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Sunday, January 19, 2020

How Awesomely Great are Emeryville's City Council Members? Their Bronze Plaques Tell Us

Why in Hell Would the Emeryville City Council
 Brag About Christie Park With its 
Shameful 2636 Residents Per Acre?

How About a Plaque Reading "On This Site, the City of Emeryville Sold Out the Residents"

What’s the adage about mushrooms sprouting after a rainfall?  It’s been raining a lot in Emeryville recently and we’ve noticed mushrooms are popping up everywhere.  But so too are commemorative bronze plaques extolling the would be great works of our City Council members.  Unlike the mushroom/rain nexus, Emeryville’s bronze plaques don’t come as a result of rain, rather they pop up upon completion of any construction project that could be conceived as having public benefit. After the rains quit, the mushrooms disappear.  But embarrassingly, the bronze plaques in our town remain, their numbers only increasing over time.

Bronze Plaques Give Emeryville the Opportunity for
Over The Top Brobdingnagian Hyperbole

"A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness
of its vision and the height of its dreams" reads the Herb Caen
quote.  Emeryville dreams of a city with 2636 residents per acre
of parkland.  How's that for a vision? 
Hey Council members: Mr Caen wasn't talking about Emeryville
with its worst park-to-resident ratio in the Bay Area.
Stop devaluing his name.
With so many of these 'informative' plaques sprouted up in Emeryville, by now, there can be no question about it; the City Council members are all awesomely great.  Or at least so say the ubiquitous bronze plaques the Council shamelessly installs all over our town.

We’ve never seen a town so big on congratulating itself. Maybe it’s because they screw up so often, they're trying to show us when they don’t.  Maybe the plaques are meant to serve as a tail wagging the dog counter narrative. It’s like our City Council is repeatedly engaging in one big conspicuous, Trumpian, in-your-face selfie after another.  It’s all because they want us to know they’re doing the job we pay them to do.

Or not.
Sometimes a plaque will present a project associated with and in tribute of the Council members, but it’s all out of proportion to what’s actually been built.  Sometimes it directly contradicts what's been built.
Take the recently rebuilt Christie Park upgrade and expansion far example. The plaque installed on the site brags that the council members are responsible for the newly expanded park.  But what it is not telling us is that the park they provided is substandard and in gross violation of the City’s own General Plan.

Council member Jac Asher voted 'NO' to a plaque at the
Center of Community Life.  After she was rebuffed by her glory
seeking colleagues, she said at least to keep her name off the plaque.
But bronze plaques can't be fought apparently, even by

modest Council members.  
Emeryville has a bad case of plaque build up.  
The Christie Park expansion that the City Council thinks is so great is anemic at less than half an acre of new park land added to the existing park.  The park expansion was paid for by the developer of the Public Marketplace project in trade for all the new rental units being built there.  That small size of park expansion (.46 acres to be precise) clocks in at an astounding 2,636 new residents per acre of park land. That number is helping drag down Emeryville’s whole town existing total of residents per acre of park land (a little over 500), already the worst among Bay Area cities. The Marketplace development project will bring 1,213 new residents (using the standard Emeryville formula of 1.8 residents per housing unit times the planned total 674 units the project brings).

The park acreage per resident ratio for housing projects is not to exceed three acres per 1000 new residents according to our General Plan.  Therefore Christie Park should have been expanded by a minimum of 3.6 acres to properly offset the new residents the Market Place project brings.  An additional amount of approximately one acre would be needed to offset all the new workers in the retail and office spaces generated by the project according to the General Plan.  Combining the two, the total amount of park acres to offset this project needs to be approximately four and a half acres instead of .46 acre. 

So the total amount of park land the people of Emeryville were screwed out of when the Council approved the Market Place development was about four acres.  Hiding that colossal screw up, they audaciously installed a vanity plaque of disinformation at the park telling us how great they are.  Christie Park: Far more pan-worthy than praiseworthy….but it gets a bronze plaque regardless.

These plaques our Council keep putting up will someday be seen like index fossils in the world of paleontology: representative of a very specific time and place.  In this case, of and suited to this time of Trump's America when people felt justified to wallow in narcissism and when government felt less constrained by public service and more animated by tooting its own horn.  And in the case of the Christie Park plaque, lying by omission.
What we need is some righteous truth presented in the commons to serve as a counter narrative to what the City Council is serving up and with equal audacity.  Graffiti artists, if you're listening....   

