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Saturday, May 8, 2010

What Do We Really Want, Anyway?


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


  1. I disagree with your characterization. The Redevelopment Agency has worked to transform this town from a thicket of bleak industry to the budding burghal habitat that is precisely the reason I chose to live here.

  2. no, be pro business- that's what brings the tax dollars. you have business, then the good citizens will buy property and you get property tax. generational welfare residents dont pay taxes, but waste our tax dollars on their welfare and on policing them. stop the free handouts and let gentrification occur, where citizens who can afford to buy homes, buy homes in safe prosperous areas instead of pouring money into generational welfare.

  3. you got it Brian,
    I am so sick and saddened to see city council put
    corporate greed before public need! Where's our pedestrian/ bike overpasses to make Emeryville livable? All this development yet trying to get to many places in Emeryville on bike scary and unsafe.
    20%-80% says it all.

  4. Why is the business community only paying 70% of the taxes in this city--someone at city hall cannot add up!

  5. The first commenter above, may find much to like in the kind of development the Redevelopment Agency has allowed in to our town but he may be in the minority.

    In 2009, the resident group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville, conducted a city-wide survey about this very subject. Over 700 residents were surveyed and the results are alarming: Almost without exception, the residents are highly critical of the kind of development we've been getting. They showed particular disdain for the Bay Street Mall. Subsequently, more than 100 residents attended a 'Town Hall' meeting to express their distaste for the redevelopment machine in Emeryville.

    There are no doubt outlier residents that think its good to transform Emeryville into a regional shopping mall, but they're incidental to the prevailing sentiment. The views of 700 residents should be acknowledged.