Forget the Bonus Points:
Small Business 'Bonuses' Should be in the Form of Free or Reduced Rent Paid by the Developers
Arguably one of the most important pieces in the livability puzzle for a town is the idea that small locally serving businesses should be attracted and retained as an amenity for residents. It's a subject near and dear to almost everyone in Emeryville as revealed in many public resident surveys. That virtually everyone seems to want small locally serving business, especially retail, is equally remarkable as the fact that Emeryville always seems to be lacking in this department. City Hall (or the free market) can't seem to deliver what everyone wants; it's a conundrum and a would be untenable condition in a democratic polity such as ours. And yet still we wait for our non-formula independent bookstores or corner green grocers and the like. Meanwhile the stuff we don't want, the formula chain stores and fast food restaurants proliferate in Emeryville.
What's needed is a legal contract that developers can't wriggle out of. They're the ones who should be responsible for bringing us our locally serving retail.
|This is Emeryville:|
East Bay Bridge Mall
Low slung suburban style, baking asphalt.
Before the Planning Department came up
with the 'bonus point system', left to their
own devices, this is what developers
felt comfortable building
For now, let's take it as a given that people should get the town they want (as long as the law is obeyed). It should be simply a matter of creating municipal policy for us getting what we want. We'll chalk up this strange Emeryville disconnect to some kind of miscommunication for now.
As the City Council argues for how to attract and retain these small businesses we want by use of the Planning Department's 'bonus point system' as they have been of late, now would be a good time to consider new more effective ways to go about this.
Historically in Emeryville, City Hall offered essentially nothing by way of intervention in the development of the town in attempt to steer developers to deliver any specific kind of retail. What we got as a result is what the developers wanted to produce. That hands off model brought to Emeryville the 1990's suburban style malls, notable at East Bay Bridge Center and the Powell Street Plaza; decidedly not what residents say they want.
|This is Emeryville:|
Powell Street Plaza
The heart of Emeryville, regional shopping center.
Lots of parking and lots of formula chain retail.
1990's, this is what developers wanted to build but
not what Emeryville residents wanted.
Now, the Council is looking to upgrade the bonus system by giving developers 10 bonus points to developers for every 1% of project construction valuation up to a maximum of 50%. The idea is to funnel more money into City Hall's small business fund.
We think this idea is fundamentally flawed and it will not deliver the kinds of small business residents say they want.
But the problem with the City subsidies is that City Hall is ill suited to getting into the commercial landlord business. It's better to let the private sector do that.
Clearly, the way to get the type of retail and other small business we want is to get the developers, the ones with the expertise and the money, to do it. Up until now, it's all been by verbal agreement. And that's where the breakdown occurs. The developers invariably tell the City they also want these locally serving non formula business renting the street front stores associated with their (usually residential) development proposals. The developers tell us they also want what Emeryville residents want before their project is approved. They assure the Council they'll work in good faith to secure leases for locally serving retail for their projects.
We all know how that's been working out.
The business that end up signing leases in the new store fronts are formula retail chains and fast food (because of the high rents associated with new construction). Perhaps even worse, the store fronts sit empty for years because the (residential) developer isn't interested in playing commercial landlord, the store fronts having been provided by them as a condition for approval from the City.
|This Could Be Emeryville:|
Locally Serving Non Formula Retail
The only way Emeryville can get this is if the City
gets it in writing from the developers
before it approves the project.
The only realistic way to deliver locally serving non formula retail and other small business that Emeryville residents want is simply to require developers to guarantee in writing this will happen. The resultant low rent receipts can be written off by the developer as a cost of doing business in Emeryville. Like everything else, it needs to be in the form of a written contract, not a verbal agreement that has no force of law. Rather than relying on some arcane or byzantine point system that isn't delivering the goods, Emeryville simply has to start demanding developers deliver what they say they will when it comes to small locally serving retail.