Monday, January 13, 2020

Public Records Request Reveals Lie at Center of Noise Ordinance

Noise Ordinance Investigation Reveals
People's Interest Not Represented at City Hall

Public Records Request Proves Developers Are Preferred,
Residents Interest in Peace & Quiet Rank Second Place

Public Records Request (PRR) for internal documents at City Hall, filed by the Tattler as part of an investigation into a breakdown of Emeryville's noise ordinance, has revealed a lie at the center of the ordinance perpetrated by the City Hall staff.  Previous publically made assurances of deference to the citizens and their expectations of peace and quiet by the City staff have given way to a public records revealed truth that it's really the developers who the City works for.  The trove of documents, turned over last week following an initial request filed in mid October, is revelatory more for what it didn't contain than for its mundane contents (mostly concerning getting meeting dates coordinated).  After the staff made blanket assertions of their turning away developers seeking noise ordinance waivers administratively en masse, no such evidence was found among the  documents that would bolster those assertions.  The documents turned over to satisfy the PRR means the charge, brought by the Tattler, that the staff at City Hall recommends noise waivers be granted to developers in a global way at the expense of the residents, remains uncontested.

Anybody that’s lived here for a while can see how Emeryville is changing.  Our population has doubled over the last 20 years and the business sector keeps growing as well. Emeryville is slated to grow even more moving forward; now we’re entering a new era of skyscraper construction.  All this growth means there’s always lots of construction going on.  Seventeen years ago we decided we need peace and quiet on weekends and evenings against the constant din.  And so like other cities, the people of Emeryville enacted a noise ordinance.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the end of it.  The ordinance has not served as a correction.

Developers, always looking to increase their profits, hate our noise ordinance.  Not known as a group fond of regulatory constraint, they’re free to hate it of course but that doesn’t mean we have to grant them the waivers they keep requesting.  We should only grant noise ordinance waivers for special circumstances when any public benefits clearly outweigh losing our peace and quiet.  And there’s the rub: Emeryville has fallen into a bad habit of routinely granting developers waivers for no good reason.  Sometimes for no stated reason at all.  For 17 years the developers have been getting their way at City Hall at the expense of the residents with their interest in quiet weekends and evenings.

The Tattler has followed this issue closely over the years.  We’ve documented how the City Hall staff, specifically Charlie Bryant, longtime head of the Planning Department, keeps recommending the City Council grant every waiver brought before them.  The Council, who has the final say, generally has used the staff waiver recommendations as political cover to say ‘yes’ to each developer seeking relief.

Before the release of the damning noise ordinance documents last week, anyone paying attention could see how developers have been getting preferential treatment at City Hall.  If residents desires for peace and quiet were genuinely and impartially being listened to, one would expect the staff to recommend noise ordinance constraints be waived maybe half the time; 50% in developers interest and 50% in residents interests.  But that’s not what's been happening.  The staff has gone with the developers, recommending the residents give up their peace and quiet virtually 100% of the time (with only one exception over the last 17 years).
Responding to mounting criticism from residents, the staff some months ago, made claim to an unseen world behind the doors at City Hall where they say residents interests ARE being looked after.  Planning Director Bryant says watching the Council meetings, it only SEEMS like the residents are being ignored.  He told the Tattler that the residents are only seeing the waiver requests that the staff thinks are legitimate and worthy.  A great number of developer requests are denied “administratively”, meaning the staff interdicts and refuses to even forward many to the City Council for their consideration.  Many, if not most waiver requests never even see the light of day says Mr Bryant.

The Tattler, ever vigilant, saw in Mr Bryant’s claims of behind the scenes noise ordinance waiver denials, a facile attempt to put to rest resident claims of the staff's anti-democratic behavior once and for all.  And so we made a Public Records Request for all documents including electronic recordings and interdepartmental memos concerning any administratively denied waivers, just to verify.  After waiting almost three months, the documents provided by City Hall reveal nothing to substantiate the claims made by Mr Bryant.
We now know the claim of a staff diligently working on our behalf with the noise ordinance behind the scenes at City Hall is a ruse.  The Planning Department is merely forwarding each waiver request from each developer, no matter how absurd the stated reasons, over to the City Council, after giving their recommendation to waive the constraints of the ordinance.

