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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Letter From Planning Commissioner Art Hoff

The following was submitted to the Tattler today. The author, Art Hoff, is a Planning Commissioner for the City of Emeryville and a longtime resident.  Mr Hoff has long advocated for the Emery schools and has donated generously to the schools over the years.  ECCL means the Emeryville Center of Community Life.
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Should Anna Yates [elementary school] be moved and incorporated in the ECCL site?

School officials argue that there are substantial academic and administrative advantages to moving Anna Yates to the new ECCL site.

On the other hand we just spent 8 to 9 million refurbishing Anna Yates and there are strong family ties to the existing facilities.

It would be interesting to know what the parents and teachers feel about the move. There was substantial dissent expressed at a recent ECCL design study.

Art Hoff


  1. I was one of the parents very strongly opposed, at the first meeting, to moving Anna Yates to the new ECCL location based on the two layouts proposed by the design committee. Neither of those layouts kept the high schoolers adequately separate from the elementary students from the adult rec users.

    At the second meeting a third layout was proposed which looks very workable, subject to two caveats:

    1. If we had no other choice but to move both schools and the rec center (no other available land) to the new location, I would support the new layout as the best we can do.

    2. If consolidating high school and elementary school campuses into a single facility were better tested in America, I wouldn't be so worried about putting all the students on one very compact location (remember, Emery Secondary pretty much fills up that half block already!).

    I was under the impression that the bond measure passed to support construction of the ECCL MANDATED location of Anna Yates, Emery Secondary, the public library, and the adult recreational (gym/pool) facilities and meeting rooms all on the same site.

    At the second meeting a resident took me aside and told me this isn't the case - that we could leave Anna Yates where it is, without losing the funding.

    My final opinion depends on whether the bond measure requires everything in one location.

    If the bond measure does NOT impose a co-location requirement, then I would much rather not experiment with, or take risks with, our kids, and would prefer to keep Anna Yates just where it is, it is a beautiful location and campus.

    I love the layout and feel of the existing Anna Yates campus, where my 7 y.o. daughter attends 2nd grade now, and where my 4.5 y.o. will start kindergarden next year. I would do a lot to keep Anna Yates where it is now, but I keep getting told that it is "impossible" and will "lose me support" in the election as I campaign for City Council.

    I guess I'm also a little grumpy about the way the bond measure was shoved through at the last election on grounds our kids were at dire risk in terms of earthquake safety, when that "risk" card was played inaccurately as a scare tactic. We love our kids and even a $90 million or so bond measure in a horrible economy won't deter "yes" votes, but I still wonder if we got bamboozled by a City Council that wouldn't have public meetings on the issues BEFORE the bond went on the ballot.

    NOW we are having public meetings, but the BIG decisions seem to be a "done deal" and we seem to be there just to "bless" the community involvement "mandate."

    I hate it when people put on a circus in the name of public involvement when the public involvement should be on the front end, not the back end, of decision-making.

    If people want to know why I am running for City Council, it's stuff like this that got me to throw my hat in the ring.

  2. What is proposed for the Anna Yates site if (when) the school moves to the Center for Community Life? A massive housing development destroying the neighborhood character, and polluting the area with construction noise and dust for many months? Sell or lease the site to a private school? Leave the site empty, a dead zone and attractive nuisance until the economy recovers and development returns?

  3. why is planning commissioner hoff now questioning the relocation of anna yates elementary school after the $9 million renovation?

    i too am a generous supporter of anna yates library (as much as my social security will allow) and have volunteered at the library for five years.

    readers should be reminded that initially the city considered a parcel tax to pay for the emeryville center of community life. they hired a consulting firm, townsend, to take a survey and learned that voters would not approve a parcel tax since the last parcel tax, measure a, was approved in 2003. measure a commenced july 1, 2003 for six years at $.10 per sq. ft and expired july 1, 2009. it was then extended to july 1, 2019 at $.15 per sq. ft. the city then changed their strategy to pass a bond measure since a bond measure required 55% of the voters instead of a 2/3 vote as required by a parcel tax.
    NOWHERE in the measure j campaign literature did it mention demolishing part of the high school and combining the elementary school with the high school on one campus. savvy residents knew from the get go that the two campuses would be combined from information released by supporters of eccl.

    daniel borenstein, business columnist for the oakland tribune wrote a very definitive article about measure j in his sept. 19, 2010 article.

    even the ballot measure stipulated building seismically safe schools, improve energy efficiency, update science labs, expand after schol recreation, and install current technology. how do you retrofit an existing school, improve energy efficiency, update science labs, expand after school recreation and install current technology in a school that is scheduled to be moved to another location. but the most important question is: what does the city and school district plan to do with a vacant school building after having spent $9 million in renovations? what happened to measure a funds when measure j campaign literature showed faulty electrical wiring, lab shelves that look like disaster areas, lack of bunsen burners, and bathroom floors in need of immediate tile work.

    voters need to demand an audit and accounting of how measure a funds are being spent. this is another reason why the role and responsibility of the measure j citizens oversight committee is so crucial.

    the one saving grace for someone like me who is retired and on social security and medicare is that as a property owner over age 65, there is an exemption from paying for measure a. there is no such benefit for measure j. i've got to pay for measure j until i croak.

