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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Introducing Fannie Lou Hamer Park

Emeryville's First Large Park in 40 Years:
Fannie Lou Hamer Park

Opinion/News Analysis
Emeryville, you've been lied to.
It doesn't have to be more housing.
We could build a large park instead.
Emeryville residents, long agitating for public parks, could finally get a new large park at the Sherwin Williams site along Horton Street as part of a City Council led drive to deliver on the promise of 26 acres of new parks built in our town before 2028.  The fallow Sherwin Williams site could be turned into a large new park almost eight acres in size and would be funded by the sale of a park bond floated by a newly chastened City Council who, since the 1980's has been terribly remiss in the building of parks to keep up with our population growth.  We propose the new park, the biggest built in Emeryville since the Watergate peninsula was constructed, be called Fannie Lou Hamer Park named in honor of the famous civil rights leader of the 1960’s and as such would represent our values in social justice and recognize the citizen's need for a leafy green open space respite from the daily tribulations of congested urban life.  After a long multi-decade program of building housing and shopping malls in Emeryville, Fannie Lou Hamer Park would provide a much needed counterpoint to that as well as redress the long-on-talk, short-on-action issues of livability our town has been subject to.  Fannie Lou Hamer Park could correct a lot of wrongs and make our town as nice as other towns.

The Why's and How's of Fannie Lou Hamer Park 
Emeryville is vastly underserved by parks/open space according to the American Planning Association and other good government/city planning institutions.  But not for long:
  • The Sherwin Williams site is Emeryville’s last large piece of fallow ground available to build a large park on, and fallow land is the least expensive location to build a park.
  • Emeryville’s residents to park acreage ratio, now almost unimaginable at nearly 500:1, has increased every year since 1979 and FLH Park offers a chance to reverse that.
  • No cost to relocate any businesses, building tear down or clean-up (like we incurred at Doyle Hollis Park).
  • Financed by floating a general obligation park bond leveraging Emeryville’s copious assessed valuation. 
  • The property is acquired by standard private to public eminent domain after paying the developer fair market value.
  • The trade off is clear; 30 affordable units above our existing average to be provided by the Sherwin Williams project and a small art gallery versus an eight acre public park.
  • Beautiful tree framed sight line to our future iconic South Bayfront Bike/Pedestrian Bridge that will touch down in the park.
  • The Horton Street Bike Boulevard is saved.
  • Much less traffic in Emeryville. 
  • Chances for citizen recharging and even solitude available that only a large park can provide.
  • Parks foster civic pride and citizen engagement.
  • We get the park now rather than waiting for 12 years. 

The above list offers a cogent and rational take one would expect to have traction in a normal democratically served municipality.  Unfortunately here in contemporary Emeryville, citizens acting as rational cogent agents has been supplanted by a different paradigm.
Fannie Lou Hamer
"I'm sick and tired of 

being sick and tired"
A great moral force of the civil rights
struggle.  Naming our park after her
would continue the pre-Ronald Reagan
tradition of elevating labor leaders
and social justice crusaders by naming
grand civil projects; libraries, town halls
and parks in their honor.

Interest in learning about
Fannie Lou Hamer by children would
be served and Emeryville's values
would be proudly proclaimed.

The Pro-Developer Meme 
The idea that Emeryville would begin a program of building enough parks to catch up with our exploding population growth, an idea considered rational and normal in a different era in a different town, sounds idealistic if not crazy in a town grown used to a naysayers paradigm that has overtaken our town these last decades.  In Emeryville, we’ve been mugged by these naysayers who tell us we’re simply not good enough to have what other towns have.  A strange Patty Hearst Stockholm Syndrome has replaced a former culture of expecting civic spaces that are liked and wanted by the residents.  Now many residents here readily accept what developers and the Council tell us is our only option; let the developers do what they want in our town.  Lots of Emeryville residents feel pride in all the new development projects and are happy developers are paying any attention to us. 
Like the thirty year project promulgated by right wing think tanks that gets us repeating the line that limited government is best, after a while it begins to seem like common sense; government is bad, inefficient, wasteful…isn’t it?   It’s no accident that the American people, who 40 years ago used to think the government is good at solving problems now thinks government itself is part of the problem. 