At virtually 100% of recommendations falling in the developer’s favor, we can now say with certainty the loud weekends we’re experiencing in Emeryville are not part of any compromise.  The noise ordinance doesn’t function.  It’s just for show.  The fix is in.  Emeryville’s pro-developer reputation is not your imagination.  And it's going to get worse.  Quiet weekends are not anything the residents can expect as we enter Emeryville's next phase of frenzied skyscraper construction.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

School Board Shake Up: New Factionalism Rises

Protesters on School Board Attempt to Stop 
New President 

Go Down to Defeat: 2-3 

News Analysis
Emeryville voters will go to the polls in March to decide on Measure K, a new $1.8 million per year parcel tax meant to shore up a structural deficit at Emery Unified School District; a prospect now potentially undermined by ongoing and growing discord among the School Board members.  It’s a situation none of the members would likely have chosen.  Nonetheless, a shake up at the Emery Unified School District is revealing a new factionalism at the School Board after Board Trustee Brynnda Collins was elected President in a contentious 3-2 vote at their December 18th meeting.

The vote itself helped illuminate the players and the dimensions of the two new factions, coming as it did with the two dissenters aware that Ms Collins had locked up the presidency.  The two, Cruz Vargas and Sarah Nguyen voted NO to Ms Collins’ bid, even though by the time their votes were entered, the roll call voting procedure had already showed Ms Collins as the victor; a move that in a divided Board is commonly reserved to show enmity and displeasure.  A classic protest vote.
Emery School Board Member Sarah Nguyen
She followed member Cruz Vargas in a protest vote
against newly elected president Brynnda Collins.

The newly revealed factionalism seems to be indicative of a general lack of cohesion on the Board rather than a clashing of policy visions as was indicated by the previous iteration of the Board.  However whereas before, Mr Vargas stood mostly alone in his dissenting position, the joining of Board member Nguyen as indicated by the new December 18th vote, would suggest a more broad base of dissent against the majority faction, now represented by President Collins. 
Tattler readers will recall, Mr Vargas was stripped of his Board presidency by a unanimous vote of his colleagues in June 2018.  Mr Vargas, tilting at windmills, went on to engage in retaliatory personal attacks against his replacement, President Barbara Inch, calling into question her trustworthiness around children in December of that year.

Any hopes for a more unified School Board this last December 18th were dashed when member Vargas reminded his colleagues that members should not forget the “roles” each need to play on the Board and that only those with “strength” should be president before he joined with Ms Nguyen in voting NO to Brynnda Collins for president.  As it turned out, the didactic arguments presented against Ms Collins by Mr Vargas this time were nearly identical to the arguments he offered against the prospects of a Barbara Inch presidency in his 'Not Every School Board Member Should Be President' speech he gave back in December 2018.

As the Board turns towards the business at hand moving into 2020, the infighting may upset their plans.  Struggling to present a unified face to voters deciding on the proposed Emery School District parcel tax increase in March, a newly factionalized Board may have trouble getting taxpayers to trust them with another increase in tax proceeds.
Board Member Cruz Vargas
Leading a drive against his colleague
Brynnda Collins, he said she should
follow her "role".
Then he joined with fellow protester
Sarah Nguyen, voting NO to
Ms Collins' Board President bid.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

City/School District Put New Taxes on March Ballot

The City of Emeryville and Emery Unified School District are going to the voters for a pair of taxpayer funded ballot measures in March that would raise almost $4 million annually between them.  The City is seeking passage of Measure F, a quarter cent sales tax that would raise approximately $2 million per year and Emery Unified is seeking passage of a new parcel tax, Measure K, that would raise about $1.8 million per year.

Both measures purport to fund a laundry list of items mixed with a crowd pleasing teaser; teacher pay increases advertised by the school district's Measure K and increased funding for the Emery Child Development Center from the City's Measure F ballot language.  Neither measure however, guarantees funding for these specific issues, even though they figure prominently in the ballot language of the measures.
Measure F will fund personnel additions for the police department, the fire department as well as for code enforcement while Measure K is more nebulous, funding academic core programs as well as after school programs, sports, music and art programs.

Both Measures will require 66.7% of the electorate for passage.

The election will be on March 3rd.

Friday, December 13, 2019

New Traffic Count Report: Emeryville's Entire Bike Boulevard Network Unsafe

Mounting Traffic Puts Bicyclists in Danger

All Five Bike Boulevards Now in Violation 

A recently released report by the City of Emeryville shows an alarming rise in vehicle traffic that now exposes bicyclists to danger on every bike boulevard in town due to unsafe volumes of traffic.  The internal report, entitled Vehicle/Bicycle/Pedestrian Counts (Fall 2019), was generated as a result of a Bike Plan required bi-annual traffic count and shows a rapidly deteriorating environment for bicyclists in Emeryville as compared with the last traffic count conducted by the City.  All five bike boulevards in Emeryville are now unsafe for bicycling according to the City’s own metrics and one, the 45th Street Bike Boulevard, is saddled with vehicle traffic 96% in excess over the safe limit.