  4. Note to readers-
    The Tattler will, in the near future, investigate this idea of saving Anna Yates Elementary School. Council candidates have differing opinions about this issue and it is also starting to gain traction among Emeryville residents as awareness of the school's incipient demise grows.

  5. mr. webber:
    read paragraph 2 of full text of measure j under heading "findings."

    "the district willl be collaborating with the city of emeryville to save taxpayers money by building facilities that maximize cost efficiences while creating safe schools and quality learning environments. instead of operating two schools and community facilities separately, the new facilities will include a range of essential services such as adult education, job training, ....."

    i suppose as an attorney you can determine whether this means "required in one location" or not.

  6. Yes, that Stanford law degree, yet is incapable of conducting simple research on Measure J, on City Finances (several years of budget documents are posted on the City's website). Makes me question the quality of education one receives at Stanford.

  7. See, that's what I like about Emeryville, it's easy to keep the residents in the dark by convincing them they will look stupid if they ask questions. Kind of like that old fairy tale, the Emperor's New Clothes. Everybody is so afraid to look dumb they don't ask the basic questions.

    Can anyone give me an answer - was the vote on school bonds a requirement that Anna Yates and Emery Secondary be on the same campus? Or not? Because everyone is acting as though if we don't put them on the same campus, we won't get the bond money. That's the 900 pound gorilla in the room.

    So three simple questions:

    1. Can we get all the bond money, but just spend it on building all the facilities we need at the Emery Secondary campus, EXCEPT for Anna Yates?

    2. Can we use any left-over money on Anna Yates at its existing location? Or would we have to raise separate money to fund any new work at the existing Anna Yates campus?

    3. And the (apparently) $9 million dollar question - how could we spend $9 million renovating Anna Yates, but the buildings are still "temporary buildings" which are reaching the end of their (legally) useful life?

    Now, should it require a Stanford Law degree to get the answers to these simple questions if we have transparency of government in Emeryville?

    After all, if it is way too late in the game to even think about leaving Anna Yates where it is, why are we even having this discussion? So if we raised bond money for the ECCL on the premise it would be one big center, then start changing the "deal" the voters expected by leaving Anna Yates out of it, are we playing fairly with the voters who thought this would be the last time they would have to write a check for a while?

    And riddle me this: Jac Asher is widely credited with saving ECDC (Emeryville Child Development Center) and that is her gateway to sitting on the City Council (she has endorsements from all the incumbents except Ken, so she is their golden choice). Yet, it turns out that the City bamboozled her - told her group that the only way to save ECDC was to institute layoffs, then a year later the City has a $2mm surplus. The ECDC drifts rudderless with no director, when one quits ostensibly for a better job, but let's face it, to get out of the uncertainty clouding ECDC. Then there are two severe safety violations at ECDC and management tries to hang the staff instead of asking why they let the center run without a director. So they rush to hire an interim director without talking about it to the newly formed ECDC city committee first.

    BUT, the City Manager apparently has plenty of time to invite Jac and Brian in to tell them, not the ECDC committee, that the City has now found funds to channel to ECDC. Why not convene a special ECDC committe meeting and tell the whole committee? Isn't that better, more transparent, government?

    I was only taught one thing at Stanford. To ask questions, and listen critically to the answers. The important stuff shouldn't be buried on a website. When there are committees, they shouldn't be window dressing, but real working committees treated with the respect they deserve.

    (Also see the article on Shirley Enomoto's resignation from the ECCL financial oversight committee due to the lack of actual financial reports to review - is there transparency there?)

  8. Every important issue in Emeryville has to be fought tooth and nail with our elected officials due to their ideas not being properly thought out (just like "Traffic Calming"). There is no real planning in this city, our planning commissonors are political appointed hacks who base decisions on their feelings. Left to themselves, these pigs will run amuck.

  9. mr. webber:

    if you are running for city council, i suggest you do your own research (such as reading ballot measure j which you received from the registrar's office before you voted last november,) instead of asking your constituents or blog editors for answers. likewise, your financial questions directed to mr. reuter who just this month became a member of the finance committee. there is no transparency (gawd i hate that overworked word) at city hall. don't you find it strange that the finance committee originally consisted of two council members and now it has grown to seven?

    as for ecdc, instead of bad mouthing jacqueline asher for the work and leadership she provided in saving this center from being privatized, it is almost impossible to outsmart city hall when it comes to decisions like this. we all know when cuts are made here, others are being hired there. read the monthly council agendas and staff reports and you will immediately recognize some new employees while positions in the police department are being eliminated. and this is what we are trying to change in november.

