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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Redevelopment Agencies Get Axe

The California Legislature voted today to abolish Redevelopment Agencies statewide with certain provisos.  Emeryville could be on the hook for $13.2 million as a result.  Below is a story re-printed from the Oakland Tribune:

Oakland quietly reels as Brown signs bills eliminating redevelopment

By Sean Maher
Oakland Tribune
Updated: 06/29/2011 08:04:53 PM PDT
OAKLAND -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills Wednesday eliminating the state's redevelopment agencies and allowing them to pay a total of $1.7 billion to revive themselves, triggering a promise by his opponents to file a lawsuit and sending Oakland and numerous other California cities into a hushed, cautious damage-control effort.
If the bills are successful, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said the city would have to agree to pay about $40 million to the state by Nov. 1 or dissolve the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. After that, the agency would still have to make $10 million in annual payments. Quan said this would force the city into "scraping the bottom of the barrel," wiping out reserves and delaying affordable housing projects.
Quan's comments came at Tuesday night's city council meeting, as she and other city leaders agreed to keep fairly quiet on the issue, expecting that fierce litigation is imminent and concerned that saying too much on the record could compromise the city in a legal fight.
Indeed, the California Redevelopment Agency plans to file a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court "in the near future," while asking for a stay on the legislation so agencies can continue to operate while the court battles unfold, spokeswoman Kathy Fairbanks said.
"This is the third lawsuit filed against the state for trying to take redevelopment funds in the last four years," Fairbanks said. The two prior lawsuits are part of why Proposition 22, passed with a wide margin of public voter support in 2010, includes protection of those funds, she added.
Officials at the state and Oakland redevelopment agencies declined to comment Wednesday on whether the city would be a party in the lawsuit.
"My own opinion is that the (proposal) is not only unjust and destroys jobs, but also is illegal," said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (At-Large). The council is expecting a legal briefing Thursday. It was unknown exactly what Oakland's obligations may be, but millions in program dollars largely devoted to low- and moderate-income housing programs could potentially be on the chopping block.
Redevelopment is designed to help cities eliminate blight and revitalize struggling, economically depressed areas by reinvesting local property tax revenues that would otherwise be shared with counties, cities and schools.
For example, the city's Mortgage Assistance Program, which aids first-time homebuyers in Oakland with low-interest, low-pressure loans, has depended on redevelopment funding for $2.5 million annually to help between 50 and 100 homebuyers pull together down payments and other needed cash for homes that cost $503,500 or less.
Program manager Jackie Campbell said the program is especially important now in this era of foreclosures and decreased housing prices. "Redevelopment is our primary source of funding," Campbell added. Other sources tend to be grants, which are often one-time-only resources.
There are about 400 redevelopment agencies in cities and other local governments across the state, and California stands to save $1.7 billion with their elimination, according to budget projections. Cities may choose to pay their individual share of that money in order to keep their agencies alive, but would also have to pay smaller, annual contributions to the state in perpetuity.
Redevelopment opponents have called the program a drain on state funds at a time when state finances are in brutal shape, citing what they say is abuse of program funds that are used for expenses that aren't appropriate, essentially using the redevelopment cash to plug other holes in their budgets.
"We're deeply disappointed that slim majorities in the legislature passed this budget that relies on the illegal extortion of revenues from redevelopment agencies that will never materialize," said John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Agency, in a statement Tuesday night.
According to the state agency, most East Bay cities would face multimillion-dollar payments. Those include Fremont at $9 million; Hayward at $4 million; Concord at $6.2 million, Alameda at $5.2 million; Emeryville at $13.2 million; and Richmond at $10.4 million.
Cities like Berkeley and Walnut Creek would be called to pay about $413,000 and $1.3 million, respectively, because they have smaller redevelopment agencies.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Letter To The Tattler: City Attorney Initiative

The ballot initiative petition to change the way the city handles its legal affairs is being distributed around town for residents to sign.  Signers must live in Emeryville and be registered to vote here.  Many citizens are helping to solicit signatures for the possible November ballot.  These petition carriers have indicated that helping to circulate the petitions is open to all residents and Council Member Ken Bukowski can be contacted for those wishing to sign the petition or to help circulate one.  Mr Bukowski's contact number is in the letter (below) that was received today for posting in the Tattler:  
To the Tattler:
The ballot initiative concerning the legal department at City Hall is important for the city's financial health.  Many cities our size and larger don't have City Attorney departments but instead contract out their legal work with specialized law firms, depending on the case.  Emeryville has also contracted out many legal firms for various legal issues in the past and continues to do so.  The Redevelopment Agency has finished the bulk of its work and is likely to shrink in size and as a consequence it is not warranted at this time to carry the kind of overhead we have with our legal department. This ballot initiative would put the issue before Emeryville voters and will permit both pro and con arguments to respond and these will be printed on the ballot. 
It's important to resolve this issue.  Signers of the petition for the ballot initiative will remain anonymous to all but the Alameda county registrar. 