The City has been aware the increase of vehicles using the town’s bike boulevard network is putting bicyclists in harm's way for some time but up until this latest traffic count report, at least one bike boulevard has always been shown to be within safe parameters.  Now that the Doyle Street Bike Boulevard has gone over the limit, that can no longer be claimed.

From the New Traffic Count Report
Emeryville's High Average Daily Traffic Allowances: Not High Enough.
Palo Alto's bike boulevard network allows for a maximum of 750 ADT.

The bike boulevard network was created in 2009 as a response to Emeryville’s anticipated growth the new General Plan provided for.  It was determined at the time, some streets should be set aside as bike priority streets to allow for bicycling to remain a viable alternative to driving.  Emeryville spent $200,000 on consultants who recommended the City create a network of these streets, bike boulevards, based on how other cities have done it.  The business and developer community however, not wishing their driving clients/tenants be constrained, cried foul.  As the Bike Plan was being finalized, the City Council unilaterally increased the allowable traffic on the network (over any other city in the Bay Area) to mollify the business community's concerns, especially on the highly contested Horton Street where the allowable traffic loads were doubled.  Traffic however has risen apace since then and now, even that increased allowance for traffic on our bike boulevards is not enough.

Against this backdrop, the City Council has been unwilling to implement the traffic calming remedies spelled out in the Bike Plan to reduce the rising vehicle traffic to the safe-for-bicyclists minimum called out by the Plan.  Developers and businesses near the bike boulevards have repeatedly told the Council that the specified traffic calming remedies are unacceptable and these have been the voices the Council has listened to up until now.  The predictable unsafe traffic volumes now seen on the bike boulevard network is due to the Council’s inaction in this regard.

It’s Going To Get Worse
Already Approved: the BMR Project
2400 parking spaces netting 4800 driving
trips per day will be added to an already
overburdened Horton Street.
The recent leap in traffic is a portent for what is to come.  The General Plan targets Emeryville with a population of 16,600 residents by 2029, the Plan’s sunset.  Added to the increased driving population will be a dramatically increased business footprint.  These eventualities will likely add lots of traffic to our existing grid regardless of Council hopes for a wholesale turn in public sentiments towards public transit.   Additionally the City Council, entertaining overturning existing housing unit mix regulations to accommodate residential super towers such as the Onni project slated for Christie Avenue, has hinted the 16,600 mark is a number they intend to race past rather than target.

One looming non-residential project, the BMR life science 'Center of Innovation' slated for Horton and Hollis Streets, will include 2400 new parking spaces delivering a new glut of 4800 Average Daily Traffic (ADT) trips to Horton Street.  Adding to that number, the approved Sherwin Williams project with at least an extra 4000 ADT and an unspecified amount of traffic from the newly completed but not yet fully rented Transit Center, Horton Street, already 38% over the limit, will not be a street for conducive for biking regardless of the plethora of purple signage proclaiming its bike boulevard status.

The City Council effectively took Horton Street out of contention as a possible street for bike transit when they issued a 'Statement of Overriding Considerations' in the run up to the approval for the Sherwin Williams project in 2016.  The SOC stated that the project will overturn the Horton Street Bike Boulevard but the community benefits of the project outweigh bike concerns.
More recently, the Council decided to not implement the Bike Plan  traffic calming treatments for the 45th & 53rd street bike boulevards, choosing instead to let the clock run out for the two streets.  The remaining boulevards on the network, Doyle Street and 59th Street don't seem likely candidates for traffic calming given the City Council's lack of concern for the Bike Plan combined with an aggressive view towards growth the Council has exhibited over and beyond what the General Plan provides for and traffic, accordingly, will likely overrun these two streets as well.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Emeryville By The Numbers

Introducing a new Tattler feature; 'Emeryville By The Numbers'
We'll highlight from time to time, what makes our town unique as compared with our neighbors.

