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Saturday, July 4, 2015

New Concept: Emeryville Doesn't Have to Get Worse Over Time

The 'Big Three':
Let Real Negotiations Begin 

Emeryville Can Get Better Over Time

News Analysis/Opinion
The Tattler has devoted much space to document how, in the last 25 years, Emeryville has remade itself.  It's morphed to its current state from a town of condos on the western waterfront and modest working class detached single family residences on the east side with the great middle comprised mostly of abandoned factories and empty warehouses, relics from a time when America made things.  Now Emeryville's become a place for business with large regional strip malls and lots of expensive drive-in drive-out luxury apartment buildings.  The density of our town has risen greatly but Emeryville has thus far been largely unsuccessful in delivering the good things that higher density  usually promises such as parks and other civic amenities, all the while getting the bad things higher densities bring; notably worse traffic.

The town we've made has been without central's been instead built by developers, done they way they've wanted it.  In fact, every single large building project on a specific parcel of land that's been proposed by developers in our town over the last 25 years has been OK'ed by the City Council.  A developer has never been turned down by the Council.  The success rate up 'til now has been 100% for developers in Emeryville.
However the City Council is there to negotiate on the resident's behalf.  The Council is supposed to extract concessions from the developers.  They're supposed to 'sell' our town at the market rate, not cheaper than what the market will bare.  In that equation, the residents have batted zero.  In 25 years, not one developer has walked away dejected.

We're Getting 100%, Should Be 75%
The developers themselves are aware of their incredible fortune of having this little city right in the middle of the most desirable real estate in the US, and how the local City Hall is ready to do their bidding.  That's how Emeryville has gotten its reputation for arguably being the most pro-business town in the Bay Area.  The developers are aware of how lucky they've been up 'til now...they're aware more than anyone about how contracting is really supposed to work, aware of the adage that in contracting, you're supposed to lose 25% of your bids.  If you're awarded every bid, then you're bidding too low.  These developers know Emeryville has been bidding too low.  Emeryville should be losing about 25% of every development project proposal owing to the hard bargaining that's supposed to be happening from the City Council.

This has been the culture at Emeryville City Hall up 'til now and it's how we've made a city so lacking in amenities for residents.  In the wake of the historic City Council elections last November, progressives seizing the majority, change now becomes possible.  It becomes possible the City Council may hold out for a better project than what a specific developer might propose, raising the possibility a developer might walk away without a project in Emeryville.  If ever there were hope for change in the course of Emeryville's dramatic twenty five year redevelopment, one has to think now is that time.

The Big Three
As we move forward now with developing the last three large parcels of Emeryville land, we're hoping the change residents voted for will be manifest.  The last 'Big Three'; the Market Place development, the Sherwin Williams development and the Anton (Nady) development will add hugely to the traffic of Emeryville and in a story June 23rd, the Tattler has shown how they will not improve our town in terms of park land.  The Big Three will actually make the town worse off in terms of people per acre of green space.
The Big Three will also be lacking in terms of providing locally serving retail residents want, the developers offering no guarantees for this rather only vague claims of delivering this kind of retail.  Those claims ring hollow without written guarantees because we've heard these promises from developers many times before in Emeryville.
Lack of affordability, lack of family friendly design and lack of ownership units all bring negative impacts for our town.  The Big Three represent our last chance to get it right and they are going to have to make up for a lot of the negative impacts the previous development has wrought.

Over the last 25 years, the City Council has kept capitulating to developers, what amounts to waiving a white flag to them.  The idea, unspoken, is Emeryville is really no good and we're in no position to bargain with developers. The mantra has been any project is better than no project.  And while it is a subversion of civic duty to capitulate like this, there has been a rational argument presented by the Council: these projects will bring us tax receipts.  Never mind that Emeryville's improved tax base has not delivered us the public amenities described above, it should be noted this argument falls on its face when considering residential or mostly residential projects like the Big Three.  Emeryville, or most any other city for that matter, doesn't profit from housing development.  Residents actually use more in services than what they pay in (this is especially true of more expensive housing).
So the Big Three should not be OK'ed using the prior metrics....clearly, the new City Council needs to drive a harder bargain with these three developers.

