mayor and current City Council Member Dianne Martinez.

In a series of tweets and blog posts, Mr Arias erroneously argues that Measure C, an affordable housing bond on the June 5 ballot, costs too much and does too little.  He says that the measure will cost each resident $4,284.  He bases his estimate on an assessed home value of $300,000 even though the value of most properties in the city is well below that.  Under Prop 13, the assessed value of all property in California is fixed at the time of purchase.  More than half of the residents purchased their homes in Emeryville for less than $300,000.

In addition, the $50 million of bond funding will generate as much as $500 million in matching state and federal grants and funds.  The money will be used to build affordable housing on City owned land as well as provide low-interest loans to first time homebuyers.

Emeryville Mayor John Bauters, an affordable housing expert and champion of the measure, said the funds raised would be used primarily for those already living in the city.  He said residents would provide about 35 percent of the funds and businesses the remainder.  He emphasized that the tax increase paid by homeowners would be based on assessed value of property, not market value.  Mr Bauters declined to be interviewed for this story.

Measure C is unanimously supported by the Emeryville City Council and has been endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic Party, and the East Bay Express , which lauded the City for its ambitious effort to increase affordable housing:

"… No other jurisdiction in the East Bay has gone all out like this to raise money for affordable housing and anti-displacement programs. Measure C bonds will be paid back over 30 years through a 4.9 cents per $100 of assessed value property tax, meaning that the tax is relatively progressive and shouldn't be an undue burden on the average Emeryville resident".

In 2003, Mr Arias applied for and got, a Below Market Rate (BMR) condominium at 1500 Park Avenue, a six-story warehouse conversion by award winning San Francisco architect David Baker.  The price break given to Rob, who lives there with his wife and young child, was substantial, amounting to about $180,000 based on the price of a comparable unit sold in the building that same year.

Mr Arias has consistently taken a stand against reform that helps the less fortunate, railing against an increase in the minimum wage and fair work practices for retail workers, and proposing that a homeless encampment under the 40th Street bridge be replaced with a dog park.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Emery School Board Says NO to Affordable Family Housing

School Board Majority Rejects Affordable Housing and Making Emeryville Family Friendly

Last Wednesday night, Emery School Board members, considering whether to consider supporting Measure C, Emeryville’s emerging June housing bond, demurred, a majority disapproving and refusing to aid citizen efforts to help bring affordable family housing to Emeryville.  The Board's vote to reject affordable housing split fell along familiar lines; the 'affluent majority' made up of Corporate Vice President of Marketing Cruz Vargas, school architect Donn Merriam and lawyer Bailey Langner  rejecting member Barbara Inch’s proposal to discuss the June 5th Measure C with an eye towards endorsing it.   

Board Member Donn Merriam Weighs In
He told Emeryville's right wing blog that providing affordable 
family housing will do "nothing for the greater good". 
Good public policy is something cynically forwarded
only to help politicians he said.  Government solutions 

are not to be trusted.  Then he voted NO to even 
discussing the housing measure by the Board.  

Measure C would leverage some $50 million of Emeryville bond proceeds with State and other funds ultimately providing $300-$400 million to build affordable housing for Emeryville with an emphasis on families.  
The lack of affordable housing has become Emeryville's most intractable problem, especially for the School District.  
Citizens not familiar with politics at the Emery School Board watching the proceedings last Wednesday night, might have been surprised a school board would reject an affordable housing measure that places families with children attending Emery’s schools at the top of the list for housing placement.  Even some veteran Board watchers expressed bewilderment at the Board’s own gas lighting policies.

Board Member Bailey Langner
Let the private sector work it out.
The Board has no interest in helping
low income or middle class families.

Nothing can be done.
The housing crisis that has befallen Emeryville comes on the heels of a 20 year private sector building boom that’s almost doubled the population and caused a shift from a town of majority home ownership into an unaffordable renter majority town.  The results are dramatic; the annual income needed to afford a studio apartment at this point in Emeryville is a shocking $83,772 according to City records.  
Not surprisingly, the effects have hit families hardest; Emeryville already has the fewest families of any town in the East Bay and the private sector is failing to deliver affordability for them in the housing market.  The explosion in rents has chased out middle class and low income residents, especially families with children and fueled a crisis at Emery where attracting students is only possible by inter-district transfers.  Further, the District, struggling to survive, has turned its focus away from the business of educating children and embraced a new role as a real estate enterprise; renting out its two closed schools to shore up its budget in the face of the declining student enrollment.  The low numbers have driven the District's budget into deficit even with the real estate deal making. 

Emery historically has been interested in increasing student enrollment despite the Board’s inexplicable decision Wednesday.  In 2010, the District sold Emeryville voters on the idea that the building of the new school campus, the Emeryville Center of 'Community' Life (ECCL), would generate a large increase in students, a $95 million gambit that has failed to deliver any increase in enrollment.  Years later, the District continues to suffer from low enrollment, driving up the cost per student and turning Emery into the most expensive district in the East Bay, now pegged in excess of $14,000 per student per year.

Interestingly, the same Board members that now can't imagine monies being spent on affordable housing in Emeryville just last month had no problem supporting a renewal of Measure A, a School District proposed sales tax that spends money outside Emeryville, including at one of the private schools that has a sweetheart deal with the District.

The problems the District faces with low student enrollment and its corollary of providing a place for families to live in Emeryville were not considered by the Board Wednesday night however; the majority seeing to it there should be no government action in response to what a rapacious private sector has delivered to us.  
Emeryville voters will go the polls June 5th regardless of the School Board’s precipitous and inexplicable NO on affordable family housing. 

Board President Vargas didn't return calls for this story and member Merriam, running for re-election in the fall, refused comment, allowing his "greater good" statement made to the E'Ville Eye blog to stand.

Correction: We originally reported Measure A as an existing parcel tax.  School District insiders inform us in fact it is a proposed sales tax.  We apologize for the mistake.
Board President Cruz Vargas
Increasing student enrollment is not all it's
cracked up to be.  Who needs more families in Emeryville?
Certainly not the School District. Besides, the private sector is

doing a good enough job providing affordable family housing...