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Monday, May 19, 2014

The People Are Welcomed Into the People's Hall

Ordinary Emeryville Citizens Walk Where Only the Rich and Powerful and Connected Once Tread

News Analysis / Opinion
This city is going above and beyond the legal minimum in terms of public access.  And that means extraordinary things are about to happen.
Never before in modern Emeryville history has the public been granted the same status, the same access as the rich and powerful.   But starting Thursday at noon, the last will be first and the first will be last at Emeryville City Hall.  The City Manager's office, the historic locus of true power in our town, the seat of business and development legerdemain is being transformed; the shades are to be flung open, the window sashes hoisted, the smoke cleared out, the stately doors chocked open and ordinary Emeryville citizens will be in there, amidst the dark wood paneling expressing their opinions, their desires, their musings on all things Emery to the Emeryville City Manager.  Just another Thursday in Emeryville...not!
Emeryville's previous city manager Pat O'Keeffe
called himself "pro developer".  He used his
office to negotiate directly with developers

and businessmen (public not invited). 

It's being called "Lunch with the City Manager".

We like to imagine the spectacle of dozens of dastardly developers scurrying like roaches once the shaft of noonday sunlight penetrates that office Thursday as Emeryville citizens, once seen as the rabble,  stroll in.   And sadly, that cartoonish image might not be far off the mark.  For as long as we can remember and quite possibly for the entirety of Emeryville history, the City Manager would work out development deals from his office...dickering with developers seeking project approvals.  By the time the public was allowed to weigh in at Planning Commission or Council meetings, it was too late; the all but the most innocuous details of the proposed development had long been decided...behind closed doors.
The new city manager, Sabrina Landreth is different.  For one, she's a woman; probably the first in Emeryville history.  When we first met her at her first City Council meeting, she seemed cut from a different cloth.  Now, there's no denying it: business as usual in Emeryville is gone.

The City Manager's office has gone from this...
to this.
Ms Landreth is inviting the public into her office...on a regular basis, a democratic counter point to the previous two city managers that held weekly meetings with Emeryville business lobbyist and political power broker John Gooding every Monday at 9:00 AM for an extended closed door session.  Topic of discussion?  Whatever John Gooding wanted to talk about.  The meetings may have helped Mr Gooding's bottom line but was the public's interest being addressed?  We'll never know because the weekly meetings were closed to the public.  Business interests and developers would routinely meet with the City his office...behind closed doors.  If you asked, you would be told the public's interests was the only concern of the City Manager in these closed door meetings.  We had to take them at their word.  No records of the meetings were ever kept.

Now Ms Landreth has turned all that on its ear. Starting Thursday at noon, the public is invited in to talk about whatever is on their minds.  And Ms Landreth intends to make it every 3rd Thursday (exact times after this coming Thursday may change depending on how accessible it is for people).  For the time being, she's calling it "Lunch with the City Manager", or possibly (jokingly?) "Beer with the City Manager" if a later time period is settled on.  Watch this space for developments (pun not intended).

We called on Ms Landreth to do this some months ago.  We thank her for this public access she has provided to the people's hall.


  1. Do we bring our own lunch or is the City catering?

    1. Help your cause by bringing lunch for the city manager as well!

  2. Let's see more smoke-filled rooms in Emeryville filled with fat cats in stylish top hats with their pockets bulging with hundred dollar bills to grease the palms of welcoming city officials. It's time for a return for traditional values of graft and corruption to this city.