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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Budget Crisis? What Budget Crisis?

"Me Too" Clause Increases Pay For City Hall Managers

Managers at City Hall have declared that city-wide budget cuts, made in the wake of the June budget battle should come from somewhere other than their salaries the Tattler has learned. Tucked inside a July 20 memo, penned by Assistant City Manager Delores Turner for the City Council's consideration, is language that would restore the pay (an effective increase) of managers at City Hall. The managers had earlier agreed to a pay cut to help defray the budget crisis.

The memo reports that the Management of Emeryville Services Authority (MESA), a collection of non-union city employees at the management level, has decided to recommend to the City Council to vote to increase their pay at Tuesday night's council meeting. The memo says that if the Service Employee SEIU union member underlings are able to negotiate a lower contribution rate to their retirement, then all the non-union managers will automatically get the same deal, hence the use of the term 'me too'.

The memo falsely justifies this pay increase for top level managers by claiming the managers earn "comparable salaries" to the union employees when the union employee "greater pay provisions (such as overtime compensation)" is considered and so in the interest of 'fairness' they should be let out of the previous pay cut agreement. This argument was made because the SEIU had earlier stated that most employees under its representation don't make enough money to allow a cut in pay owing to the high cost of Bay Area living. The management at City Hall has not made that argument, until now.

A check of the facts shows the pay related claims made by the managers in Ms Turner's letter are incorrect. In 2009, gross pay amounts for all city employees show only two SEIU-represented employees earned more than $88,000 gross (including overtime) while 24 unrepresented employees earned more than that amount. These facts belie the oft claimed unsustainable nature of the city's pension costs being based on the high SEIU employee compensation, the majority of which earn less than $60,000.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bay Street Ready To Receive More Manna From City Hall

Citizen's Group Moves To Stop Another Give-A-Way To
Mall Developer

A local citizen's group will attempt to scupper plans by city officials to grant another extension to an East Coast developer still trying to figure out what to do with a large chunk of prime Emeryville land.
If granted in September as expected, it would mark the sixth annual "exclusive negotiating" deal that city officials have doled out to Washington D.C.-based mall developer, Madison Marquette.
The property in question, dubbed 'Site-B' by the city, sits between the developer's existing Bay Street mall and Powell Street.
Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE), has said enough is enough. The group contends that the existing mall is geared to regional shoppers and provides little for local residents.

If it grants the extension, city officials would be barred from considering any plan not submitted by Madison Marquette. With the economy still faltering, its possible, if not likely, that the company would have a difficult time assembling the multi-million dollar building loans needed to finance a major project. Madison Marquette has indicated this is in fact happening as they have still not presented any specific proposal for the site.

RULE representative Ruth Major says Emeryville deserves a better option than what Bay Street has delivered. She noted "Continuing to support Madison Marquette with yet another extension is ridiculous". She added, "The original agreement, five years ago, gave them 60 days to submit a preliminary plan for the site. I have yet to see it, it may be out there but it is certainly not transparent if it is. My understanding is that Madison Marquette still did not have a plan, as of 2009 when the fifth extension was granted".

Ms Major pointed out that the council has already given more than $50 million in direct subsidy to the developer so far and granting six years of exclusive developing rights amounts to a further taxpayer subsidy for Madison Marquette by locking out tax receipts from a valuable piece of property.

Last year, when the city council bestowed a fifth extension, RULE organized a City Hall rally demanding officials reopen the vacant parcel hoping another developer might present a proposal better meeting residents' needs. In response, other developers have shown interest in developing the site with plans considered 'more resident friendly,' notably Federal Development LLC. That company, however, has been rebuffed by the council in favor of Madison Marquette.

The idea of extending the benefit of exclusive rights to Madison Marquette an unprecedented sixth time drew criticism from Council member Jennifer West, "The City Council needs to listen more to the residents. After five extensions of the contract, the onus is on them [Madison Marquette] to convince the community that their [non]plan is viable and that it will directly and substantively benefit the residents" she said.

As a corollary, citizens have also complained that the existing mall has become a magnet for criminals in the East Bay and crime has been steadily increasing there. Chief of Police Ken James agrees and he claims that Bay Street is the single largest reason that the Emeryville Police Department has racked up so much overtime pay.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Petrograd to Leningrad
to St Petersburg

More than five years after its inception, The Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL) is undergoing a name change; for now it's being called the Joint Use Facility (JUF) until presumably a different name can be agreed upon by those in power. ECCL watchers have pointed to the extreme sensitivity shown by the Council and the School Board to negative public association for the expensive community project as a reason for the name change, especially since a $95 million bond initiative for the project is looming.

