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Sunday, March 31, 2019

How Do We Know When We've Built Enough Housing?

Councilwoman Martinez Says Emeryville Hasn't Built Enough Housing.

ABAG Says She's Wrong.

Who's Correct?

Answer: ABAG

News Analysis
Just about everyone knows at this point, that the Bay Area is in need of more housing.  Developers and Wall Street concerns are united in agreement on this of course but so is the media and even academia's city planning cognoscenti.  But what about Emeryville specifically?  Does Emeryville need more housing?  Emeryville has built a lot of apartment buildings over the years - more than our municipal neighbors have.  Has it been enough?  How do we know when we've built enough housing?
Emeryville is a dues paying member
of this, the premier housing authority
for the Bay Area, it's true.
So why does City Hall
downplay its findings?
City Councilwoman Dianne Martinez says she knows; Emeryville hasn't built enough she says.  Ms Martinez is unequivocal on the subject, "We really need more housing" she said at a recent City Hall study session without qualifying that sentiment.
That statement isn't quantifiable because it isn't true.  Ms Martinez posited an opinion as though it were factual.  In fact, we know Emeryville does not need more housing.  We know this because the premier housing authority in the Bay Area, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), of which Emeryville is a dues paying member, tells us Emeryville has been over-building housing since 1999.  For the last 20 years, Emeryville has built more than its share of housing, more than what ABAG has recommended.
Emeryville, as it turns out, is not part of the Bay Area housing crisis.  At least not as far as market rate housing is concerned.

We've Built More Than Our Share
Even as developers seeking to make a quick buck in our town and certain Emeryville City Council members with an ideological point of view argue that Emeryville must build more housing, ABAG's findings are as definitive as they are vexing for these two groups.  The State of California has charged ABAG with compiling a cogent and rational housing plan for the Bay Area, assigning each city with a list of housing goals through a data base known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA; pronounced Reena).  RHNA compiles the numbers based on equalizing several factors including matching the jobs a geographic region has or is anticipated to get to available housing.  Each city is then assigned a number of homes it needs to provide sub-grouped into affordability categories.  Emeryville, unlike many neighboring cities, has consistently over-built housing in the 'Market Rate' or 'Above Moderate' category.  Sometimes by a huge amount.

For instance in the critical years 1999 through 2006, Emeryville built total housing at 234% of RHNA recommendations with a whopping 525% of recommended market rate housing.  And every year since 2006, we've continued to build more market rate housing than RHNA recommends, averaging 105%.

Interestingly and to the developer's advantage, ABAG divides each RHNA implementation period into seven year time horizons and overages from previous periods don't have an effect on the new period's housing needs assessment.  So Emeryville's massive overbuilding during the early 2000's doesn't drive down the amount of housing we're now tasked with providing; we still must continue to provide housing as if we were starting from zero.   However, even without counting all the surplus market rate housing stock Emeryville built up over the previous implementation periods, the most recently completed period that ended in 2014 shows we've overbuilt market rate housing at 105% of RHNA recommendations.
Council member Dianne Martinez
"We really need more housing"
she says, but she refuses to tell
us where she gets that information.

The current RHNA implementation period, 2015-2022 shows Emeryville market rate housing at 60% of RHNA recommendations over a period of 57% of elapsed time, meaning we are building housing at almost exactly the rate recommended up until now.  However, the 60% figure doesn't count the 500 homes that will be built at the Sherwin Williams Project, slated for approval later this year.  With that project added to this implementation period, the 2015-2022  period will show Emeryville again well over 100% of recommended market rate housing.

City Hall Fudges Numbers
The ABAG/RHNA numbers reveal a city stepping up to the housing plate and then some.  Indeed,  Emeryville has bragging rights when it comes to doing its share of housing in the Bay Area.  Yet, for all the over-building of market rate housing over the last 20 years, Emeryville is not taking any bows.  Quite the opposite actually.  The City has sought to actively downplay its housing record, suggesting more needs to be built.  Planning Director Charlie Bryant even denied there has been an overage of market rate housing at all at a recent publicly held Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE) meeting on the incipient 638 rental unit Onni Project slated for Christie Avenue.  Ms Martinez steadfastly refused to tell citizens where she came up with her idea that Emeryville needs more housing, citing a City Attorney ruling that Council members not discuss the Onni Project with anyone either publicly or privately except the developer himself.

The City is preparing for and greasing the skids for an onslaught of major apartment towers it anticipates in the coming years.  The February 5th City Hall Study Session where Councilwoman Martinez revealed her opinion that we "really need more housing" is instructive; the Council is considering rolling back family housing regulations and our 'tower separation' regulations in order to accommodate much more market rate housing.  Not satisfied with merely downplaying the RHNA numbers, City Hall so strongly believes in building more market rate housing that it is pushing to drop these regulations enacted in 2015 (after a year of public deliberations), all at the request of the developer of the Onni Project.

Public policy is not based on politics or hearsay or rumor or assuaging the whims of any developer.  Even billion dollar developers.  Councilwoman Martinez's fatuous comments notwithstanding, we know how much housing Emeryville needs.  There is only one repository for factual information about housing specific to Emeryville and that is ABAG and the RHNA.  It is hardwired into the City's General Plan and is used to determine how much housing to build in our town regardless of what a misguided City Councilmember, the City Staff and a developer seems to think.

Councilwoman Martinez says Emeryville hasn't built enough housing.  How does she know?
Video Guide-  Start at 1:18:32
Ms Martinez on the Onni Tower Project: "Building housing is imperative..."  "I'm loath to delay it..." "I don't want to see more study sessions...we need to move the ball forward"
"Onni will create a lot of housing at a time when we really need it [in Emeryville]"

From City of Emeryville ABAG's RHNA 199-2006 numbers: Emeryville over-built market rate housing at a rate 525% of recommendations.


  1. Leave it to Brian to come to the conclusion that housing is not a problem in Emeryville. Quite literally everybody else recognizes that we need more housing, lots more. Dianne is right and you're wrong.

    1. Leave it to Brian to come to the conclusion that ABAG's Regional Housing Needs Assessment is how we determine how much housing to build in Emeryville. It's the conclusion that we're required to sign on to....the one that we paid for...the one that's evidence-based. You say that's wrong and we need lots more housing. How have you reached YOUR conclusion?

    2. Have you noticed the rents going up? That's a direct result of too little housing. You don't need a degree in economics to know this stuff. Dianne is right and you are wrong.

    3. Yes, rents are going up. As Emeryville continues to build housing at a frenetic pace, the price keeps going up. That's because developers are building luxury apartments command the highest rents and biggest profits. As the real estate value goes up, the whole town experiences higher rents. But this is not germane to the story. The story is about how the City Staff and some City Council members are helping developers to build more housing (for whatever reasons they have) by obfuscating. Public policy must be factually based. It's not allowed to be capricious. If we together decide to bail out of ABAG in order to build more housing we can do that as long as it is done with transparency (and we'd have to make factual findings that ABAG is incorrect). The fact that Ms Martinez is refusing to tell the people how she knows Emeryville needs to build a lot more housing (and that ABAG is wrong), tells us this is not being pursued with transparency. There is a hidden agenda at play and that is anathema to public policy.

  2. It looks like the new city council is behaving like the old council. Elections don't amount to much. It's always the same in the end- developers are the ones who are in charge in Emeryville. The skyscraper on Christie and all the ones coming after that are going in no matter what ABAG or anyone else says.

  3. You've made a good point. You're not complaining about density, you're just saying there needs to be a rational and agreed upon base point to start from. This is true and Martinez and other council people that deviate from the ABAG should tell us how they know what they say they know.