Public Libraries in the Bay Area By The Numbers

Emeryville is the largest city in the Bay Area without a library-

Emeryville: 2018 estimated population 12,104 (u.s. census)

-Ranking of Largest Bay Area Cities Without Libraries: 1
-Total Municipalities in the Nine County Region: 101
-Towns Without a Public Library: 7
-Towns With a Public Library: 94
-Smallest Town With a Library: 2,982
-Average Population of the Six Towns Other Than Emeryville Without a Library: 5,752
-Average Population of the 14 Towns Smaller Than Emeryville With a Library: 6,410
- Number of Months since Emeryville Residents Voted YES on Measure J, the $95 Million School, Community Center and Public Library Bond: 109

Literacy and the social cohesion it creates is a cultural hallmark of the San Francisco Bay Area as reflected in its impressive system of public municipal libraries.  The Bay Area as it turns out, is crazy over public libraries. The vast majority of cities, towns and even hamlets in the nine counties that comprise the Bay Area has at least one library, even Napa County’s tiny Yountville at 2,982 souls has got a downtown public library.  In fact, there are only seven towns in the entire Bay Area that don't have a public library.
Emeryville however has the dubious distinction of being the largest town in the nine counties without a public library.  Of the 101 total municipalities in the 6,966 square mile nine county region, 20 are smaller than Emeryville and of that group, 14 have their own libraries.  The bedroom community of Piedmont in Alameda County, with a population of 11,238, is the second largest town without a library.

With a population of 1510, Colma can be forgiven not having a public library.
What's Emeryville's excuse?

Small Towns With Big Community Values
Tiny Yountville leads the pack; showing the Bay Area how to foster a vibrant
and connected community.  Are you listening, Emeryville?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Mayor Ally Medina Finishes a Lackluster Term

Q: How Did Mayor Medina Do on 
Her Pet Issues of Bikes and Parks?

A: Zilch

And so ends the downbeat tenure of Emeryville mayor Ally Medina.  Tuesday night Ms Medina hands over the mayoralty to Council member Christian Patz, ending the Medina era of …..what exactly?  Well, it’s not bike transportation or parks, the two issues that were central to her election campaign as she ran for City Council in 2016.  On those issues, she was a dud.  A non-starter.  Anything else?  What did Mayor Medina do for Emeryville during her term as mayor?  The readers will be forgiven if they struggle with this.
The answer is: very little.

Mayor Ally Medina Posing With A Bike
Irony alert!
Use agitprop to turn your
liability into an asset.
Truth be told, one could make an argument we’re being generous when we say Mayor Medina did nothing of consequence during her year long term.  On her two pet issues, conspicuously proclaimed on the campaign trail ("I am personally committed to taking the lead" she said at the time), she's actually taken us backward.
Regarding bikes, Mayor Medina has made it clear she doesn’t like our bike boulevard system.  It’s a stance we wish she had made clear before she made all her promises as a Council candidate.  Ten years ago, Emeryville spent $200,000 and countless hours of volunteer citizen effort formulating our Bike Plan, the central tenet of which is our bike boulevard network.  It would have been nice to know at the time that a candidate running for Council held it in such contempt.

Candidate Medina said she would implement our Bike Plan but Mayor Medina now says protected bike lanes are better.  So she set about ignoring the clear and mounting problems of excess traffic on the 45th and 53rd street bike boulevards, putting bikers in harm’s way.  The Bike Plan has a prescription for how to make boulevards safe for bikers….and a timeline.  There are too many cars and trucks on those two bike priority streets according to a traffic count conducted by the City more than two years ago.  As soon as that information was gathered, the City had two years to implement a regime of traffic calming as delineated by the Bike Plan.  Then the clock ran out for Mayor Medina to install the required traffic calming.  But it's not as if she didn't have enough time.  She simply let it languish during her entire term as mayor.  Inexplicably, she refused to even let the Bike Committee discuss the issue as she steadfastly refused to explain the inaction that has effectively taken the safety of bicyclists out of the purview of the City of Emeryville, at least on those two streets.

Mayor Medina’s experiment with protected bike lanes, her unilateral answer to our bike boulevard network, has been a disaster.  Horton Street, a street with a huge amount of traffic but still listed in the books as a bike boulevard (despite a final ruling against it by Council members Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in 2016), has drawn her in.  Mayor Medina, who serves as the Council liaison to the Bike/Ped Advisory Committee, instructed Public Works to install plastic bollards near the Amtrak Station meant to separate bikes and vehicles instead of implementing the Bike Plan's traffic calming regimen.  Horton, like 45th and 53rd streets is a street with too much vehicle traffic to be safe for bikers, and the bollards have caused commercial vehicles to park on the sidewalks and in the bike lanes, trapping the cyclists and causing them to veer sharply out into moving traffic.  It’s an issue that a local TV news station highlighted as complaints poured into City Hall.
If Ms Medina and the City had simply followed the Bike Plan and installed its traffic calming measures, Horton Street would be safe for bicycling with plenty of parking spaces for cars and yellow curbs for commercial trucks.  But bike boulevards are an issue the Mayor and the City can’t seem to countenance, never mind all the crowing at election time. 