Please sign this ballot initiative petition.

Contact me at (510) 435-1861 or Joan Strasser at (510) 653-3174 and we will make the petition available for you.  Council member Ken Bukowski also can be contacted at 305-0000 and he will bring the petition to you.  

-Scott Donahue
 Emeryville resident

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Government Accountability Project

The Emeryville Government Accountability Project
Citizen Access

As part of the on-going effort to strengthen democratic institutions and citizen involvement in Emeryville, the Tattler will publish the telephone numbers of elected officials as they become known.  For decades here politicians made their phone numbers public and would take calls from constituents.  Sadly, this tradition has been waning, and citizen access has eroded.  Meanwhile, developers routinely meet with politicians and city staff in closed door sessions. We are dismayed to see this weakening of citizen access to the levers of power even while corporate access has never been stronger.  Accordingly, we now add the unpublished telephone number of school board member Miguel Dwin to the list of published numbers of Emeryville's elected officials.
Future would be politicians should take warning:  If you win office and try to keep your telephone number confidential, the Tattler will publish it if we can find it.
Here then is the newest contact-

Miguel Dwin, School Board Member:
(510) 381-2023

Here is the list so far:
City Council
Nora Davis -  (510) 652-2199
Ruth Atkin - Unlisted
Ken Bukowski -  (510) 305-0000
Kurt Brinkman - Unlisted
Jennifer West - (510) 420-5795

School Board
Josh Simon -  (510) 601-1480
Cheryl Webb - (510) 654-6012*
Melodi Dice - Unlisted
Pat Hooper - (510) 384-7882*
*unlisted but obtained by the Tattler

Another Piedmont School Moves To Emeryville

Emerville's Ralph Hawley Middle School on 61st Street has been rented to another City of Piedmont public school.  Beach Elementary School will lease the former Emeryville school now that that Piedmont's Wildwood Elementary School has left.  Emery Unified School District abandoned the Ralph Hawley school in a money saving consolidation bid several years ago.

Re-Printed from the Peidmont Patch:

Beach Elementary Packs Up

The school is moving to Emeryville for a year while the building undergoes seismic retrofits and modernization.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

City Lowers Fine 36% On Park Avenue Tree Cutter

City Lowers Fine On Tree Cutter, Cites Compelling Ignorance

In a daring, possibly precedent setting move Tuesday night, Emeryville's city council reduced a fine of a man caught illegally cutting city owned trees by some 36%.  The man, Rick Gerow of Gerow Properties, a Lafayette California based real estate firm said in his defence he was unaware that Emeryville has a tree ordinance and that of the three trees he cut, one was dead, one was injured and one had damaged the sidewalk in front of his Park Avenue property.

Rick Gerow
The city originally fined Mr Gerow $14,100 for the infraction, an amount mandated by the city's tree ordinance based on professional tree valuation, replanting costs, administrative costs and penalty but the council used it's option provided by the ordinance to lower the amount to $9000, a reduction of $5100 or about 36%.  The city did not indicate if its out-of-pocket costs would be fully recovered by the $9000 figure.

Mr Gerow noted that because the trees in question were originally planted by him as a condition of approval for a 1990's remodel construction project at the Park Avenue address, he was simply maintaining the trees when he cut them and had every intention of replanting.
Cities, it should be noted, commonly make applicant tree planting a condition of approval for construction projects however the city becomes the rightful owner of any street trees in the public right of way as is the case here with these three street trees.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Emery School District Top Spender In County, Not Much To Show For It

Emery School District: Lowest On 'Bang-For-Buck' Scale
The following story validates an earlier report from the Center for American Progress, a Washington based progressive think tank regarding school districts and a quality they call "productivity".  That report released in January 2011 and reported on by the Tattler on February 8th shows Emery Unified School District among the lowest in the region in a critical performance criterion, productivity, which measures academic achievement relative to school spending.  The story below is a simple combining money spent against number of pupils as it relates to test scores and is not scientific per se.  It is noteworthy that it supports the more scientific Center for American Progress report however.  The February 8th Tattler story is called School District Fails 'Productivity' Test

Re-Printed from the Contra Costa Times:

