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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Emeryville's Vision For San Pablo Avenue: Civic Dysfunction

Berkeley Beats Emeryville

Opinion/News Analysis
Travel down San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville and look around.  It's not the kind of thing however, someone would want to do on foot; a car works much better here.  And that's not an accident - it's a result of a specific vision and suite of policy decisions authored by city council member Nora Davis and her council majority colleagues.  Fast food, baking parking lots, blank walls crowding the sidewalk, drive-in drive-out podium condominiums...it's the anti-pedestrian, feel bad street-scape made for high speed cars, it's San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville.

Council member Nora Davis is fond of telling citizens it used to be worse before her transformative 25 year reign changed it into...what?  It's been transformed alright but just not someplace where you'd want to linger.
San Pablo is a perfect street to put the Nora Davis city planning vision into stark perspective. The street traces it's trajectory through neighboring Berkeley as well as Emeryville and two different city planning philosophies are readily apparent as one crosses between the contrasting cities.

Twenty five years ago, San Pablo Avenue represented, from a pedestrian and neighbor perspective, failed urban planning in both Emeryville and Berkeley.  Both cities then began campaigns making the street friendlier, with government programs for pedestrian amenities and general beautification.  Raised medians were added with copious plantings and street trees were planted in both cities along with beautiful new street lighting.  But that's where the similarities stop.  After all the government spending on San Pablo, one town continues to be largely and arguably an urban wasteland while the other town has sparked a civic rebirth and the street has become an extremely vibrant community gathering place filled with street cafes, one-of-a-kind shops, an independent bookstore, art galleries, slow food restaurants and such.

Berkeley's Funky Vibe
The most amazing thing about Berkeley's transformation of San Pablo Avenue is how the street continues to maintain its funky vibe in the face of this transformation...it's not just yuppies and overpriced boutiques like Fourth Street.  Since the street has extremely varied retail opportunities offering shopping and a civic space conducive to sustain a neighborhood, middle class and working class people are well served and they continue to live and shop in the neighborhood.

Over the years there have been a few attempts to make San Pablo in Emeryville more pedestrian friendly, most notably former council member John Fricke's work to bring Arizmendi's Bakery to the Promenade development but mostly it's been the anti-pedestrian / anti-neighborhood vision of council member Davis that has been the dominant force.

Berkeley, famous for its hyper involved citizenry and disdain for suburban style malls and fast food restaurants has left its stamp on San Pablo.  Decisions, large and small, made by the Berkeley city council (with the threat of a citizen uprising at a moments notice) has wrought what we now see in that city on San Pablo Avenue. Tortuous as it is, the process has worked in Berkeley and the neighbors are the beneficiaries.

Emeryville's Deference To Developers
In Emeryville, Ms Davis and the rest of the council majority has long held that the best way to develop the city is to put the developers themselves in the drivers seat.  It's a sort of an anti-planning city planning philosophy. The idea is that rational market forces know best and market forces, left to their own devises will deliver a vibrant neighborhood filled with the kinds of development consumers want.
Not to put too much emphasis on the city council policy vision of developer deference, what some might call governmental neglect, it should be noted that Ms Davis has in fact directly intervened to impose a fast food centric program for San Pablo.  At least twice councilwoman Davis has actively worked on the behalf of specific fast food restaurants for the street.  In 2003, Ms Davis even started a citizen signature drive to assure that International House of Pancakes would get the premier Park Avenue corner spot reserved for the Promenade development.  Earlier, she intervened directly and led a council majority drive for a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.

We can see, some 20 years after the street beautification work, the results of the two cities aggregate visions; one market based that sees citizens as consumers and the other neighborhood based that values community.


Three Ingredients
San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley presents pedestrians and neighbors a whole different psychology of public space than in Emeryville.  The street has a democratic feeling to it.  But what are the ingredients in Berkeley that create this vibrant civic space?  It's really pretty simple:
  • Mature beautiful street trees
  • Reasonably interesting historic architecture
  • Lack of franchise chain retail and fast food
The architecture part is probably the least important ingredient.   While it's true Emeryville typically allows its historic buildings to be demolished for new development (in violation of the General Plan which calls for adaptive re-use), the historic architecture on San Pablo in Berkeley has been saved but that said it's not really very exciting.  It does however contribute to the funky vibe pedestrians find appealing.
The street trees make a larger contribution and Berkeley here too beats Emeryville.  While Emeryville has planted many trees along San Pablo, the species selected don't grow as large and spreading as Berkeley's and Emeryville has historically allowed developers to cut down the street trees and plant new saplings.  It seems we're forever watching juvenile trees struggle to become mature here.
But by far the biggest reason Berkeley has won this contest is the lack of franchise chain retail and fast food restaurants.  Though hard to quantify, there can be no mistake about the erosional nature against street vitality this kind of nation-wide ubiquitous development has had.  It's not hyperbolic to note that this kind of development kills pedestrians natural desire to want to linger in an otherwise grand public space.  And people lingering, not rushing is how community is created.

