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Monday, March 11, 2019

RULE Meeting

From RULE:
Residents United for a Livable Emeryville

➤Important public meeting this Saturday March 16 at 10-noon on the Onni Tower project

The resident advocacy group RULE invites all interested to attend our meeting Saturday, March 16 in the community room of Doyle Street Co-housing in Emeryville, 5514 Doyle Street. 
Both Council Member Dianne Martinez and Planning Director Charlie Bryant will be in attendance. We will be discussing the proposed Onni Tower at Christie Avenue and Powell Street in Emeryville. The luxury residential (and office/retail) project will be 54 stories (+ parking, close to 700 feet in total building height) and contain 638 units for more than 1,000 residents.  It is comprised primarily of market rate studios and one-bedrooms.  The developer has included the required minimum 17 percent affordable housing, but is below the number of two- and three bedroom units required by city ordinance.  Twelve of the 55 three-bedrooms will be located on the tower's penthouse and "sub penthouse" floors. There will also be a half acre park fronting on Christie Avenue.

For more information, go to:

Council Member Martinez said she will be available to hear residents concerns and feedback, and Planning Director Bryant will answer specific questions about the proposed plans.  Mr. Bryant has requested a list of questions beforehand, so please email with your Qs by end of day Tuesday, March 12 and she will send a summarized list to Mr. Bryant.

The goal is to allow everyone an opportunity to speak at the meeting, from 10 am to 12 pm Saturday, March 16.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

New Development Drives Need For New Parks But Developers Aren't Helping

Clock Ticking on Sunsetting General Plan: 
 22-26 Acres of New Parks Needed
in Ten Years

City Council Letting Developers Off the Hook 
For Providing Needed Parks 

New Development is Reason New Parks Are Needed:
Onni Project Case Study Reveals  
City's Unaccountability

News Analysis
The Proposed 700 Foot Onni Tower Project
1100 new residents but only a 1/2 acre park is planned in trade,
running roughshod over Emeryville's General Plan.

The developer of the proposed Onni Tower, a 54 story residential development on Christie Avenue, has been lately shopping the project before citizens around town, standard fare in the pre-approval state for proposed development in Emeryville.  So far it's been drawing the usual chorus of neighborly concerns over the myriad negative impacts such a large development would bring.  However one overlooked issue with the Onni project, heretofore not in the eye of Emeryville residents, presents itself as a result of the tower's 1100+ new residents that could prove to be impactful not for the residents but instead for the developer.  That issue is parks.

The Onni project developer as it turns out, needs to provide more than three and a half acres of new public park space in town to offset all the new residents and new employees that project will bring- some three acres more than what's being proposed.  That's three and a half acres total of new park land for Emeryville because of this single project if when it comes time for final approval, the City Council is in a mood to enforce Emeryville's General Plan.

Onni Tower Mini Park (Proposed)
At only 1/2 acre, it won't be nearly big 
enough to satisfy the General Plan. An
additional three acres off-site is needed.
Because the site isn't large enough for that much park space, in order to comply with the General Plan, the Onni developer would have to provide the money for Emeryville to build at least three acres of parks elsewhere in town in addition to the half acre park planned for the actual site.  If the City were to build all the off-site Onni generated park space in one location, at three acres, it would be the second largest park in Emeryville, smaller than Marina Park but more than double the size of the next largest Doyle Hollis Park with its one and a quarter acre.
Existing Doyle Hollis Park (1.25 Acres)
The off-site park needed to be built by the Onni developer
 would have to be more than twice as large as this.
And that's not all.  If the City Council grants the Onni developer a full or partial pass on the City's new family housing unit mix regulations as it is considering doing, that would mean more studio and one bedroom apartment units in the 700 foot tower, adding to the population and driving up the acreage of parks needed to offset it.  The amount of extra park acreage that condition would generate is hard to calculate, contingent as it is upon how far the City Council rolls back the regulations for the developer.

