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Friday, July 5, 2013

Community Center's Operational Costs Shock City Council

Other Shoe Drops at Community Center
Massive New Costs to City Revealed

400% Increase in Operating Expenses
100% Increase in Maintenance Expenses
City's General Fund to be Put at Risk
$11 Million Gamble

After the smoke had cleared at last Tuesday evening's City Council meeting, the contentious Emeryville Center of Community Life had been transformed from a self-proclaimed fiscally prudent money saving school/community center project into a budget busting money pit festooned with poison pill hidden trap-doors ready to bankrupt City Hall.  Even long-time apologists for the project appeared stunned by the cascade of devastating numbers revealed.

Nora Davis
400% increase?!
We're supposed to be
After waiting for years, the City's portion of the actual estimated operational costs of the Center of Community Life (ECCL) were finally revealed by the Staff leaving the majority of the City Council dumbfounded.  After having publicly pronounced "efficiencies" and "economies of scale" inherent in the new Center,  the revelations Tuesday made it clear these promises were never going to materialize and instead the project will actually increase the City's costs dramatically, the announcement of which drew loud exclamations from an incredulous Nora Davis, "The whole idea with this was to LOWER our costs" the Councilwoman said.

Under discussion was an agreement between the City of Emeryville and the Emery School District that would define many of the Center's operational arrangements. Known as a 'Memorandum of Understanding' (MOU) this would be the third such agreement in the ECCL design and development process, thus it is referred to as "MOU #3."

The City Staff Report revealed three major fiscal impacts if the City enters into MOU #3:
  1. The agreement would require the City to make the District “whole” even if the City's former Redevelopment Agency's approximately $21 million is taken away by the State via pending litigation.
  2. The City will assume significantly increased Operations and Maintenance costs for Community Services--the Staff Report estimates a cost increase of nearly 400%. 
  3. The City will assume significantly increased annual allocation for Capital Replacement costs--estimated at a cost increase of over 100%.
$11 Million Gamble
The first point brought looks of dismay from the Council, as Staff explained that if the State Department of Finance succeeds in its efforts to challenge the City's ECCL contribution of approximately $21 million, then MOU #3 would still require the City to cover approximately $10-11 million of ECCL expenses.  The School District is in effect saying to the City, 'If you win your lawsuit, we want your money, and if you lose your lawsuit, we still want your money!'   Of course, the problem with this is the source of that $10 to $11 million is uncertain and would almost certainly jeopardize other projects on the City's Capital Improvements wish list.

Jac Asher
$20 million and we're 
NOT going to get 
our bike/ped path?
Mayor Kurt Brinkman appeared angered by the brazenness of the School District's new numbers, "The whole idea was the School District could run a leaner machine" he reminded Staff and the District employees attending.  Councilwoman Jac Asher also expressed dismay at the new numbers and she invoked an earlier revealed broken promise from the School District, "We shouldn't spend [more than] $20 million to not have a bike/pedestrian path" she reminded attendees, referring to the School District recalcitrance in building a required bike/ped path associated with the school/community center build out.

400% Increase
The basis of much of MOU #3 is a cost-sharing formula that has the District paying 71-74% and the City paying 26-29% of many expenses. In the case of the City's Youth Services this formula yielded a table on page 18 of the Staff Report that shows the City's current Recreation Center annual budget of $80,310 would, once housed at the new gold-plated ECCL, have to be increased to $319,279, an increase of 398%.  Jaws dropped on several Council members' faces, "We were supposed to SAVE money with maintenance and operating", said Council member Davis.

100% Increase
Finally, MOU #3 would require the City to set aside funds annually for major maintenance to the ECCL facilities. The Staff Report explains that currently, "the City contributes $386,500 per year to the Major Maintenance Fund for capital replacement for 139,755 square feet of public buildings and 44.21 acres of parks and open space."  The report continues, "It is anticipated that a like amount of money will need to be contributed on an annual basis for the City’s share of the capital replacement needs of the ECCL Project comprising 129,805 square feet of building space and 233,290 square feet of outdoor space."  That is, the City's annual major maintenance expenses are expected to double once the ECCL project is completed.