The paradigm of franchise chain retail and fast food is the result of a lazy city council at best and a council driven by pro-developer ideology at worst.  People here should expect the city council to put the public into public policy and work to value add to the commons as a way to build community as they have done in Berkeley.  The council keeps touting how they're going to build and sustain community on San Pablo by reliance on one project: the incipient Center of Community Life.  But to expect to have 20 years of this developer led policy directed from Nora Davis and her council majority colleagues be offset by one pie-in-the-sky project is a set up for failure.  The Emeryville city council needs to stop coddling developers on San Pablo Avenue and start doing what Berkeley has done; show some leadership in governing.




Emeryville


Emeryville

Berkeley
Emeryville


Berkeley

Berkeley


21 comments:

  1. Keep in mind that only a small portion of San Pablo Ave. bridges Berkeley to Oakland. This is not somewhere you want to be walking your dog, and at night you best be armed. Nora Davis and her supporters (mostly caucasian seniors) do not relate to the multicultural population off San Pablo. It is not a surprise that she disassociates herself from the less fortunate because they result in problems.

    Of the twenty-five years I've known Ms. Davis, you will never see her at Emeryville's historic Bank Club Cafe, nor anything near Oakland. Emeryville's only food bank (ECAP) would be gone as well if it were up to Nora Davis and company. This reminds me of the Tattler's earlier article:
    City To The Poor: You People Are "Not A Good Fit"

    http://emeryvilletattler.blogspot.com/2012/04/city-to-poor-you-people-are-not-good.html

    In conclusion, it is understandable why less desirable citizens are not encouraged to mingle with the rest of the community. They have nothing to offer a growing city like Emeryville, and they pose more of a liability and strain on our police and emergency services. Clearly Nora Davis has the most influence over Emeryville, and she will continue with her vision. Those who prefer Berkeley panhandlers and meth addicts in your cultural mix should consider moving there. :-)

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    1. Maybe we can return to the days of debtors prison and get rid of the problem once and for all.

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    2. I walk my dogs on San Pablo almost every night and I've never had a problem. It's a fine place to walk.

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    3. I am a victim of crime on San Pablo in Emeryville, and I agree with Sarah. The Emeryville shuttle had stopped at 10pm so I walked home. I was robbed of my backpack containing my laptop computer and all my school work.

      The police indicated that the robber was probably from Oakland and fled that direction. They did not find him or my backpack. The robber appeared to be a pimp walking with his prostitute who stayed back a bit during the crime.

      San Pablo has always represented the ghetto side of life and I was foolish to walk home that night. Had I had the money for a taxi the story would have a different ending. Now having been victimized, I tend to take notice of how many pimps and hoes are parading up and down San Pablo.

      With all the technology today I feel that Emeryville police should have secret cameras to watch what is happening daily. Instead we have a bunch of lame cops who have failed to protect us from crime. They prefer to score money with citations instead of protecting citizens like me.

      We are dealing with real garbage touring our neighborhood, and we need to focus on this first. Emeryville seems more value in citing it's own people for street cleaning than anything of importance. I believe Emeryville leaders have their priorities which consist of their own special interests.

      I was a fool to feel safe walking home from MacArthur BART. I'm even a bigger fool for paying an astronomical rent to live in Emeryville when it is not protected. We should fire the chief and get some good leadership who can protect the citizens instead of stealing from them with petty parking fines. Enough already!

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    4. Okay, cops with 'secret' cameras is a bit scary.
      I really hope no one listens to you.
      True, the police in Emeryville are lame ducks who tend to look the other way most of the time.
      I remember about 10 years ago there was HUGE fight between two families in front of the school and the police just stood around and watched while school officials, not having any training, weapons or authority tried to contain the situation. But cops secretly filming people is NOT a good idea. I assume you have heard of the STASI? If not, look it up.

      And if you want San Pablo to be pedestrian friendly, they need to post cops all along that stretch and start handing out tickets for even the SLIGHTEST infractions for about 6 months to 1 year. That street is so dangerous to pedestrians that the only way you are going to change that is with a HUGE crackdown on the drivers.