Regarding parks, another self proclaimed favorite topic of our mayor, Emeryville is epic: as in epically bad.  Our city is the worst in the entire East Bay as far as parks go.  Parks and open space service is measured in residents per acre and at some 500 people per acre of park, a number that keeps rising as we keep increasing our population, residents here are green space starved.
Meanwhile, our General Plan is very clear about this issue: parks are essential and it’s resolved: all new large residential projects are supposed to offset the degradation in the parks-to-residents ratio by providing no less than three acres per thousand new residents.  Unfortunately, Emeryville has failed utterly on this issue and Mayor Medina, who sanctimoniously said we could trust her on parks, has done nothing during her term as mayor to address the issue all while the condition continues to get worse.

The Sherwin Williams Tree Debacle
Council Member Medina sees what
the developer tells her to see: dead and
dying trees.
Everybody else sees healthy shade
giving trees, doing what trees are
supposed to do.
And then there's the issue of the Sherwin Williams street trees.  Ms Medina went down in flames with the City Hall staff and the developer of that impending construction project who wanted to kill every public street tree fronting it.  Without providing evidence, the developer told us they couldn't save the trees due to underground electrical cables they needed to install.  Besides, the trees in question are dead and dying they told us, over the objections from the City's own arborist.  The developer's performance was enough to convince the staff and Councilwoman Medina.
Ally's colleagues however could see the tree cutting scheme for the con job that it was; a plan to bolster the developer's profit margin at the resident's expense.  Only Council members Martinez and Medina were duped.  The others on the Council saw right through the obvious profit maximizing ploy being foisted by the developer.  Almost two years after calling their bluff, the City Council majority saw the developer and the staff, hats in hands, finally admit the trees could be saved after all.  And a chasented Ally Medina apologizing for her naivety.

While Mayor Medina has certainly been a disappointment, in her defense, it was her misfortune to follow John Bauters.  Mayor Bauters, whom we had our disagreements with during his term, nonetheless used his prodigious if artless political skills to escort Measure C, a $50 million affordable housing bond through to voters.  That plus other consequential policies he enacted made Mayor Bauters a tough act to follow to be sure.  But that doesn’t absolve Mayor Medina who, like them all, is charged with moving Emeryville forward during their terms as mayor.  We would have thought, at least on the issues she claims to champion, Mayor Medina would have made some progress.  We never would have imagined her to shut down the cause of government transparency and accountability as she has done on the issue of the 45th and 53rd street bicycle boulevards.

It gives us no pleasure to say Ally Medina has been a bust as mayor of Emeryville.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Onni Project: RULE Meeting to Presage City Sponsored Town Hall

The citizen advocacy group Residents for a Livable Emeryville is holding a meeting this coming Saturday about the proposed 54 story Onni project on Christie Avenue.  The meeting is intended to gather and disseminate community information in the run up to a City of Emeryville sponsored Town Hall meeting RULE has proposed.   RULE meetings are open to all except City Council members (except by invitation), and everybody else, including our Berkeley and Oakland neighbors, are encouraged to attend.
The following is submitted by RULE:

Hello Friends and Neighbors!

Please join us for our next RULE meeting 10 am Saturday, November 23. Bring your questions and concerns and visit with your neighbors over coffee and breakfast. The meeting will be held at Doyle Street Co-housing, 5514 Doyle Street, Emeryville (across the street from the Doyle Street Cafe).

At least half of this two-hour meeting will be devoted to discussion of the proposed 54-story (638-foot) Onni super tower at the corner of Christie Avenue and Powell Street in Emeryville. RULE is working with Mayor Ally Medina and City staff to put together a Town Hall meeting of residents, city officials and staff, Onni developers, and environmental, building, and other experts to discuss the project. RULE has also formed a Strategy Committee to focus efforts on the issue.

Everyone is encouraged to attend and share their views.

Residents' principle concerns about the Onni project:
- developer requesting to be excused from minimum number of family friendly (2- and 3-bedroom) units required by the City
- size of project out of scale for surrounding area
- detrimental environmental impact
- traffic impact
- bicycle and pedestrian safety and access, particularly for seniors
- lack of sufficient green space and other amenities
- Housing appeals to foreign investors who will not live there
- Housing rented or purchased for purpose of Airbnb rentals

About the project:
The proposed Onni Tower includes 653 residential units, the majority of which will be market rate studios and one-bedrooms. The development does not meet the city's required unit mix for families, and the developer has asked the City Council to excuse it from that requirement due to the added expense.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Forget the Minimum Wage; It's Time to Rollback Our City Council Healthcare Costs

If Rollbacks Are Fair Game, How About 
This One, City Council?