Despite its clear mandates, Emeryville's central guiding document, the General Plan and its provisions for parks, are not even being discussed by the developer or the City staff as the Onni project moves forward through the approval process.  It's part of an ongoing case of willful amnesia the City of Emeryville has historically had when it comes to the General Plan's park provisions.

Three Acres Per 1000 Residents
Parks are extremely popular with Emeryville residents.  Polls conducted by City Hall over the years have revealed as much.  Candidates for City Council are all acutely aware of it; regardless of their political leanings, they routinely place the building of more parks front and center in their campaign literature.
Surprisingly though, Emeryville residents are still dramatically under served in parks and open space.  In 2009 when the General Plan was adapted, there were 15 acres of public parks.  Doyle Hollis Park at 61st and Hollis streets was added shortly after bringing Emeryville's total up to about 16 1/2 acres in a city of 10,000 residents.  That works out to an anemic 625 residents per acre, and that doesn't include the daily workforce of 20,000 using the parks, making Emeryville the most park poor of any city in the entire East Bay.
The General Plan, rising to the challenge, recognized the need for more parks and standardized city planning metrics were applied to determine how many acres of parks our town needs.  The nation's premier city planning collegial body, the American Planning Association (APA) provided the justification of a minimum of three acres of parks per 1000 residents or 333 residents per acre and that was adapted in 2009 for all new development in Emeryville.
Also included in our General Plan are provisions recommended that a minimum of one quarter acre of park land is needed to offset each 1000 daily workers.  At the current approximate 20,000 workers city-wide, Emeryville needs to add another five acres.  With a projected 30,000 workers in 2029, the sunset year of the General Plan, the daily workforce offset needed would be seven and a half additional acres of parks.  The Onni project, with its 325,000 square feet of office space plus 20,000 square feet of commercial space at the standard average of 151 workers per square foot translates into one half acre of park space the developer needs to provide to offset.

From the 2009 Emeryville General Plan
We need to build 22-26 acres of new parks to 
get to the goal of 41-46 acres before 2029,
the year the General Plan sunsets.
While Emeryville has added some park land over the last ten years, approximately two acres, that's not been enough to keep pace with our burgeoning population rise, contributing to a downward sliding ratio expressed in our lowest-in-the-East Bay population per acre of park land.  So regardless of the three acres per 1000 residents as the guiding principle spelled out in the parks section of the General Plan, Emeryville is now actually worse off than it was in 2009.  With its current 13,000+ residents, Emeryville has only 17.8 acres of City parks.  That translates to an embarrassing 730 residents per acre for our town and that doesn't include the daily workforce.

Councilman Donahue's Proposal: Nearby Parks
Against this rueful backdrop, Councilman Scott Donahue appears to be doubling down on the City's inaction on parks.  Citing the need for "close by" parks for residents instead of increasing park acreage, Mr Donahue is calling for Emeryville to use a new metric to measure how well the Council is doing on providing parks; namely how many people live within a half mile radius of a park, rejecting the General Plan's three acres per 1000 residents metric.   Conveniently, Councilman Donahue's new way of measuring shows the City as a smashing success on parks and getting better every year since more than 90% of Emeryville residents live within a half mile of a park.
Emeryville's new mayor, Ally Medina, acknowledging the poor record of the City and eschewing Council member Donahue's park proximity metric for measuring the City's park performance, is pledging to do better.  Calling herself the "parks mayor", Ms Medina says the General Plan will no longer be ignored with regard to parks.

Emeryville's 'parks fee' it charges developers has not been up to the task of actually building any parks because the amount City Hall receives doesn't match the costs the City incurs with building parks here.  Adding new parks has become extremely expensive and there has been talk of getting the property owners in town to pay for it by floating a municipal parks bond.  Because almost all the land has buildings on it, the City will have to buy land from reluctant sellers or seize it by eminent domain.  Then the businesses on the site will have to be moved, the land cleared and cleaned up before the actual park can be constructed.
It should be noted the fallow Sherwin Williams site provided the City Council last year an inexpensive way to build a large park but they chose instead to approve development of several large apartment blocks, further exacerbating Emeryville's already bad residents-to-parks ratio.

