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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Redevelopment Agency Experiment Runs Its Course

City Ponders Post- 
Redevelopment Fate,
New Chapter In Emeryville History

The California Supreme Court ruling posted today is definitive; all redevelopment agencies state-wide are dissolved.  Emeryville, being more than 90% in a 'redevelopment zone' will feel the impacts of the decision more than most cities.  Virtually every capital fund project and every large-scale development over the years including the Bay Street Mall, has been financed with redevelopment tax increment money and today's announcement will reverberate, its effects far reaching.  Many projects still in the pipeline including the Center of Community Life, the Performing Arts Center, new proposed parks and the bike/pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at 53rd Street are funded with redevelopment money and their future is now in limbo.

The ten year project, the Emeryville Center of Community Life, has already taken a massive hit on its funding earlier in the year when Emeryville's bonding capacity was more than cut in half; from $95 million to $40 million.  The Redevelopment Agency was on tap to pitch in $25 million and if this funding dries up with today's Supreme Court ruling, the entire project will be put in jeopardy.  School District officials are in holiday mode and could not be reached for comment.

City Manager Pat O'Keeffe, formerly Chairman of the California Redevelopment Association has been a stanch advocate for Emeryville's Redevelopment Agency citing the agency as the only option for developing the town and he has been sounding alarm bells over the possible elimination of the agency by Sacramento for months.  Mr O'Keeffe is on holiday and could not be reached for comment.  Deputy City Manager Delores Turner told the Tattler she expects Emeryville to experience "significant impacts" and expressed hope some "fix it legislation" could restore some of what has been lost with today's ruling.  She called the redevelopment era a boon for the local economy and for job creation.

Redevelopment Agency Dissolved

Breaking News:
Emeryville Redevelopment 
Agency Kaput

Reprinted from Reuters:

California court says state can kill redevelopment agencies

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In a major victory for California Governor Jerry Brown, the state supreme court on Thursday upheld a law that would eliminate 400 local redevelopment agencies and could divert billions of dollars to schools and other local services.
The court ruled that the state legislature was within its rights to abolish the agencies, which have long played a major role in local development projects ranging from apartment houses to train stations and sports stadiums. At the same time, the court struck down companion legislation that would have enabled the redevelopment agencies to stay in business if they agreed to pay a big chunk of their revenues to the state.
Local officials vehemently opposed the elimination of the redevelopment agencies, and a group of plaintiffs, including theCalifornia Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities, asked the California Supreme Court to declare both laws unconstitutional.
Redevelopment agencies, widely used around the country, sell bonds to fund local development projects. They pay them off with the increased property tax revenue, or tax increment, that results from the project.
Governor Brown has argued that because of the convoluted way in which property tax revenues are divvied up in California, redevelopment agencies have the effect of diverting money away from schools and other local services. The state is then forced to fill the funding gaps for basic services while the local redevelopment agencies pursue projects that might be beneficial locally, but do little to lift the state's economy as a whole.
The most immediate effect of Thursday's court ruling will be to preserve the state budget for the current fiscal year. The budget, passed last summer, includes $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds that would flow to the state as the agencies are wound down. Successor agencies would assume responsibility for repayment of existing redevelopment bonds; projects that are already underway would in most cases go forward.
The non-partisan legislative analyst's office has estimated that the elimination of redevelopment agencies could free up $2 billion a year for schools, courts and other services.
Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, called the ruling "good news for the budget."
Local officials, on the other hand, say they will lose a crucial tool for revitalizing blighted areas and promoting local economic development. Redevelopment agencies often acquire land in run-down parts of a city and invest in infrastructure improvements. They then work with private developers to build parks, convention centers, transit stations, shopping malls and apartment buildings, among other things. The agencies also help to fund affordable housing projects around the state.
The elimination of redevelopment agencies is among Gov. Brown's boldest strokes since he took office last year, and a key part of what he calls the "realignment" of state and local taxes and services.
Because the "tax increment" generated by redevelopment projects is not subject to the state-mandated formula on how local tax revenues are divided among cities, counties, schools and special districts, local officials have an incentive to rely heavily on redevelopment districts for a wide range of projects. The city of Oakland, for example, was found earlier this year to be financing some police services, and even part of the mayor's salary, with redevelopment funds.
Redevelopment critics also say the agencies have gone far beyond their mission of combating blight and often subsidize projects that either would have been built anyway, or would have been built in a nearby city.
(Reporting by Jonathan Weber and Dan Levine; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Emeryville's Mayor Is Appointed

Power Retention Is Goal-
Mayoral Selection Politically Calculated

News Analysis
Emeryville doesn't have a "strong mayor" style leader at City Hall as does Oakland or San Francisco but the mayor here does wield considerable power running the council meetings and making political appointments as they do.  Rather than by citizen election, by law, Emeryville's mayor is decided among the ranks of the city council itself.  Many Emeryville residents though are baffled by the mayoral selection process, some old timers have memory of a time when the mayor was awarded on a purely rotational basis from the stock of council members, now however the decision process seems to be screwy, maybe random.  Some might think each council member should be able to serve as mayor since every person was duly elected by the people but that formula has not been in effect since council member Nora Davis consolidated power and the strict rotation was dropped in the 1990's.

