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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Emeryville Residents Warned of Mass Exodus of Business

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"

Opinion/News Analysis
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.


  1. gee I remember steve jobs (or maybe it was a spokesperson) saying the same thing at a city council meeting before pixar broke ground.

  2. And people think Brian is crazy. He's been here and seen all this nonsense (and worse) for decades! It's enough to drive a person to show up at meetings and challenge people! It's enough to drive a person to write a sarcastic blog! But, it's easier to attempt to discount the messenger than to respond to the message...because the message is right on the money!

  3. I remember the High School that was bought and paid for. Its gone now. And, we are left with a way over budget, ill conceived ECCL. It will fail; You'll see!
    "No" to the Charter City, and the Transfer Tax. We should encourage new business.
    It is time to pause for a while.

    1. I'm not sure I understand you. We can't afford to pay for basic infrastructure repair like sidewalks in Emeryville because the Redevelopment Agency is no more and we charge some 30 times less in these taxes than all our neighboring towns do. Our neighbors can afford to repair sidewalks and such but Emeryville can't. And we need to continue this because...why exactly?

    2. Ask yourself why we can't afford the basics? Imprudent fiscal management
      that's why. We do have the money for basics. Payroll is padded, and their working atmosphere is entirely too casual. Employees should be more accountable. We ARE NOT Oakland or Berkeley; we are Emeryville!

    3. You don't need to ask yourself why we can't afford the basics. You need to look at the ledgers. It's because of the demise of the Redevelopment Agency. That agency was to fund more than $200 million on a CIP wish list AND pay for ongoing infrastructure repair. It was a cash cow that is no more. Other neighboring cities have lost their RDA's as well but they charge $15 per $100,000 value in transfer fees. We get fifty five cents. That critical difference means they have a functioning government that provides basic services to their people. You're arguing for anarchy and that's a legitimate thing to ask for but you're going to have to show how the average resident (not just people leaving Emeryville hoping to make a killing) will benefit to have credibility. Anarchy now!? Maybe, first prove it before you scream it.

    4. The “basics” are here, they are just not being allocated. Why blame the financial problems on the Redevelopment Agency? Wasn’t the Redevelopment Agency just a name given to the City Council? The Redevelopment Agency was just a card game sanctioned by our own city attorney to which they gambled and lost our money. Now is the time to get real. Civil service should be a solid job, but not a highly lucrative one extracted from the pockets of the working taxpayers. When our city decides to cut back on wages and benefits, scaling back to what is reasonable, then, and only then, our residents will have the opportunity to see our money going back to something that would could benefit us.

    5. The Redevelopment Agency was a special taxing agency sanctioned by Sacramento that provided a funding mechanism to fight blight via tax increment bonding. It's illegal for Emeryville to do that on it's own without State sanction. So with no RDA funds and (almost) no transfer tax funds or other revenue to speak of, we're going to do something different if we want sidewalks and streets and parks and such. Raising taxes by increasing the transfer tax or other tax revenue increases is out of the question as you say. Other cities can do it but we can't you say. So we're in a quandary here aren't we?

      How about if we form an anarcho/syndicalist commune? We can print our own money;Emeryville scrip. If the Feds move in we can have a defense department to fight 'em off. I think this is the best way out of our pickle: Emeryville; the arnarcho/syndicalist commune it'll be a utopia. I hope you have plenty of free time.

    6. Fighting blight is hard in Emeryville so the City decided to include the entire city as it's very own redevelopment district. No other city around did this. This is why I say it was a scam and Emeryville is a victim of its' own greedyness. Back when they were doing this they were saying "this is a win win situation". Now look what we have. The city is not capable to deal with any more of our tax dollars. They need to make do with what they have (which is truly PLENTY).

    7. Let's use Emeryville scrip. We can print as much as we need.

  4. to anonymous feb. 15 at 6:40 p.m.

    encouraging new small businesses is fine but ordinances for new larger developments (developer fees for the schools and traffic impact fees) must be enforced and not based on who you are. I speak from experience.

    there is a seriously broken sidewalk being uprooted by tree roots on the south side of 62nd street between hollis and horton. I have asked the city for five years to repair it and nothing has been done. maurice kaufman, director of public works, first accepted my complaint and later said it is the responsibility of the property owner (wareham.) I warned him that one day someone will trip and sue the city big time. could this by why periodically there are five to ten lawsuits against the city?(see council agendas.)

    as for a charter city, wouldn't you rather vote for your mayor rather than have that person selected by the city council? it is "supposed" to be on a rotation basis but ken bukowski who was a city council member since the 90s can attest that it is not.

    for your information, 1,982 people voted for measure j (701 against) and now many are complaining that the taxpayers are being cheated. where are those supporters now? isn't anyone questioning the sudden outflux of city hall staffers, school district board members and administrators, not to mention the school district's own architect and director of community engagement?

    1. I'm not sure is voting for our own mayor would help much. It would probably be better just to hire someone to keep the meetings at a professional level instead of a circus act as usual. I am curious about this transfer tax that will be assessed on not only business, but also on its residents. The tax is projected to raise 3 million in new city revenue. This amount is only a drop in the bucket to the 30 million the city hands out to its employees. It seems fishy because the budget only calls for 30 Thousand to be spent on sidewalk repairs. We need to fix what we have. Any new city revenues will be spent on its own and not sidewalks or parks. Wake up people!

    2. Fix the sidewalk; I agree.
      At large Mayoral Elections don't matter that much; it's the Transfer Tax that will be taken out of the hands of the electorate, and dumped into the hands of elected officials; and we will be stuck. Transfer Tax is a bad idea.
      Measure J was a "sneak attack"; an off year election, placement in an obscure location on the ballot, and an IGNORANT batch of voters. Ask each voter today how they would vote, if they could do a do over.


  5. type "california transfer tax" in your search box and you will find many links to how this works and who pays. is the most succinct. the state bar of california real property law section is also thorough at 18 pages.

  6. hallelujah. the san francisco bay guardian has a short but excellent article (feb. 19-25 issue) on san francisco developers not paying their share of developer fees for infrastructural needs: roads, sidewalks, street lights, transit, parks, water and sewer systems. it's not just a matter of replacing city hall staff; it's enforcing the ordinances that we do have.