The costly nature of new park construction and City Hall's limited funds to build them thus serves as a motivator in getting the developers to help pay for the new parks.  Especially because it's the (residential) developer's projects with all their new residents who want and need uncrowded parks that are the reason Emeryville must build more parks. 

From the General Plan:
"As the residential and employment populations increase, it is essential to seize every opportunity to
create additional parks and open space, and to provide public facilities and services that meet the needs of the community."

Monday, February 25, 2019

Emeryville's Progressive Minimum Wage Ordinance Draws Praise

Much has been written about Emeryville's 2015 highest-in-the-nation minimum wage ordinance and how its implementation has helped improve the lives of low wage workers economically at risk in our community.  Grinding poverty has been associated with poor physical health and it has been assumed Emeryville's ordinance would help in that regard.  To assist, New York Times writer Matthew Desmond documents how Emeryville's landmark 'living wage' law improves the physical health of the lowest wage workers in our town.  As part of the Time's 'Future of Work' series entitled Dollars On the Margins, Mr Desmond depicts regions of low minimum wage as loci of suffering and deteriorating health.  The author however singles out Emeryville as a place where workers can lead healthy lives in dignity.  It's high praise for our town in the national edition of the New York Times Sunday magazine section and it can be read HERE.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

City Council Moves to Overturn Family Housing Rules

Council Says Family Housing Rules From 2015  Are Too Onerous

Big Developers to be Helped With Regulatory Rollback

The City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with a plan to roll back existing family housing regulations for large developments in Emeryville citing claims that developers can't make their projects "pencil out" if they are required to provide such housing in their unit mix.  While the Council made no secret the rollback is primarily meant to benefit the developer of the 58 story Onni project proposed for Christie Avenue, they expressed hopes their proposed deregulation for big developers could spur a flurry of tower building similar to Onni for Emeryville.

Ignoring the pleas of three attending School Board members hoping to safeguard the family housing 'unit mix' rules enacted in 2015, the Council also voted to move to rollback regulatory impediments that dictate how close towers can be to each other, Emeryville's so called 'tower separation' rules meant to stop the manhattanization of our town.  The case was made that the tower separation rules and the unit mix rules were stifling skyscraper tower construction and that the City had blundered in 2015 when they mistakenly enacted the regulations.
Councilman John Bauters lead the charge against the family housing unit mix rules stating that high rise towers are more expensive to build than low rise buildings and that makes the rules too onerous for the developers of those buildings.
Emeryville's unit mix rules for family housing for small developers will remain unchanged by the proposed rollback.
Two Proposed Apartment Buildings
Two Tier Law
The one on the right must provide family
units, while the one on the left gets a pass.

Mr Bauters told the assembled crowd Tuesday the City did not develop the two tier law it now proposes back in 2015 when the regulations were crafted because no one at the City at the time was aware how much more expensive buildings over 100 feet tall are to build and that large developers need the extra help.  Besides, he said, reducing the requirements for large projects like the 700 foot tall Onni tower to supply three bedroom units would result in more families moving to Emeryville.  Board President Barbara Inch dissented, stating "Three bedroom units may not benefit the developers but they do benefit the community."  Her colleague, Board member Susan Collins said the existing unit mix rules should stand and deregulating as the Council proposes will hurt the community, Emery schools and the City's investment in the ECCL, "The community has signed on to the Emeryville Center of Community Life" she said.