We all watched with amazement last May as the Emeryville City Council majority, a self proclaimed ‘progressive’ lot, voted to roll back our Minimum Wage Ordinance and punch down against the working poor, the traditional victims in contemporary America.  In so doing, they conspicuously switched victims and chose instead to pour their empathy on the small business restaurant community and their Emeryville patrons who want cheap eats.  The rollback, supported by Council members John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue was ultimately pushed back by the combined forces of the labor community and the people of Emeryville, who have shown they have more empathy (and numbers) for the working poor than those seeking a bargain at the local ramen eatery.

But the whole spectacle got us to thinking.  This City Council majority, who clearly feels the pain of the business community shouldering the costs of paying a living wage to their employees, must surely also feel the taxpayer’s pain who are shouldering the costs of the Council members' individual health care premiums.

Emeryville taxpayers are forced to pay almost $6000 every month for the five of them; a cost we don't have to be burdened with.  And $6000 is just for this month, next month might be more....the rates keep going up. It's a lot to bear for the constantly tapped Emeryville taxpayer. 
Councilwoman Dianne Martinez said it best when she voted last May to roll back Emeryville’s Minimum Wage Ordinance; we need to protect Emeryville’s small business community against these high labor costs in order to “keep them viable” she said.  Now it’s time for Ms Martinez who’s currently personally profiteering off the taxpayers to the tune of almost $2000 a month, it's time for her to protect us, the taxpayers…to keep us viable.
If Councilwoman Martinez and the rest of them want health care, let them buy it themselves.  Because there's a perfect analogy between the struggling business community and the struggling taxpaying residents.  Why is it OK that the Council use its power to provide monetary relief for the business community and not the residents?  In whose interests are the City Council looking after? Where's OUR rollback Mr Bauters, Mr Donahue and Ms Martinez? 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Blockbuster Demolition Comes to Emeryville's Triangle Neighborhood: Mockery of 'Area of Stability'

More Single Family Home Demolition in Emeryville's 'Zone of Stability'

Existing Working Class Families Being Removed to Make Way for 6 New Unaffordable Units

City Finds 50% Increase in Density 'Insignificant',
100 Year Old Craftsman Bungalows 'Too Old'

Rent Doubled on Tenants in Effort to 
Force Them Out

Four Family Friendly Houses on 47th Street
These existing homes with private backyards suitable for

children will be replaced with homes with no private outdoor
space except small decks (on some units).
The City of Emeryville is taking up a developer landlord's plan to demolish four side by side craftsman homes in Emeryville's Triangle neighborhood and replace them with six suburban style units on the same piece of land; a 50% density increase Planning Director Charlie Bryant calls 'insignificant'.  The demolition plan, forwarded by the owner of the homes, out-of-town landlord Mark Forbes, involves the forcible removal of his tenants; four working class families, to make way for the new market rate rentals.  The City of Emeryville has deemed the proposed replacement units, comprised of three duplexes, 'unaffordable', being offered for rent as they will be, at market prices.   Mr Forbes, who has owned the four homes "for decades", is asserting they are "in a state of disrepair " and at 100 years, are past their "useful utility" and good for demolition only.

47th St Homes Landlord

San Francisco Resident Mark Forbes
CEO heir to a real estate & investment
financing fortune.  He enjoys golf and
collecting antique cars according to
the F E Forbes corporate prospectus.
Mr Forbes recently doubled the rent on
his 47th Street tenants to force them out. 

Dispossessed and soon to be dispossessed tenants of Mr Forbes, some having lived there for decades, testified at the Emeryville Planning Commission Tuesday night that their landlord has been remiss in repairing the homes over the years.  Their collective testimony serves as an informing counterpoint that the poor state of repair cited by Mr Forbes as a reason for the demolition, has been brought on by Mr Forbes himself; a classic slumlord ploy.
The tenants told the Commissioners they were all recently offered $5000 to leave their homes by the Forbes Corporation.  Two families took up the offer but the remaining two families noted the offer has since been retracted, replaced with a 95% rent increase.  The families said they cannot afford the increase and will be evicted.  Mr Forbes, for his part said he is observing all existing laws designed to protect tenants in a city without rent control.  The tenants explained to the Commission that their families include the elderly and and at least one disabled wheelchair bound family member.