Consider the last several mayors-
Sitting as mayor in November of each year:

  • 2011  Nora Davis
  • 2010  Ruth Atkin
  • 2009  Dick Kassis
  • 2008  Ken Bukowski
  • 2007  Nora Davis
  • 2006  Ruth Atkin
  • 2005  Dick Kassis
  • 2004  Gary Caffey
  • 2003  Ken Bukowski
  • 2002  Ruth Atkin
  • 2001  Nora Davis
  • 2000  Dick Kassis
Political neophytes might accept this list as random as it indeed looks at first blush but to the cognoscenti, this list betrays a political patronage system, complete with childish backstabbing and ego maniacal power grabbing; this is after all Emeryville.  To these council watchers in the know, gazing at the list one sees patterns emerging, patterns that affirm the venal politics at play in Emeryville.
    The Metrics (here's how it works)
    Pay attention, it's going to get a little complicated here but once you know the metric, you'll be able to predict every election with confidence. The over ridding metric is that Nora Davis maintain and grow her power base by the mayoral selection.  To watch the patterns in the above list emerge use these metrics:
    • Political enemies of Ms Davis are not permitted to be mayor
    • Those that fall into disfavor with Ms Davis are not allowed to be mayor again
    • Selection is made to assure that the proper person (Ms Davis or those who will assist Ms Davis) is sitting mayor as a city council election takes place, this person benefits by the added gravitas of being mayor at the time of the election in the calculation
    To this bullet point list of metrics one needs to know the election rotation in Emeryville.  It is thus:
    • Three council member's seats up for election every four years
    • Two council seats up for election every four years separated by two years
    These elections are staggered so Emeryville has elections every two years with three seats then two seats and then back to the three seats.  Ms Davis is in the three seat election.  The last election was in November (a three seat'er) when these seats were up for election:  Nora Davis, Ruth Atkin and Ken Bukowski (taken by Jac Asher).  In the election before, these two seats were up for election: open seat previously filled by Dick Kassis (taken by Kurt Brinkman) and open seat previously filled by John Fricke (taken by Jennifer West).   

    One needs to know the political intrigue in town:
    • Former mayor Greg Harper fell into disfavor with Ms Davis in the 1990's and he was never permitted to be mayor again.
    • After being a long time political friend, Ken Bukowski fell into disfavor with Ms Davis in 2009 and was not permitted to be mayor again.
    • John Fricke was a political enemy of Ms Davis and was not permitted to be mayor (if he wanted it).
    • Political friends of Ms Davis have been: Dick Kassis, Gary Caffey, Ruth Atkin, Kurt Brinkman and Ken Bukowski (until he fell into disfavor). 
    Lastly, one needs to know that in off years, Ms Davis will allow other council members to be mayor as long as they're not in disfavor or an enemy.  These mayors can be thought of as inconsequential; these can be thought of as freebies.

    Here's the make-up:

    • Two seat'ers: Dick Kassis, Gary Caffey, Jennifer West, Kurt Brinkman, John Fricke
    • Three seat'ers: Nora Davis, Ken Bukowski, Ruth Atkin, Jac Asher

    So here's the formula in action:
    year (sitting as mayor in November), two or three seat election, mayor (note consequential mayors at election time, inconsequential between elections)
    • 2012 Jennifer West (inconsequential)
    • 2011 Three Seat Election, Nora Davis 
    • 2010  Ruth Atkin (inconsequential)
    • 2009 Two Seat Election, Dick Kassis
    • 2008 Ken Bukowski (inconsequential)
    • 2007 Three Seat Election, Nora Davis
    • 2006 Ruth Atkin (inconsequential)
    • 2005 Two Seat Election,  Dick Kassis
    • 2004 Gary Caffey (inconsequential)
    • 2003 Three Seat Election, Ken Bukowski (he was thought to have needed the extra help this year)
    • 2002 Ruth Atkin (inconsequential)
    • 2001 Three Seat Election, Nora Davis
    • 2000 Dick Kassis (inconsequential)
    So you can see the metrics work perfectly.  Knowing these metrics, one can predict who will be mayor in the future (if Ms Davis stays healthy).  Going forward it will look like this:
    • 2013 Two Seat Election, Kurt Brinkman
    • 2014 Jac Asher (if she doesn't fall into disfavor with Ms Davis) (inconsequential)
    • 2015 Three Seat Election Nora Davis  

    Re-negotiate Approved Lofts: Build Family Housing

    Bad Economy Offers New Opportunities:
    Everybody Says They Want 
    Family Housing, 
    Now Let's Start Making It Possible

    After a frenzied 25 year loft and one bedroom condo building boom in Emeryville, it would seem the now frozen housing market would have shut the door on any chance for the town to re-make itself as a family friendly destination.  The bad economy, seemingly antithetical to any building activity at all however may be giving Emeryville a chance to redeem itself.  Developers with previously approved but as of yet un-built loft projects as it turns out, are coming in from the cold; they all seem to want time extensions on their agreed to start-up dates for their projects, creating an opening to make change possible.  These developer time extention requests are offering a second chance to re-negotiate these bad loft projects into family friendly housing.

