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Sunday, December 9, 2018

City Staff Fails at Sherwin Williams Project to Provide Required Retail Agreement

City Fails to Get Sherwin Williams Retail Agreement in Writing

City Council Comes Up as Empty as 
All the Storefronts in Town

Senior planning staff at City Hall revealed last week the retail component of the Sherwin Williams project mixed use residential development in Emeryville's Park Avenue neighborhood has no written protections that would keep storefronts from sitting perpetually empty despite the City Council expressly garnering a guarantee against that made in 2016.  The Council also directed the staff to protect against the developer renting to chain stores, another condition of approval from November 1st, 2016 that was ignored by the staff and now impossible to enforce.  Time has run out for Emeryville to ensure its retail plan at Sherwin Williams is brought forward; the developer cannot at this point be held to providing for non-formula retail at the site or providing against letting the stores sit empty as was established by unanimous Council vote.  "There are no such protections for either condition" a staff member told the Tattler, "nothing is in writing".
Councilman Scott Donahue
He told voters in October 2014:
"We should require developers to structure
rental agreements that provide for subsidies
and other support to help smaller,
locally serving businesses to succeed."
 

And so goes the Sherwin Williams project down the same path as virtually every other development with retail over the last 25 years; vague promises made by the developers to providing wonderful neighborhood serving non-formula stores in a timely manner, a paradigm that has spectacularly failed.  City Councilman Scott Donahue  summed it up best at the November 1st 2016 meeting, "It has been difficult for our city he said, The chains have more money, but we have a desire for retail expressed by our community, he added.

The loss of a written retail agreement so adamantly expressed by the Council is especially egregious for the Sherwin Williams project, watched so closely as it has been by community activists including by the Park Avenue Resident Committee (PARC).  Indeed, PARC's entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen, specifically at Sherwin Williams.  Emeryville residents would be excused thinking if we can't get a retail agreement that addresses these issues here, we likely can't get one anywhere.

It's been a problem for years here.  Many residential developers in town build associated retail as required by the City but they aren't interested in the commercial rental business and so because the City has never required them to fulfill their retail assurances in writing, the developers simply let the storefronts go empty.  The retail component is chalked up as a cost of doing business by these developers.  Other developers, seeking more traditional profit maximization, will rent their retail spaces out but at the highest rate the rental market will bear.  That generally prices out the kind of retail the residents want, leaving only chain stores.
Amid the exigency of this closed loop paradigm, Councilman Donahue hit upon a new idea to force the developer of Sherwin Williams to underwrite the retail by written agreement with the City, an expanded cost of doing business that actually would deliver, but he and his colleagues failed to follow through, trusting the staff to do as the Council directed.
Councilwoman Dianne Martinez
"Another thing we're hearing from the community 
is the fear of the retail space going empty. 
The landlord might prefer a write-off 
than lowering the rent"
She directed the staff to get it in writing.

The idea that the developers themselves need to underwrite the cost of providing locally serving, non-formula retail has been kicking around in Emeryville for many years but the previous Council saw adding such constraints as anathema to the pro-developer coda engrained at City Hall.  Responding to citizen complaints in 2003, a previous Council attempted to lure better retail instead with a taxpayer subsidy to businesses at the 'Promenade' development, albeit with mixed results.  A coffee shop that received taxpayer subsidies at the San Pablo Avenue Promenade strip mall development promptly went out of business as did a small restaurant but Arizmendi Bakery, also the recipient of start-up help from City Hall has been a success.
The current City Council has so far tried a different approach, attempting to lure the kind of retail the citizens want with a Byzantine system of 'bonus points', an approach that up until now hasn't met with success.  With the failure of the Council to follow up on the staff's directive at Sherwin Williams, the new idea of forcing the developer to underwrite the locally serving retail is an idea that has still not been put into practice in Emeryville.

A viewing of the short video (below) from the November 2016 meeting shows how stark is the recalcitrance of Emeryville's city staff.  The two Council members whom had promised voters to deliver non-formula locally serving retail when they first sought election, Scott Donahue and Dianne Martinez, were adamant.  Councilman Donahue told the staff the developer represented by Kevin Ma of Lenar Development they could lower the rent for the retail if he (Mr Ma) can't find "non-chain neighborhood serving" retail at the market rate and that the rent should go down until it is rented out to the desired tenant.  "We can come up with something simple that they (Lenar) can agree to tonight that would solve this problem and make this a better community." Mr Donahue told the staff.  "I'm all ears to cutting a deal tonight about this" he added.