Here too we’ve foreclosed on our own agency to service a long standing right wing meme that insists like trickle down nostrums created in Washington, we have to let developers develop our town…the fact that we have almost 500 residents per acre of park/open space compared to Oakland’s 67 acres per resident only highlights how much better and more desirable Oakland must be according to this meme.  The meme permits a kind of twisted thinking that makes it unreasonable that we could expect to get the 26 acres of parks that our own General Plan requires we build within 12 years.  We’ve become a people who dream of nice things like other people in other towns do but have no expectation at all in getting them, thanks to the pro-developer meme.  
The meme in Emeryville is so ubiquitous, so pervasive that “progressive” City Council members are not at all distinct from the old school conservative Council members on this subject: even though they campaigned on parks, there’s little chance they would consider Fannie Lou Hamer Park because the developer doesn’t want to do it.  The meme is so powerful that even the “progressive” Council members will retract when confronted by the idea that we could build a park, they retract instead of offer a reason why we cannot build a park; reason takes a holiday thanks to the meme.  It is cast as reasonable to not provide reason; developers must be placated and no other vision is entertained. To do otherwise, to build Fannie Lou Hamer Park at the Sherwin Williams site, is so far off the radar that to propose it is tantamount to proposing an Emeryville space program.  

And it’s not just the Council “progressives” and otherwise who cannot even imagine building a park, it’s the citizens too, seduced by the pro-developer meme that Emeryville just isn’t good enough to get what other towns have, who vote for Council members who promise parks but don’t deliver, who worked on our General Plan that promises parks that’s not worth the paper its printed on, who publicly profess the love of parks who dismiss the idea we could build a park here and now for reasons they refuse to specify.  

And the new City Council candidates plying for our votes in November are telling us exactly the same as Council members seeking election have said for decades: they like parks, they’re going to deliver parks they say but they don’t think the Sherwin Williams site is appropriate for reasons not specified other than the dog whistle of the pro-developer meme.  Of course anyone who is aware of the pro-developer meme will not be taken in by the new crop of wanna be Council members.  They seem to be playing to new resident rubes and those mesmerized by the meme.

In coming weeks, Fannie Lou Hamer Park will likely fade into the ether like bike boulevards here and the other things the residents say they want but run afoul of the desires of developers.  Our polity is stark and bereft.  As opposed to what the residents get in other towns not taken over by an alien ideology overlain public policy.  And that’s really sad but it’s also who we’ve become; a town with no pride.  So remember Emeryville, next time you hear anyone say anything good about our town: we’re actually measurably much worse than our neighbors.  We have almost 500 residents per acre of park/open space land and that number is rising with no clear way to reverse the trend or improve on that.

Parks in Emeryville are always going to be built at some future date.  Say, about 12 years from now.  A newly arrived Emeryville citizen, looking at our General Plan and its built-in impending sunset in 12 years, might assume the City is going to engage in a massive flurry of park building at the end of the sunset period.  Cynical old timers who haven't been hoodwinked by the pro-developer meme know better.  They know the score; 12 years from now when we write our next General Plan (with lots of citizen participation mind you), the same 26 acres of parks that will make us as good as other cities will be in there...only a new 20 year clock will have been reset and a new program of placating developers will begin afresh.  The only place to build parks in Emeryville then will be on the site of existing viable businesses and expensive buildings.
Or we could build Fannie Lou Hamer Park now and prove the cynics wrong.


  1. While a park is an interesting idea, perhaps the land might be better used by regional transit officials to create a new transit center for commuting to and from San Francisco. There is room for a large parking structure, bus and train terminals.

    1. Because Emeryville residents don't want or need parks...right?

  2. I think having an awesome park in Emeryville is a great idea. Maybe people would be less obsessed with figuring out ways to transport themselves out of Emeryville to San Francisco etc if they had their own great park here.

    1. Like the idea of a park? Is that why you're commenting anonymously?

  3. It seems crazy because it IS crazy. This property was decided on years ago it was going to be housing. All you are doing is trying to whip up anger. I for one aren't taking that bait. The project is good as it is. We will get a park amid the new housing and everybody is happy. Everybody but YOU.

    1. This property was decided on years ago? Wow. I did not know that. I should have put that in the story I guess, shouldn't I have? Just so I get it straight, WHO exactly decided on this years ago? I need to know that before I print a retraction to the story.

  4. Absurd. How much are you contributing, Brian? There is a beautiful new park on Hollis, near Ciron, and no one uses it.
    This Bond you speak of, will pick our pockets, and accomplish nothing. By the way, what is a "meme"?

    1. How much am I contributing? Well I can guess. Bonds are paid through increases in property taxes so only property owners are assessed. Renters don't pay. As a property owner, I will have to pay for this park and every public park financed with bond funding. I don't know how much it would cost me exactly but I think it would be something like a couple of hundred dollars per year maybe.
      It sounds like you don't like parks. If that's true, I'm not sure why you've got your unhappy face on. You live in a town that has the fewest acres of parks per resident in the entire East Bay. You should be happy! A park hater living in a park hating town...sounds like you should be happy with that. Want to turn that frown upside down?

    2. Oh, I forgot-
      a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.

  5. A park there is a good idea, though I doubt you'd be allowed to name it.