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Sunday, March 3, 2019

New Development Drives Need For New Parks But Developers Aren't Helping

Clock Ticking on Sunsetting General Plan: 
 22-26 Acres of New Parks Needed
in Ten Years

City Council Letting Developers Off the Hook 
For Providing Needed Parks 

New Development is Reason New Parks Are Needed:
Onni Project Case Study Reveals  
City's Unaccountability

News Analysis
The Proposed 700 Foot Onni Tower Project
1100 new residents but only a 1/2 acre park is planned in trade,
running roughshod over Emeryville's General Plan.

The developer of the proposed Onni Tower, a 54 story residential development on Christie Avenue, has been lately shopping the project before citizens around town, standard fare in the pre-approval state for proposed development in Emeryville.  So far it's been drawing the usual chorus of neighborly concerns over the myriad negative impacts such a large development would bring.  However one overlooked issue with the Onni project, heretofore not in the eye of Emeryville residents, presents itself as a result of the tower's 1100+ new residents that could prove to be impactful not for the residents but instead for the developer.  That issue is parks.

The Onni project developer as it turns out, needs to provide more than three and a half acres of new public park space in town to offset all the new residents and new employees that project will bring- some three acres more than what's being proposed.  That's three and a half acres total of new park land for Emeryville because of this single project if when it comes time for final approval, the City Council is in a mood to enforce Emeryville's General Plan.

Onni Tower Mini Park (Proposed)
At only 1/2 acre, it won't be nearly big 
enough to satisfy the General Plan. An
additional three acres off-site is needed.
Because the site isn't large enough for that much park space, in order to comply with the General Plan, the Onni developer would have to provide the money for Emeryville to build at least three acres of parks elsewhere in town in addition to the half acre park planned for the actual site.  If the City were to build all the off-site Onni generated park space in one location, at three acres, it would be the second largest park in Emeryville, smaller than Marina Park but more than double the size of the next largest Doyle Hollis Park with its one and a quarter acre.
Existing Doyle Hollis Park (1.25 Acres)
The off-site park needed to be built by the Onni developer
 would have to be more than twice as large as this.
And that's not all.  If the City Council grants the Onni developer a full or partial pass on the City's new family housing unit mix regulations as it is considering doing, that would mean more studio and one bedroom apartment units in the 700 foot tower, adding to the population and driving up the acreage of parks needed to offset it.  The amount of extra park acreage that condition would generate is hard to calculate, contingent as it is upon how far the City Council rolls back the regulations for the developer.

Despite its clear mandates, Emeryville's central guiding document, the General Plan and its provisions for parks, are not even being discussed by the developer or the City staff as the Onni project moves forward through the approval process.  It's part of an ongoing case of willful amnesia the City of Emeryville has historically had when it comes to the General Plan's park provisions.

Three Acres Per 1000 Residents
Parks are extremely popular with Emeryville residents.  Polls conducted by City Hall over the years have revealed as much.  Candidates for City Council are all acutely aware of it; regardless of their political leanings, they routinely place the building of more parks front and center in their campaign literature.
Surprisingly though, Emeryville residents are still dramatically under served in parks and open space.  In 2009 when the General Plan was adapted, there were 15 acres of public parks.  Doyle Hollis Park at 61st and Hollis streets was added shortly after bringing Emeryville's total up to about 16 1/2 acres in a city of 10,000 residents.  That works out to an anemic 625 residents per acre, and that doesn't include the daily workforce of 20,000 using the parks, making Emeryville the most park poor of any city in the entire East Bay.
The General Plan, rising to the challenge, recognized the need for more parks and standardized city planning metrics were applied to determine how many acres of parks our town needs.  The nation's premier city planning collegial body, the American Planning Association (APA) provided the justification of a minimum of three acres of parks per 1000 residents or 333 residents per acre and that was adapted in 2009 for all new development in Emeryville.
Also included in our General Plan are provisions recommended that a minimum of one quarter acre of park land is needed to offset each 1000 daily workers.  At the current approximate 20,000 workers city-wide, Emeryville needs to add another five acres.  With a projected 30,000 workers in 2029, the sunset year of the General Plan, the daily workforce offset needed would be seven and a half additional acres of parks.  The Onni project, with its 325,000 square feet of office space plus 20,000 square feet of commercial space at the standard average of 151 workers per square foot translates into one half acre of park space the developer needs to provide to offset.

From the 2009 Emeryville General Plan
We need to build 22-26 acres of new parks to 
get to the goal of 41-46 acres before 2029,
the year the General Plan sunsets.
While Emeryville has added some park land over the last ten years, approximately two acres, that's not been enough to keep pace with our burgeoning population rise, contributing to a downward sliding ratio expressed in our lowest-in-the-East Bay population per acre of park land.  So regardless of the three acres per 1000 residents as the guiding principle spelled out in the parks section of the General Plan, Emeryville is now actually worse off than it was in 2009.  With its current 13,000+ residents, Emeryville has only 17.8 acres of City parks.  That translates to an embarrassing 730 residents per acre for our town and that doesn't include the daily workforce.