With the exception of Councilman Christian Patz who argued to save the existing unit mix regulations stating "If we want families in town we have to do it", the City Council was united and undeterred by his and the School Board member's pleas when they moved to bring on the regulation rollback after another study session planned for the near future.  The biggest fan of regulation rollback on Tuesday however, Councilwoman Dianne Martinez, was clearly agitated over the vote to hold one more study session on the subject.  Warning her fellow Council members that the Onni tower developer needs their help now, Ms Martinez was definitive, "No more study sessions should delay this" she said.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Emeryville Considers Roll-Back of Family Housing Regulations

The Most Unfriendly City to Families in the East Bay, 
Emeryville Considers Housing Roll-Back

Two Tier Deregulation Scheme Gives Biggest Developers a Pass
for Family Housing Requirements

The City Council is considering relaxing existing regulations meant to attract more families with children to Emeryville by letting big developers off the hook for providing three bedroom apartments in their projects, at a scheduled Tuesday night special meeting.  The changes to Emeryville's so called 'unit mix' regulations are being spurred to accommodate the developer of Christie Avenue's planned Onni Tower who says the City's requirement to build family housing "won't pencil out" for the controversial 700 foot tall residential tower.  If the Council agrees to the changes, the regulation roll back would not be enjoyed by small developers, as they would still be required to provide family friendly housing that the municipal code currently requires.

Emeryville's proposed Onni Tower
At 700 feet, lots of apartments but

family friendly housing
"won't pencil out" says the developer.
Also being considered for roll back are 'tower separation' provisions in the existing regulations designed to stop the Manhattanization of Emeryville by maintaining prescribed distances between towers.  The builder of the Onni project if it were forced to abide by the rules, would not be permitted to build a planned  accompanying 16-story office tower sharing the four acre site with the 54-story main tower.

City Hall's 'family friendly' unit mix regulations, part of the municipal code since 2015, were drafted in a lengthy and democratic process that sought to repair a lopsided anti-family demographic; Emeryville's terrible legacy of  virtually unregulated growth over the previous 20 years.  The 'hands off developers' approach Emeryville became known for during that time, net us the town we now live in with only 32% family households compared with 68% statewide and an average house size population of only 1.7 versus 2.9 for the whole state.  The current unit mix regulations seek to redress these discommodious inequities and to build support for the City's investment in the recently completed $95 million Emery Center of Community Life by feeding children to the struggling Emery School District.
The existing unit mix regulations, 50% of proposed units be two or three bedroom and no more than 10% be studio apartments, were written to apply to all housing development projects that contain over 10 units.  The Onni Christie Mixed Use Project  is proposed for 638 apartments.
It is unknown how far the City Council will ultimately deregulate City Hall's family housing provisions, if at all.  A vocal citizenry will probably have an effect on their decision.

The two tier regulation proposal, one that rolls back regulation for developers building over 100 feet high and the unchanged regulations for smaller projects, was first proposed by Mayor John Bauters last October. The majority of his Council colleagues at the time, agreed it should be considered.

The special study session meeting to consider the changes is scheduled for Tuesday February 5th at 6:30 pm at City Hall.
Tightly packed.
Emeryville's 'tower separation' regulations, designed 
to avoid this, will also be rolled back if the Onni
developer gets his way.   

Monday, January 21, 2019

Emeryville Families Continue to Say NO to Emery Unified School District

47% of Student Body Are Transfers From Other Districts 

Persistent Despite Overall Enrollment Increase

Student enrollment is up this year for Emery Unified School District but inter-district transfers remain stubbornly high, unchanged at 47% despite a multi-year effort to deliver more Emeryville children to Emeryville's schools, the district announced recently.  The mixed results revealed in a power point presentation at a recent School Board meeting show how intractable the problem has been for Emery to attract students living in the district.

District-wide, Emery has 389 Emeryville children enrolled for 2018/19 or 53% of a student body of 732.  That's effectively no change over last year's count of 364, 53% of a student body of 690.  The middle school's decrease in percentage of Emeryville children (drop from 55% to 52%) was offset by good results from Anna Yates Elementary School where 57% of children enrollees reside in Emeryville this year over 55% last year.
Most inter-district transfer students to Emery come from Oakland Unified School District.

The uptick in total student enrollment over last year represents the first substantive increase in more than ten years for the struggling district.  At 732 students Emery has more pupils now than it has had since 2013 and is operating at near full capacity.