Emeryville Planning Director Charlie Bryant
Handpicked by former City Councilwoman
Nora Davis, Charlie did not require Lenar to legally
agree to the Council's requirements.  Lenar is free
to leave the Sherwin Williams retail empty
or to rent to Burger King.
Councilwoman Martinez agreed and expressed concern that the retail storefronts not sit empty as so many others have done over the years in Emeryville, "Another thing we're hearing from the community is the fear of the retail space going empty. The landlord might prefer a write-off than lowering the rent"  Ms Martinez said.
The developer however expressed concern that the development process not be held up for anything, "The biggest problem tonight is from a timing standpoint." Mr Ma told the five Council members  'If we would make any amendments to requiring the regulating of the retail tonight, that really throws us off our timeline...  We've gotten to a razor thin timeline with the current approval schedule".  He assured the Council "We will work with the Planning Commission to bring these commitments..." to which Councilman Donahue responded, "I'm satisfied we can say 'no' to your project if you don't come back to us with something definitive in writing that will deliver just what we're talking about."

And then the Emeryville City Council dropped the ball; they never checked on the staff about putting their directives in writing, leaving the citizens with nothing but the same assurances they've always gotten from developers over the last two decades about all the wonderful retail to be coming.  The staff for their part, refused to comment on why they served the developer rather than the City Council they are paid to, "It is what it is" one staffer tersely told the Tattler last week after affirming that the Sherwin Williams developer could rent to any chain store they want to at their project or to not rent out the future retail spaces at all if that serves their pleasure.  It's all up to the developer's whims now.


The November 2016 smoking gun video that 
reveals the Emeryville staff to be recalcitrant.  

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Correction/Retraction

On December 6th, the Tattler erroneously reported that existing Emery School Board member Barbara Inch was endorsed by the resident advocacy group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville when she ran for that office in 2016.  In fact Ms Inch was not endorsed by RULE at that time or since.  Officially that group did not weigh in on the 2016 Emery School Board election.  After Board candidate Cruz Vargas refused to interview with RULE for their purposes of choosing candidates for endorsement, the group didn't request to meet Ms Inch and subsequently no candidate was picked for that office that year.
After receiving tips that the December 6th Tattler story was inaccurate, we reached out to several RULE members who had memory that Ms Inch was endorsed but a checking of internal RULE documents showed Ms Inch was never actually endorsed.  Ms Inch it should be stated, remains popular with many RULE members regardless.
The Tattler got the false information for the story from two RULE members who's memories were inaccurate.  We apologize for the mistake and have corrected the December 6th story.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Alameda County Certifies November Election: RULE Sweep

Election Certified:
RULE Wins Emery Unified School District Board Majority

Councilwoman Martinez Takes Historic 49% of vote



Alameda County Registrar of Voters certified the results of the November 6th elections today, officially confirming the majority takeover of the Emery School Board by the Emeryville resident advocacy group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville.  The election of RULE School Board candidates Brynnda Collins, Sarah Nguyen and Susan Donaldson on November 6th makes RULE endorsed Board members now a majority.  On the City Council front, RULE candidate and incumbent Dianne Martinez sailed to victory with 49% of the total vote; the largest in modern Emeryville history with 3182 votes, representing the largest number of votes ever garnered by a candidate for elective office in Emeryville history.

The historic election cements RULE's power in Emeryville with a popular total RULE backed City Council and now a new super majority RULE backed power base at the School District.  In 2016, RULE crushed the election with the sweep of it's candidates John Bauters, Ally Medina and Christian Patz, shutting down the anti-RULE business backed contenders and turned the previous simple majority into a five for five 'RULE bloc' totality on the Council.  This November's election RULE sweep notably makes the seat of existing School Board member Cruz Vargas the last lonely holdout for the anti-RULE minority in all of Emeryville.

Equally unparalleled in Emeryville history is the fact that RULE has never missed even one call.  Every single candidate or ballot initiative measure (like last June's Measure C the affordable housing bond) RULE has endorsed has passed; a remarkable perfect record dating back to RULE's inception and the election of Councilwoman Jennifer West in 2009 who handily beat her contenders (anybody remember Frank Flores for City Council?). Anyone considering running in two years for the seat now occupied by School Board member Cruz Vargas might want to take to heart the last ten years in Emeryville election history.

NOTE TO READERS:  This story originally contained an inaccuracy and the Tattler issued a retraction on December 8th.  The retraction can be viewed HERE

Asterisks represent RULE candidates
as well as election winners