    What a reversal we've seen in the housing market.  The city council was formerly besieged by developers seeking to make a quick buck in the formerly white hot Emeryville real estate market, and the council was facilitating development deals with blinding speed right up to the housing crash.  With the pro-business council majority at the helm, rarely were questions of resident's needs adequately addressed and we ended up with the kind of housing developers want to build.
    After residents voted to rebuild Emeryville's schools in 2010, suddenly the lack of family housing has made the former loft building mania seem reckless and last November's city council campaign season brought the issue of family housing to the forefront. Now it seems everyone agrees; suddenly it's families that Emeryville needs.  The city council seems to have been caught flat footed on this issue; last June, the council was embarrassed by a scathing report from an independent study on the critical lack of family housing here.  The report blamed the council for the lack of families in Emeryville.

    The loft developers that recently got these swinging deals, courtesy of our city council, should feel the heat as they (the developers) come back to the council, hat in hand, asking for their time extensions without condition.
    We're not deluded though: we don't expect leopards to change their spots and we don't really expect council members Nora Davis and Kurt Brinkman to hold any developers to account, their campaign promises notwithstanding.  Ms Davis and Mr Brinkman have show that they think their job is to get out of the way and let the developers re-make our town as their profit needs dictate.  Council members Jennifer West and the newly elected Jac Asher are another matter all together.  We expect these two to build a coalition with swing voter, council member Ruth Atkin.  Ms Atkin proclaimed loudly at election time that she'll deliver family friendly housing and we expect Ms West and Ms Asher to call her out at the first instance of a developer's pre-approved loft housing project time extension request.

    If we don't call back these projects and re-negotiate on our terms, we must ask; when and where are we finally going to get sufficient quantities of housing suitable for families in this town?  Those paying attention to all the loft and one bedroom condo approvals by the council may have noticed that Emeryville has almost run out of locations for building new projects of any kind.  The lack of family friendly housing could torpedo the new school's chances at success and it represents a critical unmet need here.  Each new project now becomes more important than ever to include lots of housing for families to start bringing the ratio to anywhere near where it needs to be.
    We hope the three council members can abide by their campaign promises and coalesce around fixing this dire housing predicament and re-negotiate on our behalf with these late starting developers.  We need to open up the possibility that family friendly housing could be built in this town.

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Build It And They Will Come?

    Bogus Sports Field Claim:
    Emeryville's Phony Field Of Dreams

    This week, City Hall issued a plea to residents to join in a letter writing campaign to persuade the State of California to unleash money for an Emeryville sports field, something City Hall says citizens sorely need since Emeryville has no sports field.  As it turns out, Emeryville does have a sports field and the bogus grassroots advocacy amounts to a fraudulent claim to State money by the City.

    Emeryville sports field now
    The December 19th letter from City Hall to citizens urged residents to tell Sacramento that Emeryville should get  money to help build the cash strapped Center of Community Life, a school/community center proposed for San Pablo Avenue because the project would include a sports field and that "Emeryville does not have a single sports field".  The letter went on to suggest residents tell the State and that "we will be able to play on a sports field" if the Center of Community Life is built.
    What the City doesn't say is that there already is a baseball field, football/soccer field and track at the existing High School and that the only reason the citizens can't use these sports facilities right now is that the city itself has disallowed it.

    Sports field after $400 million
    Center of Community Life is built
    This fraudulent letter writing canard is but the latest in a multi-year string of deceptive endeavours meant to gin up support for the Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL).  With its huge price tag and its dubious list of pre-awarded no bid contractor cheerleaders, the ECCL project is certainly controversial.  The School District, taciturn and pious in its public face has nonetheless been single minded in its undemocratic behind the scenes maneuvering to facilitate the school/community center project.  The City on the other hand has been pretty much silent about the project other than its commitment to throw in $25 million.  The well documented Machiavellian tactics, so favored by the School District, have been mostly eschewed by the City; that is, up til now.

