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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Emeryville Planning Director Forced To Renounce Planning Canon

Pity Emeryville's Planning Director

He's Forced To Carry Water For Pro-Developer Philistines:  Fast Food Restaurants Are Now "Memorable" 

Like the Christians of ancient Rome, who had to renounce Jesus to the Emperor to stay alive, so too must Emeryville's Planning Director renounce universally accepted planning standards and precepts as his esteemed planning colleagues in the Bay Area look on, all to keep his job at City Hall.
Trying to fit the newly approved Panera Bakery building into compliance with Emeryville's new forward thinking General Plan has been no small feat for the Director, Charlie Bryant; and he's really earned his money, giving the decision makers in town all the cover they need to push the fast food establishment through to completion.

Emeryville's General Plan gets an award
from the American Planning Association.
Mr Bryant is second from the left.
But consider how badly Mr Bryant has had to prostrate himself before his council majority paymasters in so doing.  Mr Bryant has had to find Panera Bakery, a fast food restaurant with 1500 locations to be totally consistent with the directives of Emeryville's General Plan...a plan that no reasonable person could make claim to that kind of development, let alone a planning director.

The new General Plan received a 'Small Jurisdiction' award in 2010 from the American Planning Association.  That august and professional association noted Emeryville's General Plan will transform the town into a "vibrant, livable city".  The presenters of the award took into account the fact that 20% of the people of Emeryville participated directly in shaping the plan over a four year period, a remarkably democratic public vetting led in no small part by Mr Bryant himself.

Against this weighty backdrop, Planning Director Bryant has had to make some pretty outrageous claims to grease the skids for Panera, among them:

  • Panera 'employs Emeryville residents', but at $8 per hour without benefits, there's nobody working there that can afford to live in Emeryville

  • The archetypal fast food style building is of 'high aesthetic quality'...this makes us wonder what kind of development would be considered low aesthetic quality 

  • Panera is supporting a 'vibrant community' and 'contributing to the well being of the community'...and this makes us wonder how low the bar can be set

  • The restaurant and building is a 'memorable' place, even though it's only one of 1500 across the US and Canada

Loyalty is often considered a positive personal trait, especially for employees and we wonder if the Planning Director is acting the faithful employee for the city council and the City Manager.  To that we would remind Mr Bryant of his duty to his job to the people of Emeryville and to repaying in kind to us, his level of planning expertise that he is forsaking in the Panera case.
If there is some other reason why our General Plan should be so distorted to serve some foreign cause, we are ignorant but we would like to know.  We do know a general plan is not needed to bring fast food restaurants to a town.  In fact no planning is needed at all and we point to Anytown USA as proof.  Fast food is what you get in the absence of planning.
No, this is a corruption of what the people of Emeryville worked so hard for.  All those General Plan meetings the citizens participated in should not net more fast food restaurants for Emeryville.

If Mr Bryant is simply worried about his job security, we are empathetic.  We feel for Charlie Bryant; he knows it's a load of bollocks and no doubt he wishes his professional planning colleagues don't catch wind of his covering for Panera.  He can feel some consolation that his colleagues don't have to answer to the likes of the Emeryville city council majority, all his hyperbolic claims of fast food memorability and high aesthetic quality notwithstanding.


  1. I'm not sure I agree with your analysis. First, you make the assumption, all fast food restaurants are bad. No so. They satisfy a large number of people. They must be desirable to some members of the community.

    Mr. Bryant is very fortunate in that he has been able to apply many of his own personal ideas into the general plan. We are in an era, typical of California where everyone wants to get something for nothing. The era of development in Emeryville is over without redevelopment, and in order to keep the city's vital services at current levels more taxes are necessary.

    The City General Plan process is a failure. Most of the property owners and developers did not participate. The planning effort almost ignored all the existing, and is planning for people who aren't here. With only 5% of the people in town with kids, we are trying to turn the city into something it was not meant to be.

    Most of the people who live here don't have kids, so the planning effort should focus on a city, not meant for kids.

    You say the city should be family friendly, and at the same time you don't want people to drive. Every family I know needs a car. You have conflicting goals. How mnay families do you see taking the bus..?

    Can't there be one city for adults. Look at all that has been wasted on ECCL. The amazinig thing is most of the people pushing for it, don't have kids. Too many people are trying to make Emeryville something it was not meant to be, and we are paying a dear price for it. We should have more high rise development, and some of the money wasted should be for adult planning. We would have more services and revenue with high rise development and more parks and open space at the same time, and we would have more money for better schools, and more services for the people who live here..

    For the most part, Charlie Bryant is pushing his personal agenda with the power of the city behind him, at the expense of the city.