Council members and the School Board, together called the City Schools Committee, have noted they want to do everything in their power to increase the chances that the bond initiative will pass. They are very sensitive that the freshly released survey by the Lew Edwards Group, an Oakland political consulting firm commissioned by the city, has indicated that the Emeryville Center of Community Life is a losing idea and that the voters should be told they are voting simply on a school bond. Lew Edwards' information shows school bonds generally are looked at with more favor by voters and the school/community social services project presented previously by ECCL, is a loser in November.

Further, the political consultants are also pushing earthquake safety as a way to spin this massive project. Unspoken is the fact that any building more than five years old is not up to currant seismic codes and it's not fiscally prudent or even possible to be continually tearing down schools and rebuilding them as seismic codes change.

So it's going to be all about a school bond on the November 2 ballot and the need for seismic upgrading because that's what will sell this project according to the consultants.

We feel this project, now slated at almost $120 million, after $25 million kicked in directly from Emeryville taxpayers, is too important for trickery like this. The people should be allowed a real debate about a public project this massive for our town. We are chagrined the City Schools Committee has decided to engage in a game of three card monte rather than leveling with the Emeryville people about what the real stakes are.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Court Slams Bukowski over Niece's Eviction

Judgment Against Bukowski

An Alameda County Judge slapped Emeryville Councilman Ken Bukowski with a bill for $1,500 in damages recently in a case stemming from a botched eviction at Bukowski's Doyle Street compound. County Superior Court small claims Judge John A Renzman ordered Mr. Bukowski on July 1 to pay his niece, Kim Bukowski $1500 for damages stemming from an improper eviction from an apartment owned by the councilman, Ms Bukowski said. Mr. Bukowski was granted 60 days to comply. So far, the court ordered judgment has not been paid.

Ms. Bukowski was living with her child at the Doyle Street apartment when the improper eviction took place.

The apartment building owned by Mr. Bukowski has been under investigation by the City for numerous violations; among them, keeping unclean premises leading to rodent harborage and code violations including renting an illegal non-habitable unit.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Electoral Humiliation Blamed on Delays, Chamber

City's O'Keeffe Blames Chamber Of Commerce For Defeat

Dawdling, and opposition from the Chamber of Commerce are why a major tax hike was torpedoed May 18, according to City Manager Patrick O'Keeffe.

According to a post election memo Mr. O'Keeffe penned analyzing the lopsided drubbing, the measure failed because of delays in getting it on the ballot and because, "members of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors that were opposed had time to organize commercial and residential properties against the measure." The internal document, dated June 22, was distributed to a handful of select city officials, and obtained by The Tattler.

The measure, which would have established a "Landscape and Lighting District," and collect $1.2 million annually to maintain parks and streetlamps, was rejected by an overwhelming 91 percent of voters. It was the widest margin in Emeryville election history. Park and lighting costs have thus far been paid by the city's general fund. A new tax district would have freed up that money for other purposes.

Only property owners were permitted to vote in the by-mail election. Votes were weighed by the size of a voters property, such that, the preference of an office building owner was worth hundreds of times the choice of an individual homeowner.

Mr. O'Keeffe's missive is almost certain to partially disrupt the cozy relationship between to the City Hall and the Chamber. In the memo, Mr. O'Keeffe absolves himself of any resposibility for the loss and shifts the blame to the Chamber of Commerce. He previously said the Chamber supported the measure and warmly welcomed their support. O'Keeffe had earlier assured both the Chamber and the Council that voters would easily pass the tax.

Before the measure failed, the Council gave $35,000 of taxpayer funds to a political consulting firm to perform a pre-election voter survey, hoping it would build voter support.

Another Roll Of The Dice

In a related story, the council is gambling that Emeryville voters have had a change of heart. In what could prove an even more embarrassing replay, the Council has been assured that its glory project, the $95 million school bond initiative to build a "Center of Community Life" campus, will sail to victory with 65 percent of the vote. The measure will be on the ballot November 2. To help goose public support, the Council has lavished more than $1 million on campaign consultants and associated costs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How They Voted

Spend $30,000 To "Search" For
Pat O'Keeffe?

At the Tattler, we've noticed the city council and other deliberative bodies in Emeryville make controversial votes that get forgotten by the residents over time. In deference to the general edification of public policy and to strengthen Emeryville's democratic institutions, we will publish occasional short reminders on how the Power Elite in town have voted on these controversial issues.

