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Friday, February 15, 2013

One Year Ago, Three Years Ago

A new Tattler feature that looks at our recent history.  One year ago, councilwoman Ruth Atkin lambasted the School District saying they had "backslid" after they requested more money for consultants.  Three years ago, councilwoman Nora Davis led a drive to override a unanimous Planning Commission decision to reject Wareham Development's Transit Center project.  Both stories involved reversals by the city council of previous decisions.

Here's what was happening one year ago in Emeryville:

Councilwoman Atkin Says School District Has "Backslid"

February 15, 2012
School District Called To The Mat 
By Council

The Emery school board and the city council changed an earlier vote and unanimously granted $200,000 for consulting contractors to assist in a "change of culture" to implement programs associated with the Center of Community Life.  The money request was rebuffed vigorously at a contentious January meeting wherein city councilwoman Ruth Atkin admonished the School District for "going down the wrong direction".

The January request for $200,000 to pay the consultants, the National Equity Project and Partners In School Innovation, jarred council member Ruth Atkin; "If we still need culture change after 10 years, we're going down the wrong direction, we're not being effective" she said adding, "This sounds like the School District has seriously backslid."  Ms Atkin's colleagues chimed in expressing concern about the direction of the District.  Ms Atkin noted the money request seemed to represent a disturbing drift in District policy, "The scale has swung to 'process' from academic achievement" she lamented.

Before a shovelful of dirt has been taken, the $200,000 ultimately approved at the February City/Schools meeting will be added to the $2 million of Measure J bond money already spent on the Center of Community Life, a school/community center project to be built on San Pablo Avenue.
Emeryville voters passed Measure J in November 2010 to authorize $95 million in bonds to build the Center of Community Life but crashing assessed valuation in Emeryville has dropped the bonding capacity to $40 million.  District officials note $8 million was recently added by the federal government in the form of a low interest loan. The city's defunct Redevelopment Agency was to kick in an extra $25 million but those funds may now not be available, leaving just $48 million to build a project originally slated to cost $120 million.
Here's what was happening in Emeryville three years ago:

Council Overrides Planning Commission

February 15, 2010

Wareham Flexes Political Muscle

In an example of how some in Emeryville are more equal than others, a favored developer will likely gain approval for a bulky office tower without answering criticism from Emeryville’s normally pliant Planning Commission.

Wareham Development Corporation, the builder of most of Emeryville’s bio-tech and office complexes, is so confident that its planned 165-foot tall office tower and parking garage will sail through as-is, that the firm didn’t bother to address any of the reasons the city’s appointed Planning Commission cited when they rejected the building’s plans two weeks ago.

Wareham didn't have to. The Planning Commission's ruling was appealed by Nora Davis and other members of the pro-business council majority.

The so-called "Transit Center," was rejected by the planning commission after it ruled that the accompanying environmental studies required by state law "lacked credibility." The commission also dismissed the resident amenities and benefits touted by the developer, as ‘dubious.’ One commissioner stated that the proposed building was clearly "out of scale" with the neighborhood.

A rejection of this sort, especially by a body seldom finding fault in any project, would normally cause reconsideration by the city bureaucracy or the firm making the proposal. But this is not a normal project, nor a normal city.

No need to go back to the blueprints. Wareham, and its leader, Rich Robbins don't need to listen. After all, this is a firm with the ‘chutzpah’ to name a parking garage and office tower a “Transit Center.” Robbins is also a man with enough juice in Emeryville to get what he wants.

The council majority didn't even wait for Robbins to pony up the cost of filing an appeal. Instead, they appealed it themselves. Now the council gets the chance to overrule its own hand picked commissioners.

Tomorrow, the council will likely ignore the planning commission’s objections and approve the project without alteration. Even the planning department's official report urges full acquiescence to Robbins wishes.

The project has created controversy over the years. Many millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies were demanded by Robbins and granted by the Council. Before the ink was even dry on the city's new general plan, a special exemption was added for Robbins' garage and tower. Construction will disturb one of the city’s EPA Superfund Sites, a toxic legacy of a Westinghouse plant currently sealed beneath the Amtrak parking lot. Construction will excavate tons of PCBs and truck them through our community. Additionally, the Bike/Pedestrian Committee unanimously objected to what the project will do to the city’s new and only Bicycle Boulevard----bring heavy traffic to a street from which bicycle lanes were removed.

The Council will consider their own appeal of the Planning Commission's decision Tuesday. To anyone who might want to witness an expression of raw political power, attend the meeting, scheduled to get underway at City Hall on Tuesday, February 16 at 7:15 p.m.

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