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  2. Emeryville's San Pablo is still better than Oakland's San Pablo before Berkeley

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    1. Emeryville: Not as good as Berkeley but better than Oakland!

      I think you just hit on a great idea for a new official slogan for our town.

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    2. You make a very cogent point Dan, Emeryville is book ended by two stretches of San Pablo in Oakland and our stretch is far better. You definitely notice when you pass through Emeryville along San Pablo. Emeryville's San Pablo shares some similarities with Berkeley, but it also has a lot of differences. Our market area overlaps with Oakland much more than with Berkeley. Because of that, retailers that target a Berkeley demographic are less likely to locate here. This is why we still have a Pak N Save that has never converted to Safeway. Safeway isn't targeting the Berkeley market from that location. They are targeting the Emeryville/West Oakland/North Oakland market. It is notable that Emeryville has been able to improve greatly on what Oakland has done just to the north and south. I moved to San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville because I loved the changes that were occurring and I continue to. The Avenue has changed greatly for the better since I moved here. I love living on the Avenue. It's my street!

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    3. Your talk of retailers targeting a demographic in Emeryville serves to bolster the point of the story. The kind of retail you describe is just the kind that makes San Pablo in Emeryville not the kind of place someone wants to linger in. Berkeley's Black Oak Books, Sea Salt and Paison etc didn't likely do market surveys to study a demographic before they opened on San Pablo...However I-Hop and Kentucky Fried Chicken etc most certainly did.

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  3. I write as someone who knows a fair amount about planning. I moved to emeryville from berkeley 10 years ago. Is emeryville indeed E'ville, or the land that planning forgot as the SF Chron has labeled us over the years? Is it the place that is eating up the tax base for the entire east bay, while having the highest rents in alameda county, plus I would guess the highest proportion of only low wage and high wage jobs.

    The community in emeryville is changing, in part because of the massive construction of new units. . What you see on San Pablo is the remnants of the old emeryville. (Gateway market being a prime example). While there is danger there (the gas station at 62nd used to be - can't speak to the present - a location for drug sales - and certainly is a mini track while young girls are being victimized, there are also many small struggling businesses that cater to that old emeryville.

    Where this all is going is to ask if you are asking for the street to serve the new residents, those who like the small cafes and expensive restaurants found up by Dwight - or to be a mixed small business community, that serves older residents of the community as well as the new ones? It isn't an easy question, and it accepts the premise of your article about the lack of wisdom of making planning decisions in terms only of which land users will contribute the most to the tax base, but it is the important question.

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  4. The three photos of Berkeley are all on one block at University and do not accurately represent the majority of San Pablo through Berkeley. While not always safe, It is easier to use old brick buildings rather than erecting new structures that meet current seismic codes and disabled access. Emeryville is doing a tremendous job with with attracting developers, and especially on San Pablo Avenue. Berkeley is not friendly to developers and it's rare to see any plans for gentrification. I applaud Nora Davis for her pushing out the weak who don't deserve to live in a Emeryville. Berkeley needs a leader like Davis because she has a way of influencing the other council members to vote her way. She is very persuasive and could run Emeryville all by herself. Shame on you to doubt the such a dominant force who brings in big developers to pave over the filth.

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    1. Nora Davis didn't bring in Arizmendi. She did, however, play a very large role in bringing in KFC and I-Hop. Do you think bringing in these huge chains is "paving over the filth"? Have you every hung out in front of the KFC or I-Hop? Yikes! Or Pak n Save? Dull, boring condos on every corner is cleaning up the city? I doubt those that can afford to live in these condos avtually spend very much money in Emeryville, or spend any time hanging out on San Pablo Avenue. Let's tear down or cover up historical sites and pave the way for huge developers to come in! That ALWAYS makes for an interesting, eclectic city! Eville has some good developments lately: Honor Bar, Prizefighter, Rotten City Pizza, and some long-time greats like Townhouse. The Eville waterfront is a treasure. There are some beautiful historic sites, buildings, and old homes that the City hasn't torn down (yet). These bring life and character and substance to the city, all the while keeping us connected to the positive aspects of Eville history. Hopefully they will not get torn down or covered up. Eville is good at destroying historical sites and buildings, making way for big chains. Hey, let's put in a Walmart. That would be great for Eville, and surely pave over any filth. Does the City Council have any idea what makes a great city? I think not. Look at College Ave in Oakland, the rebirth of Uptown Oakland, the slow but progressing Jack London Square district, and certain parts of Berkeley (yes, even on San Pablo.) It can be done. Preserve some history, promote independent retail instead of big chains, beautify the streets with tasteful, historically significant landscaping, more parks and rec, cleaner streets, better restaurants and cafes, pedestrian friendly corridors, and...listen to what people really want from their city when it comes to arts, entertainment, recreation, transportation, food and beverage.

