Decade Of Free Rent For Private Business Group
It takes money to make money, the saying goes and in Emeryville those with the most, naturally deserve generosity from City Hall.
Last Tuesday your city council agreed to provide free rent for the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce----for another five years. Call it the gift that keeps on giving. The agreement comes just as the Chamber's current five year period of free rent was about to expire.
The Chamber of Commerce, which represents business interests in the city and boasts a roster of more than several multi-million dollar corporations as members, made its pitch for continued public largess in a letter to City Manager Pat O'Keeffe dated February 18. In the letter, Chamber CEO Bob Canter said the city should give his organization a gift of rent at no charge because the Chamber made improvements to the space by putting up "high-quality window blinds and having nice-looking Chamber branding on the windows." Mr. Canter added that the Chamber has been "a good neighbor."
Things must be tough for Disney, Wareham Development, Novartis and other Chamber members. After all, "a good neighbor," wouldn't ask to feed at the public trough if it wasn't absolutely necessary. Meanwhile, as the Chamber enjoys it's storefront space free of charge, city officials are enacting all sorts of austerity measures---raising taxes and fees, cutting and privatizing programs and eliminating services because there isn't enough money to go around.
At the same time 31 Emeryville residences have fallen into foreclosure. It's doubtful the City Council will step forward with free rent for any of those homeowners.
The Chamber has enjoyed a cozy relationship with those at city hall for some time.
For many years, taxpayers paid over $40,000 annually to the Chamber of Commerce to cover the costs associated with printing and distributing its newsletter, which trumpeted the Chamber's political views and demonized those who failed to agree. The Chamber also enjoyed exclusive space at City Hall and other city buildings to distribute the newsletter.
The payments were stopped in 2008 under pressure from residents and the formerly glossy newsletter reverted to cheaper newsprint. Mr. O'Keeffe, the city manager, banished all publications from city owned real estate last year after a group or residents asked permission to offer their own publication along side the Chamber's newsletter.
The city insists that the Chamber of Commerce gets no special treatment and is treated like any other private business.
The new arrangement covers the Chamber's rent on its office at 3980 Harlan Street until May 31, 2015. Taxpayers will not be responsible for the Chamber's utilities or janitorial services.
According to a report prepared by city officials for the council; the city for its part gets the advantage of "an ongoing and viable use" for space adjacent to a community room the city leases from Catellus, which built the BridgeCourt complex on 40th Street. The community room was created by negotiation under the development agreement between the city and Catellus in 1998. It is used mostly by the city's recreation department. The city's report says it is important that the room near the community room is occupied. Other private companies, including non-profit resident advocacy groups were not considered for the free rent by the city.