New Concept: Emeryville Doesn't Have to Get Worse Over Time
The old unspoken but realized adage that Emeryville must get worse over time is now long in the tooth.  We're proposing a new concept: Emeryville gets better over time.  As new development get approved, our town gets demonstrably better in the aggregate.  We're talking actually better with the negative impacts clearly over run by the positive effects of the civic amenities the Big Three deliver.  So that means the Big Three must take the whole town in a positive direction; they deliver park land per acre of resident MORE than what Emeryville has now, they INCREASE the existing Emeryville average of affordable spaces per capita, they INCREASE the whole town square footage per resident of locally serving non formula retail, they bring more families to Emeryville at a rate HIGHER than the town has now on a per resident basis, and they deliver ownership units at a HIGHER rate than the city's average.

No Project is Better Than a Flawed Project
Failure to achieve these goals for the Big Three means the last chance to get it right in Emeryville will have been squandered.  The City Council is free to negotiate with these developers to get funds to realize the required amenities off site from these projects, but there must be a clear link and ultimately, the amenities must be delivered in a timely manner.
The Council too, must be prepared to say NO to any of these developers because our new adage must be 'no project is better than a flawed project'.  By flawed, we mean one that takes us backwards in one of the key amenity areas outlined above.  We must remember what a NO vote by the Council on one these Big Three projects means; it means Emeryville stays as it means Emeryville doesn't get worse, it's a vote of no change.  Traffic doesn't get much worse.  That's a perfectly fine vote.  We can wait for a better developer to make a proposal.  There's no emergency, it doesn't have to be developed NOW regardless what the developer might be saying.

To the City Council: It's Perfectly Legal to Vote NO
The developers of the Big Three will likely threaten to sue our city if the City Council ultimately votes NO to their projects.  This is to be expected.  But our City Council majority must remember, the State grants them the right to vote on these projects.  Inherent in that franchise is the right to vote NO.  The Emeryville City Council is legally entitled to vote NO to these projects even if it means saying NO to a billionaire.  There are certain things the Council must not say during the deliberative entitlement process for fear of unnecessarily bringing a lawsuit it's true, but ultimately voting NO isn't one of them.  We have every right and expectation that our independent City Council not be kowtowed with threats of legal action from developers.  We ask the staff: show us were it says the City Council must vote YES on the 'Development Agreement' for any of these projects.  Were that the case, there would be no vote at all, the project would simply be approved by right, bypassing the City Council.
We also recognize the lobbying City Council is going to get from interested residents with real estate material gains in the mix.  We realize these residents, who own real property nearby the Big Three stand to financially gain from a project being built owing to increased real estate values.   We know those among them who want short term financial benefit, will urge a YES vote.  To that we remind the Council their duty is not to prop up the fortunes of specific real estate investors who might also be residents but instead to build a livable city for the ages.  We aren't here to boost the fortunes of house flippers.

The first project under the scrutiny of the new progressive City Council majority is the Market Place development, coming soon.  The Council will be asked by staff to vote YES on the Development Agreement for the entire project.  Unless there's been real negotiations with regard to resident amenities that takes our town forward in terms of livability, we say NO.  It's a new day in Emeryville and we're not going to let the last undeveloped bits of our town contribute to the real problems here.  It's our last chance to get it right and we're perfectly positioned to use our clout and our legal entitlement to announce to these developers seeking to maximize their profits at our expense, we've finally arrived and we're no longer getting worse over time, instead we're getting better.


  1. I'm a contractor (not from Emeryville) and I consider getting 50% of the jobs I bid about right in this economy. If I were getting 75% of my bids, I'd raise my prices. You've made a good point here. Cities should try think about this idea. Turning away a developer here or there should be seen as correct. Think about how much better of a town you could make if developers had to be competitive in your town. Emeryville is in a position to ask for this, especially since you've already developed most of the town.

  2. Thank you for this article. I totally agree with this, especially about the fact that there's no emergency to get these last three sites developed immediately. The city council needs to get a good deal for the residents and we can wait if we have to to get it.
    Thanks again Tattler!