Emery's poor record of attracting local children has been attributed to a combination of low test scores and high housing costs among other reasons.
Emeryville's housing stock has also skewed against families as the town continues its apartment building boom.  What few families that do locate in Emeryville have shown a propensity towards either sending their children to private school, chasing higher test scores or transferring them out to higher achieving districts.  The District has for years set a goal to attract more Emeryville children but City Hall hasn't cooperated.  Emeryville's population has more than doubled since 1993 to over 12,000 now but almost no affordable housing for families has been built during that time.

Notably and inexplicably, the School Board majority rejected Emeryville's recently passed Measure C affordable housing bond which prioritizes affordable housing for families.  The Board voted 3-2 to say NO to endorsing Measure C, with then Board President Cruz Vargas leading the charge against it.  Emeryville voters passed the measure by almost 73%, leaving the Emery School Board among the 27% who said NO to affordable family housing.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Emery School Board Member Cruz Vargas: An Authoritarian Without Authority

Last Authoritarian Holdout on School Board,
Cruz Vargas Warns that 
President Barbara Inch 
"Must Be Kept Away From the Children"

News Analysis/Opinion
Normally a body of relative comity, the Emery Unified School Board has lately devolved into a place of ugly ad hominem Trumpist vitriol, member Cruz Vargas leading the charge.  His political will thwarted by his colleagues, the City Council and the people of Emeryville, former Board President Vargas used his place at the dais to warn parents and citizens that their newly selected president, Barbara Inch, must be "kept away from the children".
It seems a nadir for Emeryville's last authoritarian political soap box orator, the ostracized and dispossessed board member who sanctimoniously and without a sense of irony, rejects the title 'politician'.   He's here not to play politics he says, rather he's here for the children.

Board member Vargas has become a curiosity.  Among the authoritarian right wing in Emeryville, formerly a syndicate establishment that for decades ran this town, he's the only one of them left standing from what was the entire elected political class.  But following a righteous two year democratic purge at the hands of Emeryville voters, there's now a near total loss of authority for Emeryville's right wing.  It's been a slow motion train wreak that leaves only the impolitic and obstinate Emery School Board member Cruz Vargas standing athwart the rubble of the once mighty right wing power elite.

Mr Vargas has faced a recriminatory and humiliating onslaught from all comers as of late.  But it hasn't been without merit.  This year he was stripped of his Board presidency by a unanimous vote of his colleagues in an epic take down over unnamed behind the scenes transgressions, called out publicly for his lies by the City Council and then in November, Emeryville's voters denied Cruz a sympathetic Board majority he would have needed to build an army of followers to beat back the progressive tide.  Rather than graciously giving way to the will of the voters, an embittered Cruz Vargas is instead howling against the democratic wave that swept the last of his kind away, now telling anyone who will listen that Emery's new School Board president and architect of his demise (at least as he sees it), must be stopped.  It's for the sake of the children he says.  Literally....Board member Vargas announced at the December 12th Board meeting when the new officers were being selected by the Board, positions taken by all members except for him, his new job on the Board is to keep the chosen School Board president, Barbara Inch, away from children.  "For two years I've fought to ensure that we keep politics and politicians away from our children.  Barbara Inch has shown where politics trumps progress." he said.