  10. As an employee of the school district, I'm not sure what Michael Webber means by the new construction being temporary and beyond its usefulness. It is prefab, and cheaply done, yes, but it is not temporary. And I am also sure that it's lifespan is longer than 3 years. (Just doing a quick google search, I can see that most temporary buildings have a 20 year lifespan. I think that argument is specious, and that you made it up. And if you are willing to make up 'facts' about something so inconsequential, why would that make you a good candidate for city council?)

    The main problem at Anna Yates is that the old building does not have the infrastructure to support a 21st century school. That 9 million was spent to expand the amount of space, not repair or upgrade/update anything. Weather or not that is accomplished by combining the schools on the same site, or rebuilding the old building at Anna Yates, I don't really care. That whole school needs to be modernized, not just half of it.

  11. @ Shirley Enomoto -

    You quoted from the findings for Measure J which read, in part, " instead of operating two schools and community facilities separately".

    But the devil's in the details.

    Nothing in the project list in Exhibit A-1 to the Measure (and hence must be read together with the Measure) mandates a single center.

    In fact, the Bond Project List mentions replacing temporary buildings with permanent structures and Anna Yates has a lot of temporary buildings, so presumably the funds can be used to retrofit Anna Yates in its existing location.

    Note that the finding paragraph you partially quoted goes on to include "child care" facilities (ECDC!) yet no one has proposed to move ECDC.

    As I read it, the Measure would support location of the adult services and community center on the existing high school campus but does NOT require moving Anna Yates. In addition, funds from the Measure could be used to make any required changes to Anna Yates such as replacing temporary buildings.

    However I am not an expert in Municipal Chicanery ... oops, municipal law. The commercial leases, licenses, and purchase and sale agreements I drafted were all negotiated by attorneys for both sides where the goal was clarity so the relationship would be sustainable and free of conflict. This bond measure is ambiguous. To say the least. It was promoted as an "ECCL" measure to the public but the actual text is just a "school funds" measure with a mandate to consolidate adult facilities in some rational manner with a new school building.

    Should we ask Mr. Biddle's opinion? Before or after he talks to Ruth? How about an independent opinion, from Manuela perhaps?

    I'm mad that this "Center for Community Life" was shoved down our throats without any concern for our children's safety and development. "Later" is what I was always told when I raised objections based on safety and development. Well later is now, but now they've been trying to tell me "it was already settled by the voters." What a rigged card game! (But I think you got a taste of that on the financial oversight committee, right?)

    In fact I'm mad that leaving Anna Yates "in place" was not presented as one of the design options at the initial community meeting. How's that for "steering" a desired result? Only two designs were shown, and the possibility of leaving Anna Yates where it is, if only to free up space at the now VERY crowded Emery Secondary location, was NEVER presented as an option.

    If you leave Anna Yates at its existing location, many of the parking, impact on Emery Bay Village quality of life, traffic circulation, and other problems with the enormous mass of buildings and facilities at the proposed Emery Secondary site simply go away.

    But I've been told to back off this issue or I will not even have a snowball's chance in the upcoming election.

    I can't do that, not with two kids who will be educated at Anna Yates. Not even if it means coming in a distance fifth in this election. Not if it means selling out what I believe in.

    You won't see Jac Asher making an issue out of this. She has endorsements from Ruth, Nora, Kurt, or Jennifer. She's in too deep with the established power structure already to make any waves.

    I don't see any council member other than possibly Jennifer being willing to reconsider the location of Anna Yates.

    Now that I am sure that relocation of Anna Yates is NOT mandated by the bond measure itself, I will no longer accept relocation, even under the third design, as the "best" solution. I will argue vigorously for keeping it where it is. Has anyone contacted the Anna Yates PTO?

    The "best" solution is keeping Anna Yates just where it is.

  12. I was told by school staff that by law the temporary buildings at Anna Yates can only be used for a short period of time. Obviously they have a much longer useful life.

    The playground was definitely upgraded. The main building is obviously still old.

  13. Boulder High, built in 1936 (pure Art Decco)is my alma matter and is still being used. If one measures the value of a school facility by its academic results (as the Measure J campaign did), then Boulder High beat the pants off Emery High. The fact that Emery High is much newer than Boulder High gives rise to obvious questions about the verasity of the absurd claims of the Measure J campaign. Measure J had two prime backers: development interests and politicians seeking a legacy project in my opinion.

