Stuck in a Wet Paper Bag, Can't Get Out
Emeryville has a really impressive General Plan...outwardly impressive but alas, essentially worthless.
It's the premier planning document that directs how our town is to develop over time. It's impressive because among other things, it was forged democratically by the people of Emeryville. Indeed, our General Plan was so democratically vetted, it has received an award from the state for that, lending it a voice of authority. More than 25% of Emeryville residents took part in developing the General Plan...an enviable percentage other cities would love to have to lend credibility to their general plans. The full community engagement allows us to say with confidence our General Plan represents what the people collectively want for our city.
Nevertheless, after having spent some $4 million on the General Plan several years ago, the Plan has become increasingly known by developers as having no value. It's worthless because it has proven to have a total lack authoritative force regardless all the public buy-in. For instance in every single contest between a developer that wanted to tear down a building in Emeryville and the protections afforded to it against demolition as mandated by the General Plan, our feeble Plan has buckled under the strain. And then the walls of the building buckled under the developer's wreaking ball.
This remarkable disconnect between what the people want and what actually gets delivered has existed because of a hidden pro-developer agenda by the City Council majority for many years. The agenda has caused us to lose our architectural heritage among other social ills.
Twenty five years ago, Emeryville was primarily a place of 19th Century factories and warehouses. Vernacular and handsome historic brick buildings were abundant. The General Plan identified many specific buildings as being 'architecturally significant' and protected them from demolition. The current iteration of the General Plan as well as earlier editions of it were clear: historic brick buildings were catalogued and suggested be saved and rehabilitated for new uses. Besides the historical legacy and all the documented social good tidings such buildings provide, another benefit is realized when older buildings are retained; entrepreneurial start-up businesses and locally serving businesses are given a place to thrive owing to the cheaper rents older buildings allow.
In November 2014, Emeryville finally turned a corner and elected a progressive City Council majority. We like to think the hidden agenda deference to developers died with the old guard Council majority. We like to imagine the wreaking ball will henceforth only be swung against buildings without historic and architectural merit. Unfortunately though, that November day of people power came too late for vast swaths of our town and we're going to have to live with the new 'any town' built Emeryville for generations to come.
|3850 San Pablo Avenue, early 20th Century (photo used with permission)|
Note the 'Key System' street car rails on the street.
This building was destroyed in 2000 in order to build...
|3850 San Pablo Avenue today|
(the trees are nice)