Don't Be Pro-Business, Be Pro-Resident
By Brian Donahue
The political decision makers in Emeryville are fond of reminding residents that businesses provide the money we need to improve the quality of life for the residents, as if the residents needs were the more important part of the equation. In practice, what we have is a 'trickle down' paradigm where the business sector is sacrosanct and residents needs become incidental. The businesses receive the lion's share of the actual government largess and the residents mostly receive the laudatory hot air.
Aware of the growing resident discontent with the multi-million dollar developer subsidies given by City Hall and the lightest business tax in the Bay Area, the council likes to extol the idea of the "win-win" scenario for developers and residents alike. But this is a common axiom in our culture, sometimes used by politicians to hide something much less egalitarian in reality than it sounds coming from the council chamber's lofty dais.
The redevelopment machine, loosed on our town is a clear example of how the residents needs have taken a backseat to the desires of developers. What was conceived to be in the interests of the residents has turned instead into a self perpetuating program of give-a-ways to favored developers by City Hall, one project funding the next. This could be construed as beneficial to the residents were it not for the fact that the development we're getting is mostly in the form of regional shopping centers. However the business proponents on the council are correct in their exclamations on the revenue raising capacity of commerce. Business revenue is how cities thrive, it's well documented that residences are usually revenue negative for cities, costing more than they bring in. But we must remember, business is here for us, not the other way around. So the charge of the decision makers is to deliver business that will enhance the public realm for residents and pay the bills.
What Are We Really Getting?
Regardless that the Redevelopment Agency hasn't been delivering the kind of built development the residents want, the council points with pride to new parks like Doyle/Hollis Park paid for by the shopping malls, as proof that redevelopment is working for the residents. Even with the new parks however, Emeryville still stands at the bottom of Bay Area cities in terms of park acreage per residence. This becomes more damning when one considers the geographic ratio of business (80%) to residences (20%), higher than almost all other Bay Area cities. With the revenue gathering capacity of this ratio, we should have MORE parks and other amenities than our neighbors, not less.
Emeryville has earned its reputation of being the most business friendly city in the Bay Area, and this is borne out by the facts. Our unexplained lack of resident amenities compared with our neighbors is a direct effect of a pro-business culture at City Hall. This unacknowledged culture has unacknowledged negative impacts on the residents. Businesses have different needs than residents; they need profits and we need livability. They'll ALWAYS try to increase their profits and our interests are not part of their equation. It's the council that needs to negotiate on our behalf and that's what is lacking. Instead of phony "win-win" talk, we need a "win for the residents" culture at City Hall. To give businesses sweetheart deals like our council does, in service of some ideologically driven dogma is not how a livable city for the residents is created, regardless of any pollyanna rhetoric emanating from City Hall