Abject Politics
It's been two years filled with political drama with Cruz Vargas on the School Board, his authoritarian philosophy of education serving as his guide.  An early supporter of and apologist for former Superintendent John Rubio, Cruz moved to protect the alpha-male schools chief as he drove an authoritarian campaign of disruption leading to the worst teacher retention problem in the Bay Area.  Nine departing teachers inveighed against the Superintendent's bullying and racist tactics at a School Board meeting prompting member Vargas to lead a drive to scrub their outgoing speeches from the official record in retaliation.  Dissenting School Board member Inch was the sole vote to allow the teacher's comments to be part of the record as reflected in the official minutes.
Later, as Board President, Mr Vargas led a drive to stop the Board from endorsing Measure C, Emeryville's $50 million affordable housing bond because the School Board has no interest in helping families move to the District, he said.  Dissenting Board member Inch cast a dissenting vote stating that Emery Unified School District in fact does have interest in having families with children afford to live here. Seventy two percent of Emeryville voters agreed with Ms Inch.
Most prominent over the years was Cruz's failed bid to get the taxpayers to pay for a full time sworn police officer to patrol the school campus; the infamous Emery School Resource Officer (SRO) debacle.  After the idea was forcefully shot down by the entire City Council as a sociopathic exercise in service of the right wing's greater 'school to prison pipeline' syllabus, President Vargas swore a quixotic oath to go around the Council.  Using an emotional pleas to parents, Cruz engaged in a pious go it alone political gambit that came up empty handed.  Countering President Vargas, Mayor John Bauters made a legendary speech calling for evidence-based policy on the SRO issue and to be cautious of politicians using demagoguery in its service.

The downward spiral of the delusional former Board President Vargas is quite a spectacle to behold and his displays of abject hypocrisy would make for some pretty entertaining viewing were it not for the disturbing complete unmooring from reality.  In his failed attempt to derail the vote to make Barbara Inch Board President, she the most popular candidate ever elected to the Emery School Board, Cruz Vargas told the audience at the December meeting (again lacking a sense of irony), "Not every Board member should be president."  The guileless former president Vargas added, "It requires a special level of leadership, presence, demeanor, social skills and composure."   Those being words his Board colleagues believe....and acted upon, when they stripped him of his Board presidency.

EUSD December 12 2018 FULL Board Meeting from Emery Unified School District on Vimeo.
Video Legend:
21:12 - 21:50 Cruz tells his Board colleagues they must protect the children from Barbara Inch.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mayor John Bauters: Democratic Ideals Mix With Good Public Policy

A Mayor of Consequence
Mr Bauters Finishes a Year of Competence 

News Analysis/Opinion
It's not often the Tattler mentions a job well done by Emeryville's politicians- as far the elected's work performance goes, usually no news is good news.  But we're going to make an exception in the case of Mayor John Bauters.  An elected public official who knows the proper role of government mixed with extraordinary political competence has made for that rarest alignment of political stars: a democratic government that reflects with fidelity the desires of the citizenry.

As he rotates back to the City Council sidelines, Councilwoman Ally Medina now taking the role of mayor for the next year, we pause to look back at a year in Emeryville with Mayor Bauters in charge.
Emeryville Mayor
John Bauters

Mr Bauters sees a central role of government as attenuating the growing rift of inequality in our riven society.  And the most important things he accomplished as mayor were designed with that in mind; things like the introduction and shepherding of Emeryville's landmark $50 million affordable housing bond known as Measure C and the daunting but critically needed work of ameliorating homelessness in our community (please see the video below).
In addition, Mr Bauters made community values affirmation central to the bi-monthly assemblies of the citizens, the gripefests also known as City Council meetings, in the form of uplifting 'Community Celebrations'.  These celebratory acknowledgments of the civically virtuous in our town, be they the best of the LGBT community, the African American community, girls in the community or simple citizens officially highlighted before each Council meeting for whom community means a selflessness in giving back, have served to offer to us all realization in the proper role of government.  City Hall, Mr Bauters reminds us, is not here just to fix potholes but to help bind us together into a cohesive community.
Further, Mayor Bauters has kept his focus on budgetary concerns like the payment of an additional $4 million towards liabilities on his watch, saving the taxpayers some $11 million in interest.  He has also reached out to small businesses with a listening series of well attended quarterly town hall events meant to mollify their concerns.