Kurt Brinkman
Does the School District
have any idea what
it's doing?
One other moment during the discussion brought the room to an eeiry silence. Mayor Brinkman asked City Staff whether the School District had sufficient funds to complete the project, wondering whether a final cost agreement was in place between the District and Turner Construction, "Does anybody have any idea what is the cost of the project?"  City Staff indicated that, to the best of their knowledge, the District was still in discussions with Turner and so this remained uncertain.   While the rest of the stunned room seemed to be quietly asking themselves whether the ECCL could be built at all, Mayor Brinkman noted that construction costs are currently rising and it would be good for the District to get this finalized, "With prices going up for construction, does the District have the money?" he asked.

The Staff promised to revisit the Council in September so a final MOU #3 agreement with the School District can be struck, "bring us back some better numbers" Councilwoman Davis warned.


  1. Can anybody else see a connection between this and Pat O'Keeffe quitting so suddenly?

  2. not only patrick o'keeffe. those who jumped ship or left town in the last two years alone for whatever reason:

    school district's chief business officer elaine neilson, 2011
    school district's interim chief business officer terri ryland 2012
    superintendent john sugiyama, did not renew his contract, 2011
    school board member cheryl webb, 2012
    school board member pat hooper, 2012
    director of eccl community engagement hayin kim, 2012
    director of parks/rec/senior center melinda chin, 2012
    finance director edmund suen, 2011
    finance director karan reid, 2012
    superintendent of emeryville schools tony smith, 2007
    superintendent of oakland schools, tony smith,2013
    deputy city manager delores turner, 2012
    planning dept. deborah diamond 2012
    deputy city attorney michael guina, 2012
    planning commissioner frank flores, 2012

    this list does not include those members of the measure j/eccl citizens oversight committee which started out with 17 members (15 adults/2 students)and is now down to 9.

    1. I would also point out that a large number of extremely talented ancillary personnel (teachers, classified staff, etc.) have left or been run off by the malfeasance, and pathetic management of the district.

    2. Many of the above listed are people who left because they know that their continued presence and criminal decisions would end them up in jail. Lets list those idiots, like Flores, Hooper, Smith, and Guina. These folk, by the way, left town.

    3. @ Anon 8:38am,

      Have you thought, perhaps, that some of the people on the above list resigned because they were tired of trying to "fight" the entrenched administration and did not believe in the direction things were going? The poor management? If one is not at the tip-top of the food chain, there is little one can do to improve any situation as any opinion counter to the administration's view point is disregarded. Why would one stay and work in that type of organization? Both the board and the council are clueless as to how things work in the city. They only know the information they are fed by "staff" which is controlled and edited by the city manager and the superintendent.

    4. Emeryville has a new City Manager! Perhaps positive change looms for us. At least a monkey wrench has been thrown into the gears of the above commenters described paradigm.

  3. please tell me exactly who is "staff?" and how is it that memo of understanding #3 is now being revealed to the public AFTER o'keefe's departure? what exactly are we paying city council members for? isn't this also a responsibility of the oversight committee who previously met monthly but due to poor attendance, has been cut back to quarterly meetings?

    roy miller seems to be the chief speaker at city school meetings and school board meetings but isn't his title "architect" for the school district, not budget analyst?

    who is minding the darned store?

    1. Transparency is not their strong suit.

  4. This will soon be forgotten. No matter what happens, no matter how bad we find this ECCL to be, no matter what news uncovers what travesty, the school board moves forward with this project unaffected. They are the most disciplined group ever. They stay on message and on their path. Every set back is ignored and moved aside. There is no force on this earth that can change this project one iota. Impressive! I love reading about it though, so keep these articles coming.