Councilman Donahue's Proposal: Nearby Parks
Against this rueful backdrop, Councilman Scott Donahue appears to be doubling down on the City's inaction on parks.  Citing the need for "close by" parks for residents instead of increasing park acreage, Mr Donahue is calling for Emeryville to use a new metric to measure how well the Council is doing on providing parks; namely how many people live within a half mile radius of a park, rejecting the General Plan's three acres per 1000 residents metric.   Conveniently, Councilman Donahue's new way of measuring shows the City as a smashing success on parks and getting better every year since more than 90% of Emeryville residents live within a half mile of a park.
Emeryville's new mayor, Ally Medina, acknowledging the poor record of the City and eschewing Council member Donahue's park proximity metric for measuring the City's park performance, is pledging to do better.  Calling herself the "parks mayor", Ms Medina says the General Plan will no longer be ignored with regard to parks.

Emeryville's 'parks fee' it charges developers has not been up to the task of actually building any parks because the amount City Hall receives doesn't match the costs the City incurs with building parks here.  Adding new parks has become extremely expensive and there has been talk of getting the property owners in town to pay for it by floating a municipal parks bond.  Because almost all the land has buildings on it, the City will have to buy land from reluctant sellers or seize it by eminent domain.  Then the businesses on the site will have to be moved, the land cleared and cleaned up before the actual park can be constructed.
It should be noted the fallow Sherwin Williams site provided the City Council last year an inexpensive way to build a large park but they chose instead to approve development of several large apartment blocks, further exacerbating Emeryville's already bad residents-to-parks ratio.

The costly nature of new park construction and City Hall's limited funds to build them thus serves as a motivator in getting the developers to help pay for the new parks.  Especially because it's the (residential) developer's projects with all their new residents who want and need uncrowded parks that are the reason Emeryville must build more parks. 

From the General Plan:
"As the residential and employment populations increase, it is essential to seize every opportunity to
create additional parks and open space, and to provide public facilities and services that meet the needs of the community."


  1. Thanks for this. The lack of parks is just one more reason to be against this disaster project. I'd say the biggest problem it has is all the traffic it will bring to an already overloaded Emeryville. The bike talk is just that-talk. Sorry, people don't and won't ride their bikes in any big way at the onni tower. They're going to use their cars. And we're going to pay the price.

  2. City of S.F. has a roof top park at the new Transit Center. Maybe someone could convince IKEA, and the other BIG BOXES, to lease out their roof tops for park use; just like S.F. If land isn't available, this is the answer. Slam dunk!

    1. Anonymous #1's comments seem most pertinent. Anonymous #2 shows what happens if we don't follow #1 - go to the roofs. I drive in the proposed Onni area everyday and it's hazardous to pass through without 54 more floors and 1100+ more residents. One takes one's life in one's hand to attempt it on bike. Unless the most stringent demands are requested by the City Council for the betterment of the entire city, and acquiesced to by the developer, we should we should resist this folly in every way possible.

      Bob Hughes

  3. This parks thing is just an excuse to be against this project. We need to build more housing here, didn't you get that message over the last say 10 years? This is how we make the Bay Area more affordable. Housing comes first, then parks.

    1. Sorry, no I didn't get that message. I got the message that the Bay Area in the aggregate needs to build more housing, just not Emeryville specifically. In fact we have actually over-built market rate housing in Emeryville by 234%. Says who? Says the State of California and its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA pronounced reena). The last RHNA implementation period came in at that number and the current period is tracking to once again put us over 200% of recommended market rate housing. So, no, sorry, you're wrong. We've done more than our fair share of housing in the Bay it's time for parks and bike boulevards and other resident amenities that make our town livable like our General Plan calls for.

  4. Brian writes with great clarity, I appreciate his effort to report on things Emeryville. I respectfully disagree with his thesis.

    I cannot say that I have ever seen Emeryville's existing parks used to anything remotely approaching capacity. I'm curious, does anyone know the parks per resident ratio for Manhattan? I don't see their parks used to capacity either.

    Also, let me say that I see very high rise buildings as being the solution to traffic congestion, not the cause. Very high rise buildings bring enough customers to support ground floor retail, so residents needs can most often be served without use of cars. Anyone observing the vacancies and the poor patronage of businesses in ground floor retail spaces of our podium apartments can see mid-rise really does not work. The reason is that the podium buildings bring a measure of density, but not enough to support first floor retail services. High rise buildings are much better because they include an effective form of free mass transit - elevators.

    I am always amazed that I rarely see jammed streets in the densest parts of residential Manhattan. The biggest civic mistake of the last 50 years has been the failure to build very dense housing in the bay area. Every decision ultimately was made in a furtive effort to accommodate automobiles. Fortunately our leaders are waking up to building up.

    Give me a high-rise apartment in Emeryville with windows that open, and I am moving in! And I will BBQ for Brian on my deck. But he will not eat until he agrees with me.

    1. For your information, this story does not represent my "thesis", rather it endeavors to inform the readers about Emeryville's General Plan and its provisions for parks and how this project impacts that. The story doesn't attempt to guess how well future parks will be used, only that the General Plan provides for parks.
      People who don't like parks (perhaps you?) are always free to appeal to the City Council to amend the General Plan to reduce the acreage it calls for. There is certainly a just and legal process for that. I personally happen to like parks but that's neither here nor there. The only thing I expect is that the General Plan be followed or amended, not ignored.
      Lastly, insofar as you may think I'm against tall buildings for Emeryville, you are incorrect.
      I doubt I'll be riding the mass transit elevators to join with you for that BBQ- I don't think you'll be able to afford an apartment there.