As with any politician of consequence, Mayor Bauters took his share of knocks from the critics for his bold moves on behalf of the community.  He has taken on the label 'progressive' proudly and it has earned him the enmity of the right wing in Emeryville.   The editor of the pro-business blog the E'Ville Eye, Rob Arias has practically made taking down John Bauters a personal crusade.  One only needs to peruse the cesspool that is Mr Arias' Twitterfeed to get a taste of the villainization of Mr Bauters there.
Rob Arias uses his blog and twitter account to promote disdain for homeless people and disdain for those who would help people trying to afford homes in Emeryville while taking on Emeryville's mayor and champion of those issues...that's something one would expect but over the last year, John has kept his focus on what matters.  We remember an issue not related to public policy while we have watched Mr Arias' slimy spectacle; we remember how Mayor Bauters brought to Emeryville a brave young man from Kentucky.  This young man, a recent valedictorian at his high school, had been refused to give the traditional valedictorian speech to the student body there because his hometown cannot countenance that he is gay and gender non-conforming.  Mr Bauters cleared the way for that speech to be in Emeryville at one of our Community Celebrations.  We can't think of a better way to show who we are as a community.
Our City Hall should be used in this kind of way, the way Mayor Bauters sees it, the way the greater Emeryville community sees it.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

City Staff Fails at Sherwin Williams Project to Provide Required Retail Agreement

City Fails to Get Sherwin Williams Retail Agreement in Writing

City Council Comes Up as Empty as 
All the Storefronts in Town

Senior planning staff at City Hall revealed last week the retail component of the Sherwin Williams project mixed use residential development in Emeryville's Park Avenue neighborhood has no written protections that would keep storefronts from sitting perpetually empty despite the City Council expressly garnering a guarantee against that made in 2016.  The Council also directed the staff to protect against the developer renting to chain stores, another condition of approval from November 1st, 2016 that was ignored by the staff and now impossible to enforce.  Time has run out for Emeryville to ensure its retail plan at Sherwin Williams is brought forward; the developer cannot at this point be held to providing for non-formula retail at the site or providing against letting the stores sit empty as was established by unanimous Council vote.  "There are no such protections for either condition" a staff member told the Tattler, "nothing is in writing".
Councilman Scott Donahue
He told voters in October 2014:
"We should require developers to structure
rental agreements that provide for subsidies
and other support to help smaller,
locally serving businesses to succeed."

And so goes the Sherwin Williams project down the same path as virtually every other development with retail over the last 25 years; vague promises made by the developers to providing wonderful neighborhood serving non-formula stores in a timely manner, a paradigm that has spectacularly failed.  City Councilman Scott Donahue  summed it up best at the November 1st 2016 meeting, "It has been difficult for our city he said, The chains have more money, but we have a desire for retail expressed by our community, he added.

The loss of a written retail agreement so adamantly expressed by the Council is especially egregious for the Sherwin Williams project, watched so closely as it has been by community activists including by the Park Avenue Resident Committee (PARC).  Indeed, PARC's entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen, specifically at Sherwin Williams.  Emeryville residents would be excused thinking if we can't get a retail agreement that addresses these issues here, we likely can't get one anywhere.

It's been a problem for years here.  Many residential developers in town build associated retail as required by the City but they aren't interested in the commercial rental business and so because the City has never required them to fulfill their retail assurances in writing, the developers simply let the storefronts go empty.  The retail component is chalked up as a cost of doing business by these developers.  Other developers, seeking more traditional profit maximization, will rent their retail spaces out but at the highest rate the rental market will bear.  That generally prices out the kind of retail the residents want, leaving only chain stores.
Amid the exigency of this closed loop paradigm, Councilman Donahue hit upon a new idea to force the developer of Sherwin Williams to underwrite the retail by written agreement with the City, an expanded cost of doing business that actually would deliver, but he and his colleagues failed to follow through, trusting the staff to do as the Council directed.
Councilwoman Dianne Martinez
"Another thing we're hearing from the community 
is the fear of the retail space going empty. 
The landlord might prefer a write-off 
than lowering the rent"
She directed the staff to get it in writing.

