Who's Looking Out For The Public Interest? Not City Hall
To what extent do Emeryville residents have reasonable expectation that when a private contractor harms the pedestrian environment in our town, the damage be fixed? Any stroll around Emeryville will reveal many instances where private contractors have, with the city's blessings, ripped up the sidewalks to do underground work and consequently done a substandard job replacing the walkway. It's admittedly a minor issue but like the attrition of a broken window, it can bring down people's feelings of civic connection. The little insults add up.
Take for instance City Hall's investment in the Triangle neighborhood. In 1995, the council authorized the rebuilding of the street and sidewalk infrastructure as part of the 'San Pablo Avenue Beautification Project' to attract new businesses and residents to the area. This project cost $1.5 million to implement in this part and $4.1 million for the whole street and dramatically improved the street scape there. The taxpayers paid for, among other improvements, beautiful brick 'basket weave' sidewalk paving.
Already, these improvements are under assault. Several weeks ago, Bayrock Corporation, the builders of the Oakwalk project at 40th and San Pablo jackhammered up the sidewalk to do some work but they failed to replace what they damaged. Where before, there was an attractive uninterrupted brick basket weave pattern, now after the contractor finished, there is a "crack control" joint running through the width of the sidewalk, disrupting the pattern, creating a piecemeal look.
Any contractor working for a private homeowner would never leave a job like this since they know they wouldn't get paid. When it comes to the public realm however, there seems to be another standard altogether. Here, contractors are allowed to cut corners with no negative repercussions at all. The council was alerted to this but it was only member Jennifer West that seemed interested in protecting the resident's interests.
The City Engineer Maurice Kaufman was informed by Ms West to find out about the shoddy work done by the contractor Bayrock. Bayrock for its part, offered no excuse for the shortcut on quality other than the enhancement of their profit margin. As a result of a Tattler investigation, Mr Kaufman reported that Bayrock was told they were expected to restore the sidewalk to the condition they found it in but they said "no". Mr Kaufman told the Tattler that's "good enough" and that the issue is resolved with that after commenting "what are we going to do?".
We expect the city to hold companies like Bayrock accountable until they fix what they damaged but once again forces intent on protecting business interests have prevailed. Bayrock has been let off the hook for a job no private person would tolerate as acceptable. If they were working in the private sector, they'd go home without the final payment.
The Emeryville city council is known for its pro-business culture, but residents have a reasonable expectation that businesses not cheapen and degrade the public assets in large ways or even small ways like this. In this case, Bayrock just needs to fix what they broke and the city needs to intercede on our behalf and force them if need be. It's a reasonable expectation.