    The City's attempt to draw residents into this scheme to make false claims against the State of California is bad governance, at best.  We call on the City and the School District to stop with these sleazy tactics in their efforts to build the Center of Community Life.  If the State does disperse funds as a result of the new letter writing campaign directed by City Hall, we hope it will be in spite of, not as a result of the phony claims regarding a sports field.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Guest Column: Art Hoff

    The Tattler introduces guest columnist, Arthur Hoff.  
    A longtime Emeryville resident, business and community leader, Art Hoff is a former president of the School District Advisory Board of Trustees and he now sits on the Planning Commission.
    Mr Hoff has long concerned himself with the success of the schools in Emeryville and he has been a major philanthropist to the school district, generously giving both his time and money for the betterment of our schools.
    Mr Hoff is concerned that the decision makers adjust their planning properly and be open to new iterations as the Emeryville Center of Community Life school/community center is buffeted by large Measure J bond funding perturbations in the wake of Emeryville's skidding assessed valuation.    
       .                .                .                .


    The latest financial report from the Emeryville School Board indicates that the School District will have negative cash flows for the next two years, and unless we can make $1.6 million in unspecified budget cuts, we will have a negative fund balance by 2014.  This raises the question of the fiscal stability of a 750 student school district.
    Many years ago, when I served on the board, conventional wisdom was that we needed a school population of 1,200 students in order to keep overhead costs is proper proportions to the total budget.   A school of 750 students was not considered financially viable.
    The plan was to build an all-new 1200 student school as part of the Center for Community Life. Unfortunately, 5 years later, because of the unavailability of bond funds, the proposed new school complex will only accommodate 800 students.  We will need to wait another 5 years to bring the school to the sustainable level of 1200 students.  In view of the current economy and the financial condition of the District, can we wait that long?
    Perhaps we should go in another direction: activate the [existing but abandoned] Middle School. While a 3rd campus increases overhead costs,  they should be more than offset by the additional income from the 300 students the middle school can accommodate.

    Arthur Hoff
    Past President, Emery Schools

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Mayor Jennifer West's New Parking Policy

     New Mayor, New Parking Policy?

    News Analysis/Opinion
    Emeryville's new mayor, Jennifer West, has released a surprising essay detailing her views on how to administer the controversial issue of parking in town, but her record so far on parking has been in opposition to her own newly stated goals.  The article, posted by The Secret News on December 7th, illustrates a new way forward for parking and is sure to raise hackles since the only way to accommodate everybody in a town with too many cars chasing too few parking spaces is to make everybody accept a less desirable policy than what we've had up til now: no policy... and that's a recipe that simply brings more cars.

    Ms West's somewhat arcane approach is to bring to an end the days of unlimited free parking for business and residents in Emeryville, a place that all cities ultimately come to as they grow and mature, least they choke on traffic and devalue the town for all the stakeholders.

    Mayor West's position on parking policy now acknowledges and compliments former council member John Fricke's contribution on the issue of parking for Emeryville's business and residents, a position he held in the wilderness six years ago without any colleague support.
    One issue much discussed by Mr Fricke and now taken up by Ms West is the idea of "unbundled" parking or parking available to the public, not just condo owners where the parking is located.  Mandated unbundled parking would mean that every condo owner in a new project would not necessarily get guaranteed free parking with their unit but they would be free to try to park there for a fee, along with the rest of the public looking for parking.

    The issue of parking is really about livability for Emeryville.
    We realize the easiest way politically for an elected official is to simply ignore the problem or worse; keep adding to the glut of free parking that only further exacerbates the intolerable traffic and forces a regime of ever widening the streets.
    We salute the mayor's courageous efforts to solve this vexing problem without the usual pandering done by her colleagues, pandering that has brought us to this point of immediate concern.  It should be noted that any up-tick in the economy will bring us to crisis: a sea of cars in our town.

    We feel the council should move forward on Ms West's solutions with one proviso; existing Emeryville residents should be given some relief from the more draconian parking fixes she prescribes and the most onerous regulation should be more born by new residents and businesses; after all new residents have a choice about moving here and we're supposed to be making our own town more livable for us, the existing Emeryville residents.

    Lastly, while we are pleased the issue of parking has been taken up by Mayor West, we must ask where her sudden epiphany came from?  Council member West recently helped usher in both the Ambassador housing project proposed for east Emeryville and the Marketplace Development phase 1 housing project to be located near the existing Public Market, and both of those projects were approved without any concern for parking.  The Ambassador Project was approved by the council for 69 units with 110 bundled parking spaces making a development that encourages auto use.  Market Place too, approved by Ms West, has 192 units with 200 bundled parking spaces and as such is also a new project that encourages driving.

    We hope mayor West has indeed changed her ways when it comes to enabling profit maximizing developers who always seem to clamor for more free parking.  It's a catechism at City Hall that has been uniformly embraced by the pro-business city council majority.  We wish Ms West  luck in her push to empower a new pro-resident pro-livability parking paradigm here.

    Mayor West's article in The Secret News may be seen here: The Secret News