Emeryville Is Finally Rethinking Development
The East Bay's tiny development powerhouse is rethinking how it grows, with an eye toward building more affordable and family-friendly housing and funding public services.By Darwin BondGraham
During the heyday of redevelopment, Emeryville was practically rolling in cash. An A-list of real estate developers lined up to build thousands of housing units and massive shopping malls. The compact East Bay burg, much of it a blighted and toxic landscape of hollowed-out factories, quickly morphed into a sparkling model of new urbanism. From 2000 to 2010, Emeryville's population expanded by 46 percent, but the city, a veritable growth machine, added housing faster than people, growing its stock by 56 percent. Emeryville's leaders took advantage of nearby Berkeley's aversion to big-box stores, adding retailers who generate millions in sales taxes.
But growth under this regime created problems — problems that have mushroomed in recent years, threatening the social fabric of the city. Emeryville's redevelopment-era regime raised money based on the expected future tax revenues that new retail and housing would generate, and channeled these funds into building even more housing, retail, and office buildings through the city's redevelopment agency. But under the rules of redevelopment, new property tax revenues raised in the city's redevelopment zones — which covered a full 95 percent of Emeryville — couldn't be used by the school district, transit agencies, and other public agencies responsible for essential services.
"Revenues just went back into more development," explained Emeryville Councilmember Jac Asher. "If you're building for a population that doesn't need or want schools, public transit, or more money for parks, that kind of financing makes sense, but what you end up doing is building housing and neglecting all those other things people need for a community."
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