  14. @Shirley,

    When Ruth Atkin visited the Andante Homeowners Association meeting to present her case for the Emeryville Center for Community Life to our community (at the invitation of Sean Moss, since I opposed the measure because it would move Anna Yates to the high school campus), everything was pitched as bonds=ECCL=Anna Yates relocated to high school campus.

    Both presentations on the ECCL at community meetings have been GROUNDED IN the assumption that Anna Yates would be moved to the high school campus. Leaving Anna Yates where it currently is was NEVER presented as a viable alternative - no drawings, no presentations, etc.

    This is the same throughout both the school board and city hall presentations on the ECCL and use of the bond proceeds.

    So the "public face" of Measure J as presented by the officials behind it is that the bond funds are dedicated to the ECCL.

    I did read Measure J and have re-read it since. It is ambiguous, if you subtract the politicking that went on during the campaign and the assumptions that have been made since it passed.

    Measure J does NOT specifically mandate co-location of the high school and elementary school. In fact Measure J specifically includes, as its "projects" in Exhibit A-1, replacement of temporary buildings with permanent ones - a nod to Anna Yates with its pre-fab structures, perhaps?

    If "everything" is supposed to be relocated to the Emeryville high school site, why are both the senior center and child care center (ECDC) staying where they are?

    You shouldn't have to be a lawyer to understand Measure J. As a lawyer, I find it ambiguous - perhaps deliberately so - and poorly written. Are you surprised, in a city with this much subterfuge and lack of transparency?

    What should we do?

    All I want to do is to consider design plans that leave Anna Yates where it is, and see how that impacts the budget.

    Jac Asher expressed doubts about relocating Anna Yates at the June 17, 2010, City-School joint meeting (Transcript page 12). I would love to see her take a campaign position on this.

    Hopefully this can be done neutrally, honestly, transparently. Like you, I have serious doubts about "transparency" at city hall.

  15. At the July 2010 City / School Committee meeting, Superintendent Sugiyama assured the members of the public there that "colocation" of the two schools was not a done deal and was not implied by the Measure J ballot language. If they claim that this same language means they have to be co-located now, then they are frauds.

  16. To the readers-
    I will investigate the above anonymous commentor's charge that the former Superintendent of the Schools publicly stated there is no implicit requirement for "co-location". If I find this to be true, the Tattler will report on this.
    Thank you to the anonymous reader for the lead.

  17. Dear Mr. Webber,

    I'm probably a little late to this thread, but I must speak up... You use pretty strong language in your “riddle me this” comment that I think is highly irresponsible. Before you attempt to pass along as facts your statements about ECDC, Jac Asher and the ECDC Advisory Committee, I would advise that you 1) learn the history of the fight to keep ECDC from being out-sourced; 2) familiarize yourself with the origins, content and objectives of the "Parents' Proposal" that was adopted by the City Council (an alternative to the outsourcing model and a short term solution to an inherited problem); and 3) attend more than one Advisory Committee meeting. In addition to talking directly to some parents who were demanding answers, the City Manager in September did make a public statement at the Advisory committee meeting about City Staff's new position to support and keep ECDC as a City service and their commitment to recommend more resources get allocated to ECDC - a huge win for all of us who fought tirelessly for the survival of ECDC. If you cared about ECDC (a place you apparently sent/send your kid) with the same zeal you have with your new interest in Emeryville City politics and your run for city council, I would think you would publically put the recent Center challenges into its 30 plus year context and attempt to tell the whole truth about ECDC and the recent turn of events. Either you didn't or won't because you are uninformed (not a trait I seek in a city council member) or you deliberately want to misinform Emeryville residents (also a trait I dislike), while throwing the parents (Jac Asher in particular), teachers and kids of ECDC under the bus in your effort to make a point. Bamboozle: to deceive by underhanded methods.

    I’m surprised that as an attorney, you haven’t done your due diligence as it relates to ECDC. And because you’ve revealed your superficial review and understanding of ECDC history, the ECDC Task Force, and the Advisory Committee, I have to infer that you’ve arrived at your opinions on other City matters in the same manner – almost like a crash course. As a result, you’ve alienated me as a potential supporter even if we agree on certain issues and have similar questions.

  18. I will be happy to respond if you are willing to identify yourself. I want to make sure you are not trying to provoke dissension between Jac Asher and me so as to spoil our campaigns in favor of one of the incumbents.

    I have no gripes with Jac Asher, and although so far she has set forth no platform on her website, her endorsements are from both sides (business and progressive council members, labor and Chamber of Commerce) and impeccable.

    My gripes are with the way the City skillfully bamboozles ALL of us, and by "us" I mean to include myself and even (in their contract negotiations) the labor union, which is certainly no "crash course" newcomer to Emeryville politics and its arcane "hide the ball" byways.

    If elected I will work my hardest to bring much greater transparency of motivations, costs, and consequences to the City.