Area of 'Stability'
The 47th Street Homes are in the General Plan designated 'area of stability', a General Plan determined zone that is supposed to preclude the kind of development density increase this project proposes.  Speaking to the 47th Street Homes proposal, Chief Planning Director Charlie Bryant reminded  the Commissioners about what the Areas of Stability specifically represent.  He said in the attending staff report the Areas of Stability are, '...described as those parts of the city that are not anticipated to change significantly in character, land use or development intensity.'
Proposed Suburban Style Replacement Homes 
High rents & no back yards but nonetheless
these are newer....and therefore better according 

to the developer and the City of Emeryville.
Expect new tenants to be whiter, wealthier 

(despite fake wood siding).
Inexplicably, the City of Emeryville,  siding with the developer of the 47th Street Homes has determined an intensity increase of  50% (six homes replacing four homes) is (according to the staff report) "... consistent with the development intensity of the area, and therefore conforms to the General Plan designation of this neighborhood as an 'area of stability'."  The staff didn't attempt to quantify its use of the word "significant", even though most people would say 50% qualifies.

Notably, the 47th Street Homes request for demolitions within the Area of Stability, is not unique.  Many other developers have similarly requested demolition and been granted despite the protected status afforded by the General Plan.  Indeed, Emeryville's last areas of detached traditional single family homes left continue to fall to the wreaking ball.

Open Space for Families?

One of the "Poor Quality" Craftsman Homes
to be Demolished 
The 'three drop' actual wood siding, dormer, 
and craftsman detailing all are no good 
according to F E Forbes Inc. 
Besides, it can't be salvaged they say 
(nevermind that demolition will increase profits).
Interesting too, is how the staff of the City of Emeryville engages in redefining the qualifications for family friendly housing in general but with specificity to the 47th Street Homes.  Paramount in the City's definition of what makes for housing that will attract families, an official housing policy goal of the City, is two and three bedroom units.  Left out of the equation is what traditionally has been found to be attractive to families; the prosaic notion of large private back yards, but also two and three bedrooms and most of all, affordability.  The 47th Street Homes project takes away the private back yards of the existing homes so popular with families with young children, parents hoping to steal away a few moments for household chores and such while young children play outside, unattended.  The replacement homes will not have any backyard space at all; would be parents forced to settle on small 99 square foot private decks for the three second floor units and no private space at all for the three lower units.
But the boldest claim of family friendliness coming from the developer of the 47th Street Homes is the removal of affordable older housing stock (the rent doubling increase made to force out the tenants notwithstanding).  Not to belabor the well worn axiom of new construction costs driving the need to recoup capital outlays resulting in higher rents, the market rate new homes on 47th Street will come in at a higher monthly rent, resulting in a whiter and likely 'techier' class of renters.  That's a demographic not normally associated with families, more with roomates.

'Wood' Siding Issue
San Francisco Victorians: Too Old
Even older than craftsman era homes. 

Some are past 130 years; well past the "end
of their utility".  Just think how much nicer
new homes would be here.
The artificial wood siding proposed for the houses that will replace the demolished craftsmen homes on 47th Street, not normally an existential concern with most residents, nonetheless stands out for its mockery of our City Hall and its General Plan.   Amid the wholesale denigration of public policy the City of Emeryville signs onto as a consequence of the City placating developers like Mark Forbes, this little artificial wood detail stands out less for its naked audacity and more for its pedestrian annoyance, a pact that gives away the game as it were.  The City of Emeryville is clear on this one specific, albeit minor score when it comes to demolitions within the Areas of Stability; the siding of any new replacement house must be authentic wood.   The General Plan states it unequivocally, calling wood siding a "high quality" material that needs to be provided if siding is used for a replacement home.  That the City staff did not call out this developer for this transgression informs Emeryville citizens as to the nature of the authority of our General Plan and its Areas of Stability provisions at least as much as the very idea of tearing down homes cast as 'stability' in the first place.   

Having completed the Tuesday Planning Commission study session unscathed, the next stop for the 47th Street Homes project is the City Council who will give their thumbs up or down on the controversial proposal at a to-be-announced meeting.  Watch the Tattler for details.
47th Street Homes Landlord CEO Mark Forbes' Tangled Corporate Web
Shell Corporations put to work to increase his fortune at the expense of working families.
This is who the City of Emeryville will be in bed with if they help kick out the existing 
Emeryville low income families of color that live in this man's Emeryville rental properties.