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  5. Larry, your sarcasm is noted, but you do make a valid point. All of Brian's Berkeley photos are of one side of the street of one block. It does not paint an accurate picture of San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. There are plenty of fast food restaurants on San Pablo in Berkeley as well (Church's, Popeye's, McDonald's, etc). And even the one block Brian likes praise has one vacant storefront, one store (Good-Vibes) with blocked windows that look terrible (they don't do this on their other stores) and another occupied by Sign-O-Rama. That's not the type of business that is desirable on a primary commercial corridor. So, basically what you have is a one block with one good restaurant (Sea Salt) one mediocre restaurant (Paisan) one mediocre cafe (Trieste) and one office user (Sierra Club). The difference is that you have good architecture and nice trees. Brian incorrectly states that "the [tree] species selected [in Emeryville] don't grow as large and spreading as Berkeley's." In reality, the trees on San Pablo in Berkeley and Emeryville are the spame specie. They are all London Planes. Berkeley's are just older.

    I'd rather hang out in front of Arizmendi than in front of Cafe Trieste. Oh wait, I do that.

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    1. Oh, so I've got it all wrong? Really, it's Berkeley that sucks and Emeryville's great? That's funny because I could have sworn it was the other way around. So all the pedestrian traffic on San Pablo Avenue has it wrong too I guess. Somebody ought to tell them that Berkeley sucks and Emeryville's a better place to shop and stroll and linger. I think they'll realize they were wrong just like me, once somebody tells 'em.

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    2. No one needs to tell them, they already know. On my way home from Berkeley tonight I counted 26 pedestrians and bicyclists between University and Ashby and I counted 47 pedestrians and bicyclists between 47th and Adeline. The Emeryville stretch is less than half as long and had almost twice as many people on the street. They just aren't people you care to celebrate. I live near San Pablo and this level of activity is typical. There are always a lot of people out. It's a bustling place. If you walked it very often you'd know that.

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    3. Still, it's strange that your observation deviates from everyone else's. Maybe because other people aren't counting pedestrians they don't care to celebrate...you know, the non-celebratory people.

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  6. Is Mr Donahue running out of things about Eville to bash? Eville's SPA isn't perfect, and it has to deal with a demographic closer to Oakland than Berkeley. Fact is Eville's SPA is sandwiched by Oakland. Also, Eville has greater physical challenges - the 580 overpass, dysfunction junction, Oaks Club, discontinuous streets intersecting SPA. Eville does not have the continuity of land use straddling SPA that Berkeley (or even Oakland) has.
    Yes, much of the redevelopment since the 1990s isn't great - PakNSav, franchises and some really cheesey architecture. These things take time. And for no lack of trying either - like the subsidized rents at the Promenade to bring independents to the area - at the behest of Fricke - which, with the exception of Arizmendi, failed.
    If Mr Donahue has been so fed up, he should have moved long ago. Or maybe, he just can't walk away from the sweet deal he has at the Coop, which, BTW, was also subsidized by the city.

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    1. Yeah, that's it...it's the discontinuous streets...it's the overpass...it's something...anything. It's just not a result of any public policy. It simply can't be that! It's amazing how that works, isn't it? How city planning cannot be effected by city planning...it's really pretty amazing.

      Oh, and please let me know when I'm going to get my subsidy from the city. I can't wait! How much am I gunna get? When is this "sweet deal" set to begin? If you had anything to do with getting me this sweet deal, I want to thank you! In fact, I'll take you out for dinner when the check arrives...my treat.

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    2. Emeryville: Love it or leave it!

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  7. Does anyone else remember what these two parts of San Pablo were like 30 or 40 years ago? Berkeley had and has a major university and affluent citizens. Emeryville had empty factories and warehouses. I had a shop in one of the first buidings in Emeryville to be chopped up for artists (we were called hippies then). The only store I went to on San Pablo was McDonalds; I avoided walking there. What is on San Pablo in Emeryville may not be great but it is a vast improvement over the past.







    The Berkeley block was not too different, with the Long Branch instead of Trieste. In Emeryville, the Oaks was the cultural high point of a landscape of rust and decay. Berkeley has long been an affluent community that could afford to shop at small stores.

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