Businesses: "Unless We Get Everything We Want We're Taking Our Marbles and Leaving"
City Hall: "We Have to Do What Business Says or All Will Be Lost"
The record is stuck. Can somebody move the needle forward? It keeps repeating itself.
What we refer to is the oft repeated mantra heard year in and year out at City Hall; the call and response followed by the familiar hijacking of public policy for private gain. It's the old stand-by warning from developers and businesses that they'll....wait for it....pack up and leave unless they get everything they want on whatever relevant proposal is being discussed at City Hall. The conciliatory reaction always comes from Councilwoman Nora Davis with a second from Councilman Kurt Brinkman; we have to do what developer X says is their response. Emeryville is in no position to ask for anything good they remind us. With Councilwoman Ruth Atkin as their third vote, it's been a highly effective formula for delivering the goods to developers and business in Emeryville. This reputation of ours is earned.
Emeryville: Charter City
The old formula is going to repeat itself this summer. As concerned Emeryville citizens begin their signature drive to put the proposal before voters that Emeryville become a Charter City on November's ballot, a new paradigm that will permit us to tax businesses like other Bay Area cities do, the Chamber of Commerce will once again join forces with the deep pockets in the corporate community to try to defeat it. No new parks for us and sidewalk repair must wait, you understand.
We can hear it now, loudly proclaimed, nay screamed this summer and fall: all will be lost if Emeryville becomes a Charter City. It's going to be in our mailboxes in torrents of professionally designed glossy color flyers. It's going to be on our answering machines after we come home from work, warning us of the coming apocalypse. Our dinners will be interrupted this fall; poorly paid young men and women from places other than Emeryville will be warning us in 7:00 PM phone calls. You may be able to ignore the phone calls but your door will be incessantly knocked on as well. Behind the door will be an Oakland resident or a Hayward resident telling you how bad it'll be if the Charter City Initiative passes and Emeryville taxes business like other cities do. They won't tell you they're not from Emeryville and they won't tell you they're being paid to knock on your door and make phone calls but they will assure you they only have your interests at heart.
These well funded scare campaigns rise up every time business is asked to pay their fair share in Emeryville.
We remember the card room plebiscite of 1997, a tax increase for Emeryville gambling parlors where in the Oaks Club, the only such parlor, would be "driven to bankruptcy" we were told if they were required to pay the Bay Area card room average tax rate. It passed of course, and the Oaks Club is doing just fine....but now paying Emeryville what other card rooms in the Bay Area pay.
Then there was the recent attempt to remove Emeryville's infamous business tax cap, a mechanism that allows Pixar and other large businesses to pay much less taxes than other smaller businesses in town pay. That voter drive was sabotaged before it even got to the ballot box thanks to Council members Nora Davis and Kurt Brinkman. It would be the end of Emeryville they assured us after Pixar threatened to leave town if Emeryville voters were allowed to decide about the tax cap.
Of course there was also Measures T & U, a 2004 campaign to get a Community Benefits Agreement in trade for a planned Pixar campus expansion. A YES vote would negate the CBA, give Pixar millions in Emeryville subsidies in cash and property transfers and negate our General Plan and zoning regulations. Again Pixar was going to leave Emeryville the Chamber of Commerce assured us (right after they spent tens of millions of dollars on their Phase One campus build out). The NO on T&U simply asked for a Community Benefits Agreement to be entered into, a standard procedure for City Halls outside Emeryville. But Pixar told us it was an existential threat. It was a scare tactic that worked; Emeryville rolled over with prompting from Nora Davis, Kurt Brinkman and the Chamber of Commerce, netting Pixar millions of dollars in City Hall subsidies.
It should be noted Pixar, the multi-billion dollar corporation is now paying us $8000 per year in taxes (thanks to the tax cap) the Tattler found out.
We also fondly remember the anti-Measure C campaign of 2005. It was a lavishly funded campaign to stop Measure C, Emeryville's 'Living Wage for Hotel Workers' ballot initiative. The campaign, run by Councilwoman Nora Davis and the Chamber of Commerce, assured us all would be lost if Emeryville hotels were forced to pay their workers a couple of dollars more per hour; a living wage. Nora joined with the hotels and scores of other businesses in town to warn us of the dire consequences in store for us. The Chamber of Commerce even fired up their Political Action Committee (EmPAC) with it's massive war chest of donations from out-of-town businesses to take the fight to the hotel workers. Hotels would fold up their tents en masse and leave Emeryville we were told.
In the end, Emeryville voters DID pass the living wage for hotel workers, regardless of all the hyperbolic screaming from Nora Davis, the Chamber and their corporate paymasters.
One hotel, Woodfin Suites on Shellmound Street actually did leave town in protest after they lost a bruising court battle to not pay their workers their back wages. Woodfin was subsequently bought by Hyatt.
The mass exodus of hotels never materialized curiously. In fact, Emeryville is about to get a brand new hotel, Hyatt Place at Bay Street. And they're going to pay their workers a living wage. Tellingly, Nora Davis, her sycophants and the Chamber of Commerce never admitted they were wrong about the consequences of Measure C.
Instead they've begun preparing themselves for the next apocalypse looming this fall for Emeryville. The Charter City Initiative is coming. Emeryville voters will be allowed to decide for themselves. All will be lost people, all will be lost.