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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Corporate Donations to Our Schools? Pixar (& others) Ain't Feelin' It

In Emeryville, Corporate 'Generosity'
is Not Really Generosity

When It's Done, It's Done To Help Themselves

News Analysis

Q:  How much money did Pixar donate to Emeryville schools last year?
A:  Goose egg!

Corporations commonly donate money to needy causes in the communities where they're located.  It's an effective way for them to remove the taint of all the negative impacts associated with their presence for members of the community.   Emeryville, having been transformed into a corporate mecca over the last 20 years should be awash in donations for causes like education (the perennial corporate favorite) then right?  Wrong.
Corporations here start out giving to the schools, very visible giving usually when they need something from City Hall.  After whatever favors are granted and they no longer need us for anything however, corporate philanthropy commonly slows to a trickle or even stops altogether.  In the Emeryville world of corporate generosity, giving is seen as a means to an end.

Corporations like to foster community good will towards themselves by such indiscreet giving.  Sometimes their City Council sycophants will do the PR work and loudly proclaim the corporate generosity.  Of these, Pixar/Disney, with its $42 billion revenue in 2012 is notable.
It's common knowledge in Emeryville that Pixar is extremely generous to our schools; offering mentoring, screenings of their new films for fundraising and lots of money.  Everybody knows they give a lot to our schools, right?  One would expect them to, after all they're a multi-billion dollar corporation with a child-centric raison d'etre,  taking up a huge percentage of land in our town.  How much money do you think they donated last year?  The answer is zero.  Plus the film screening fundraisers have stopped all together.  Pixar's donations to the schools, started out robust as they sought to expand their campus a few years ago but since then the much ballyhooed spigot has quietly been turned off.

Pixar gave Emeryville schools 
zero last year

Back in 2004, when Pixar needed the citizens of Emeryville to approve a controversial major campus expansion, their corporate philanthropy towards Emeryville's schools was made known to everybody.  They endowed the schools over $100,000.  It was a major feather in their cap as they sought to persuade Emeryville residents to vote yes to Measures U and T; the ballot measures needed for their construction project to start.  The NO on U & T side said Pixar should build their campus expansion but should enter into a Community Benefit Agreement; an accord to provide local hire for the construction, to guarantee money for the schools, help with affordable housing and other such things.  Community Benefit Agreements (CBA's) are common in the Bay Area for major corporate planned unit developments like the Pixar expansion.
Pixar for its part said in addition to their ongoing generosity towards the schools (not forced but donated voluntarily), they would pay millions every year in business taxes.  As it turned out, after Measures U & T passed, they claimed their income was to be attributed to Burbank, the headquarters of Disney Corporation, of which Pixar is a subsidiary.  As a result of that claim, they paid Emeryville just $8000 in 2011 business taxes according to City Councilman Kurt Brinkman, and presumably similar amounts in subsequent years.
We just spent $100 million on Phase 1 of our campus.
But we're willing to lose that and leave Emeryville
if we have to sign a CBA like other corporations do.
Oh, and we're not paying taxes or giving anything
to your schools after you vote YES on T&U.
Before the 2004 election Pixar had just completed Phase 1 of their campus at a cost of approximately $100 million.  However, the thought of having to sign a CBA with the people of Emeryville was enough for them to claim they would pull up stakes and leave our town unless they got everything they wanted.  That was a threat Councilwoman Nora Davis and some of her colleagues said was absolute it should be noted, and she railed against any citizen who had the temerity to ask that City Hall negotiate with Pixar for a better deal.
Not Just Pixar
And that's the way it goes in Emeryville.  When corporations here face any kind of exposure, when they need something from us, out comes the check book and the corporate largess towards the schools flows like wine.
Bay Street Mall developer Madison Marquette gave $50,000 to Emeryville's schools in 2009 when they needed the Council to OK the exclusive right to negotiate (ERN) for the "Site B" mall expansion on some fallow ground to the north of the mall.  The ERN agreement between City Hall and Madison Marquette would lock out any other developer from making proposals for the site.  After the City Council granted the ERN, Madison Marquette, with its portfolio of 23 million square feet of prime retail real estate holdings, has severely curtailed spending on Emeryville schools.  Since 2009 they have only given $5000 or less per year.  Wareham Development's donations to the schools has dropped precipitously from the years when they were asking permission to build several major projects in Emeryville from 2008 to 2011. During those years Wareham gave $60,000 to as much as $87,500.  Last year Wareham gave just $15,000.   Emeryville's Novartis Diagnostics, a major bio tech corporation at $58 billion in US revenue last year alone hasn't needed anything recently from City Hall, no request for permission to expand their campus or any other favors and so they haven't donated anything at all to Emeryville's schools.


  1. Thanks Brian,
    Many residents have tried over the years for CBA's for various developments to little or no avail. Pixar is particularly bothersome as it engulfed land slated for affordable housing in order to extend a car park. Remember how Mayor Kassis promised to find property for Semi-Freddie's when Pixar expanded. Semi F is now in Alameda and would have loved to stay here. It amazes me just how little is given to education in Emeryville, including early education, which gets forgotten when mentioning schools. I thought that Pixar and Novartis might pay for the "wings" of the proposed new school--an art and science wing for example. After all, residents are still paying off the redevelopment loans given to these companies. We have site B and Sherwin left to develop, let's try and do something for the residents who will yet again be left paying for developer/corporate greed.

  2. It is my understanding that they gave to another district; an even bigger slap in the face for Emeryville residents!

  3. That's funny, Pixar still has fundraisers all the time, for private schools. Emeryville needs to start collecting business tax based on paid wages instead of income generated. How many other companies in Emeryville state that their income and sales are generated elsewhere. Also, what about all these so called "non-profits" where the salaries are high and no income is stated as profit? Come on Emeryville, Wake Up! Stop thinking about generating money by parking tickets and property transfer taxes as these taxes are extracted out of the residents pockets. Fix the business taxing structure you have now and you will have more than enough money to make this city flush.

    1. Increasing the transfer tax has shown to be effective. All our neighbors have done it and they now have control over their finances.
      Read the following Oakland Tribune article. We tried to "fix" the business tax situation here in 2011. We passed Measures C&D. In response, Pixar took all their receipts down to Burbank. Here's what happens when a podunk city like Emeryville tries to outsmart a billion dollar corporation like Pixar:

      Voters approve tax measures on Emeryville ballot
      By Angela Woodall
      Oakland Tribune
      Posted: 11/08/2011 08:36:38 PM PST

      EMERYVILLE -- Voters in Tuesday's election decided to change the way the city levies business license fees in an attempt to increase municipal revenues.

      That means Pixar Studios will have to start paying the fees, which the company ceased to do after Disney acquired the studio in 2006. Measure C, approved by 81 percent of voters, also increases the tax rate from 0.08 percent of gross receipts to 0.10 percent.

      A little more than 79 percent of voters who turned out Tuesday or mailed in ballots voted yes on Measure D. The measure is expected to affect Pixar, Novartis and LeapFrog by raising the cap on the tax from the current $117,000 to $300,000 a year.

  4. Brian, I think we need to tandem a "black list" of corporate shaming. Shame on you Pixar and what you've become.