Study shows some East Bay districts get bigger bang for their bucks than others

Updated: 06/07/2011 04:49:24 PM PDT

Click photo to enlarge

In the East Bay, school spending and academic achievement vary widely, with some districts appearing to get more bang for their bucks than others.
The reasons for the disparities are complex, district officials say. Yet most agree that spending more doesn't necessarily guarantee higher Academic Performance Index, or API, scores, while spending less doesn't always mean students will fare poorly.
Contra Costa County's top-spending district -- Orinda elementary -- also had the top API score. Alameda County's top spender was Emery, which ranked near the bottom in test scores. But Alameda County's top-scoring district -- Piedmont unified -- was also a relatively big spender.
Orinda spent $9,473 per student and achieved an API score of 954 on a 1,000-point scale; 800 is the statewide goal for proficiency. Emery spent $13,680 per student and scored 709, while Piedmont doled out $11,579 per student and scored 925.
"It's actually very hard to isolate the factors that cause the API score to be as high as it is," said Lisa Bissell, Orinda's director of instruction and curriculum. "Per pupil spending may be one factor, but I think it's more about how we use what we have, rather than the amount of money we get. We have a high priority on professional development."
Both Orinda and Piedmont get about one-third of their funding from parcel taxes, foundations and parent donations. This money gives them the luxury of spending on small class sizes, art teachers and other programs and staff, which some less affluent districts can't afford.
"Piedmont's 'extra' expenses are for the 'extra' services such as elementary librarians, counselors and middle and high school seven-period days to include a variety of elective choices," Piedmont Superintendent Constance Hubbard said in an e-mail. "What is termed 'extra' now was not considered 'extra' 30 years ago."
Emery Superintendent John Sugiyama said the tiny Emeryville district, which serves about 726 students, has a higher percentage of children from economically disadvantaged homes than any other Alameda County district, including Oakland.
"So, they come to us with challenges that we're committed to address," Sugiyama said. "Some of the added expense goes to trying to level the playing field a little bit."
The same is true in Contra Costa County's lowest-scoring West Contra Costa district, which spent $8,899 per student and achieved an API score of 696. The district has a large percentage of special education and low-income students, said Sheri Gamba, associate superintendent for business services.
"Families in cities with greater median incomes, like San Ramon, may be able to spend much more in providing their children with the background knowledge and information that helps them to be more successful in school," Gamba said in an e-mail.
A Times analysis of the California Watch data showed four districts beat the odds by spending less than three-quarters of districts in the state, while scoring in the top quarter. These were: Brentwood elementary and Walnut Creek elementary in Contra Costa County and Castro Valley unified and Fremont unified in Alameda County.
Two districts appeared to be sorely "upside down" in terms of expenditures and test scores, with spending in the top 25 percent statewide and achievement in the bottom 25 percent. These were Emery and Oakland.
Oakland spends more than some others in part because it pays $6 million on a state loan from when it was in receivership, said spokesman Troy Flint. It also spends more on security than most districts and has more schools per capita, including early childhood education centers, charter schools and small campuses, which cost more to operate, he said.
The district has developed a draft strategic plan aimed at turning schools into community centers that provide medical, dental and mental health services, he said. Kaiser is providing an $8 million grant and the district wants to collaborate with other community partners to holistically care for the city's children with shared funding, he said.
Many other East Bay districts received test scores that appeared to be in roughly line with their spending. For example, the Mt. Diablo district in Contra Costa County spent $8,199 per student and received a score of 784. Both were in the median range statewide.
Mt. Diablo Superintendent Steven Lawrence said some California districts receive hundreds to thousands more per student than others. But statewide, districts receive $1,000 to $2,000 below the national average, he said.
"California's leaders and citizens need to decide whether or not a world class education is necessary for our children to economically compete nationally and internationally," Lawrence said in an e-mail. "If so, funding our schools at least at the national average should be a minimum goal."
Spending Vs. scores
A sample of 2009-10 per-student spending compared with 2010 Academic Performance Index (API) growth scores in some East Bay districts. Browse the California Watch database at
District Per-student spending API score*
Alameda City $8,630 833
Berkeley $12,092 785
Castro Valley $7,429 854
Emery $13,680 709
Fremont $7,449 858
Hayward $8,962 707
Livermore Valley $7,993 822
New Haven $8,182 777
Oakland $10,958 719
Piedmont $11,579 925
Pleasanton $7,599 906
San Lorenzo $8,096 739
District Per-student spending API score
Acalanes $9,327 899
Brentwood $6,918 840
Antioch $7,578 732
Liberty $7,519 747
Martinez $7,555 819
Mt. Diablo $8,199 784
Oakley $6,909 779
Orinda $9,473 954
Pittsburg $7,995 718
San Ramon Valley $7,824 916
Walnut Creek $7,345 907
West Contra Costa $8,899 696
State's Median $8,213 783
*Target is 800
Source: California Watch