    I also disagree with your belief low wage jobs should not exist. High volume low cost goods are better for the economy. In your world fewer people would be working for higher wages, and many would be unemployed. There has to be a place for everyone.

    Well educatred peole aren't going to have low wage jobs. Under your ideas we would not have any fast food. What's missing is econmic assistance to allow small non-corporate businesses to exist, But it's too late now. Emeryville had great opportuniity to attract and encourage small businesses, but all that money went to the big players.

    Back to the point. Mr. Bryant is one of those lucky planners who found a venue to carry out his planning desires, no need to feel sorry for the few exceptions he has had to make.

    1. RE fast food: I'm not assuming all fast food restaurants are "bad", I'm stating they (at least Panera) are not allowed if one gives the General Plan deference.

      RE "Era of development is over".... If you are using this as a reason to over ride the General Plan, well that's also not allowed. You need to amend the Plan can't simply ignore it...sorry. Also your "high-rise" argument: the Plan (and Zoning Ordinance) have to be amended to allow for taller buildings.

      RE "Low wage jobs should not exist" This is not my opinion. Low wage jobs as part of new development (old development is OK) are not consistent with the General Plan however...again, you need to amend the Plan.

      You can see a pattern here. Our General Plan was formulated at a cost of some $4 million and a lot of citizen volunteer work. It must now be obeyed. If the city council feels it's wise, they can amend the new plan. Proper protocol must be followed. Our General Plan must not be discarded as you suggest. Perhaps you should lobby the council to amend the Plan as you see fit.

    2. Regarding your comments that Emeryville "is not meant for kids", I'm not quite sure why you are so eager to throw us over entirely to unyielding fate. It seems to me Emeryville is "meant" for anything we collectively want. We can become a city friendly to kids if that is our desire...there is no mysterious force stopping that. Conversely, we could also remain a city not welcoming to's all up to us; I see no evidence we are constrained by fate.

  2. Re the small number of children in Emeryville, how much of that is because the majority of new units built are not child friendly units and because of the history of problems with the local schools. Both reasons are the result of public policy.

    And low wage jobs would not be an issue if there was housing that accomodated a range of incomes. Emeryville at least used to have the highest rents in Alameda County. Part of this is because so many of our units are new construction, part because we have a large number of high wage workers who can drive up rents but part is the fact that we don't have rent control, so landlords can charge whatever the market can afford. And with high wage earners without the costs of children, that is a good deal.

    Emeryville to its credit has created some affordable housing but no where near enough to accomodate the large number of low wage jobs in the city. So the surrounding communities bear the costs of housing the workers and providing public services while Emeryville reaps the tax advantages of the businesses that employ them.

  3. I would agree with the reply comment about amending the plan. The problem with the General Plan is it factored in redevelopment, which no longer exists. Most of the assumptions included in the Plan, did not anticipate the loss of redevelopment. With 95% of the city in a former redevelopment area, that is a substantial change. Many of the requirments put on developers were actually paid with subsidies provided by the Agency.

    The lack of Children in Emeryville is partly due to the quality of the schools. If the schools were great people would find a way to live here. Part of the problem is many parents don't want to put their kids in an almost all black high school. That's not something many people talk about, but it's a fact.

    The idea of putting all the kids in one facility will exercerbate that problem. The existing separation of having the high school kids in a different facility is a form or protection for the youger kids, in the eyes of parents. But the District is going to overcome that problem,. and probably reduce enrollment even further.

    I'm not sure how that can change, no matter how many bedrooms are included in housing projects. And I agree the high cost of housing is a real problem, but not one the city could easily solve. The loss of redevelopment will make that even worse.

    Why should a family live in a smaller apt when they can move to an area with a biggeer unit, more open space and better schools for the same money..? The low income housing fund won't have money to subsidize residential development any longer. The point is the city is putting lots of money into something that may not be the best idea for this area. Just building bigger units is not the answer, and the idea that we are trying to discourage auto use flies right in the face of attracting families to Emeryvile.

    The high rise development mentioned yesterday would provide more kids, or at least enough where they would not have to take kids from Oakland, as well as more money for open space, and allow for more locally serving stores. The only tool the city has left to encourage affordable housing is allowing increased density.

    I should also mention that rent control only exists in areas where it has existed for a long time. The State has passed laws which don't allow any expansion of rent control.

    1. Agreed about increasing density to improve livability. I also agree it's likely many parents being concerned about a nearly "all black" high school. I for one am concerned there isn't enough diversity there and I would also feel some trepidations about a nearly all white school or a nearly all privileged (read rich) school. As you hint, children are harmed when there is not enough diversity at their school. At least Emery schools don't suffer from the too many children of privilege problem like Piedmont Unified School District...and we're stronger because of it. Children here don't get a warped view of their fellow Americans like they do in all white districts.