The idea that the developers themselves need to underwrite the cost of providing locally serving, non-formula retail has been kicking around in Emeryville for many years but the previous Council saw adding such constraints as anathema to the pro-developer coda engrained at City Hall.  Responding to citizen complaints in 2003, a previous Council attempted to lure better retail instead with a taxpayer subsidy to businesses at the 'Promenade' development, albeit with mixed results.  A coffee shop that received taxpayer subsidies at the San Pablo Avenue Promenade strip mall development promptly went out of business as did a small restaurant but Arizmendi Bakery, also the recipient of start-up help from City Hall has been a success.
The current City Council has so far tried a different approach, attempting to lure the kind of retail the citizens want with a Byzantine system of 'bonus points', an approach that up until now hasn't met with success.  With the failure of the Council to follow up on the staff's directive at Sherwin Williams, the new idea of forcing the developer to underwrite the locally serving retail is an idea that has still not been put into practice in Emeryville.

A viewing of the short video (below) from the November 2016 meeting shows how stark is the recalcitrance of Emeryville's city staff.  The two Council members whom had promised voters to deliver non-formula locally serving retail when they first sought election, Scott Donahue and Dianne Martinez, were adamant.  Councilman Donahue told the staff the developer represented by Kevin Ma of Lenar Development they could lower the rent for the retail if he (Mr Ma) can't find "non-chain neighborhood serving" retail at the market rate and that the rent should go down until it is rented out to the desired tenant.  "We can come up with something simple that they (Lenar) can agree to tonight that would solve this problem and make this a better community." Mr Donahue told the staff.  "I'm all ears to cutting a deal tonight about this" he added.

Emeryville Planning Director Charlie Bryant
Handpicked by former City Councilwoman
Nora Davis, Charlie did not require Lenar to legally
agree to the Council's requirements.  Lenar is free
to leave the Sherwin Williams retail empty
or to rent to Burger King.
Councilwoman Martinez agreed and expressed concern that the retail storefronts not sit empty as so many others have done over the years in Emeryville, "Another thing we're hearing from the community is the fear of the retail space going empty. The landlord might prefer a write-off than lowering the rent"  Ms Martinez said.
The developer however expressed concern that the development process not be held up for anything, "The biggest problem tonight is from a timing standpoint." Mr Ma told the five Council members  'If we would make any amendments to requiring the regulating of the retail tonight, that really throws us off our timeline...  We've gotten to a razor thin timeline with the current approval schedule".  He assured the Council "We will work with the Planning Commission to bring these commitments..." to which Councilman Donahue responded, "I'm satisfied we can say 'no' to your project if you don't come back to us with something definitive in writing that will deliver just what we're talking about."

And then the Emeryville City Council dropped the ball; they never checked on the staff about putting their directives in writing, leaving the citizens with nothing but the same assurances they've always gotten from developers over the last two decades about all the wonderful retail to be coming.  The staff for their part, refused to comment on why they served the developer rather than the City Council they are paid to, "It is what it is" one staffer tersely told the Tattler last week after affirming that the Sherwin Williams developer could rent to any chain store they want to at their project or to not rent out the future retail spaces at all if that serves their pleasure.  It's all up to the developer's whims now.

The November 2016 smoking gun video that 
reveals the Emeryville staff to be recalcitrant.  

Saturday, December 8, 2018


On December 6th, the Tattler erroneously reported that existing Emery School Board member Barbara Inch was endorsed by the resident advocacy group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville when she ran for that office in 2016.  In fact Ms Inch was not endorsed by RULE at that time or since.  Officially that group did not weigh in on the 2016 Emery School Board election.  After Board candidate Cruz Vargas refused to interview with RULE for their purposes of choosing candidates for endorsement, the group didn't request to meet Ms Inch and subsequently no candidate was picked for that office that year.
After receiving tips that the December 6th Tattler story was inaccurate, we reached out to several RULE members who had memory that Ms Inch was endorsed but a checking of internal RULE documents showed Ms Inch was never actually endorsed.  Ms Inch it should be stated, remains popular with many RULE members regardless.
The Tattler got the false information for the story from two RULE members who's memories were inaccurate.  We apologize for the mistake and have corrected the December 6th story.