In February, 2007, the issue before the City Council was:

Should the City hire Pat O'Keeffe as City Manager after paying $30,000 for a nation-wide executive search that Council member Dick Kassis called a waste of time and money?

Nora Davis - YES
Ruth Atkin - YES
Dick Kassis - YES

John Fricke - NO
Ken Bukowski - NO

Pat O'Keeffe was working for the City for 11 years as the head of the Redevelopment Agency at the time and Dick Kassis said they should just vote to have Mr O'Keeffe move up to City Manager and not waste time and money on a phony executive search. He said everyone knew they would hire Mr O'Keeffe in the end anyway. He subsequently went ahead and voted for the search along with his colleagues and later they voted to hire Mr O'Keeffe (by the 3-2 vote). Council member Fricke revealed after Mr O'Keeffe was confirmed, that of the several applicants that were considered, Mr O'Keeffe was not the most qualified applicant for the job.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


That Old Time Feeling

Council member Ken Bukowski is a man, by his own reckoning, beset with debt. He owes thousands of dollars to developers all over town and he also owes $15,000 to the state for 11 campaign violations of the Political Reform Act in 2009, determined by the Fair Political Practices Committee. To call Mr Bukowski a desperate man would not be an exaggeration. And yet, Ken Bukowski is also a man, who until recently, was in possession of something extremely valuable to certain members of the Emeryville Power Elite.

Council member Bukowski has been the lone holdout among elected officials in Emeryville, against the Emeryville Center of Community Life. We use the words 'has been' since Mr Bukowski shocked ECCL watchers last week when he announced in a June 29th letter to residents that he is now a total supporter of the $120 million project, a complete reversal of his longstanding opposition to the controversial school rebuild proposal.

Previously, Mr Bukowski did not keep his disdain for the Center of Community Life secret. For more than three years he has railed against the project both publicly and privately. His opposition has centered on the extreme cost of the proposal and the incompetence and lack of forthrightness of the people pushing the project. It is indeed surprising to see a sudden 180 degree turn in Mr Bukowski's opinion especially since the reasons for his previous opposition have not been rectified and his previous criticisms still stand.

Change of Heart? Really?
The flip-flop comes at a critical time for the Center of Community Life. The City/Schools Committee will soon vote to place the issue before the voters in the form of a $95 million general obligation bond initiative in November. With the bond vote looming, Mr Bukowski's obstinacy has been a source for worry for the backers of the project.

We are chagrined at the prospect of mutual back scratching going on. We have never been comfortable with Mr Bukowski's prodigious back room finagling and this sudden change of heart on the Center of Community Life only adds to that old time feeling that Ken Bukowski is up to his old tricks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Letter To The Editor

I recently posted a comment on the Emeryville google group (bike_walk Emeryville) about egregious spending and equally questionable inaction on the part of the city council. I assumed they and perhaps citizens as well would respond but, assuming my remarks were even read, i appear to be mistaken about the level of interest in these matters..

Specifically, i indicated that the salaries of (City Manager Pat) O'Keeffe and (City Attorney Mike) Biddle exceeded $200000/year , that they have additional benefits, including paid health care, that their contracts can be obtained for review, that O'Keeffe should be fired because the budget deficit was incurred and continues on his watch and he refuses any responsibility for it ,that Biddle's performance as assessed by the costs of the litigation he has presided over, should be evaluated, that it may be less expensive to replace both men by contracting out their positions and that same should be explored.

I also asked whether either man has had to compete openly for his position and that if they have not, to instigate that kind of open competition immediately in the interest of cost cutting and that an explanation of why there has been no such open competition over several contract renewals, be made by the council.

I also remarked that (City Councilman Ken) Bukowski's continued presence is a stain on city gov't and that he should be removed forthwith. I offered an email i received from him as well.

I indicated that there has been no action on obtaining a tenant for the marina, no feedback on the status of that from the parties contracted to find same and therefore a loss of potential income to the city continues.. I requested that feedback.

I commented that i would like to embrace Emeryville as my city but cannot do so unless the kinds of issues mentioned are taken seriously....
Given that the council and many citizens may not be concerned about such matters ( with the exception of City Councilwoman Jennifer West on the council) I think the city will get what it continues to receive on these issues.

I think we should all be troubled by the existence of these very fixable problems and hope that they will be addressed now -and certainly at election time.

Walt Watman
Emeryville resident