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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Blockbuster Demolition Comes to Emeryville's Triangle Neighborhood: Mockery of 'Area of Stability'

More Single Family Home Demolition in Emeryville's 'Zone of Stability'

Existing Working Class Families Being Removed to Make Way for 6 New Unaffordable Units

City Finds 50% Increase in Density 'Insignificant',
100 Year Old Craftsman Bungalows 'Too Old'

Rent Doubled on Tenants in Effort to 
Force Them Out

Four Family Friendly Houses on 47th Street
These existing homes with private backyards suitable for

children will be replaced with homes with no private outdoor
space except small decks (on some units).
The City of Emeryville is taking up a developer landlord's plan to demolish four side by side craftsman homes in Emeryville's Triangle neighborhood and replace them with six suburban style units on the same piece of land; a 50% density increase Planning Director Charlie Bryant calls 'insignificant'.  The demolition plan, forwarded by the owner of the homes, out-of-town landlord Mark Forbes, involves the forcible removal of his tenants; four working class families, to make way for the new market rate rentals.  The City of Emeryville has deemed the proposed replacement units, comprised of three duplexes, 'unaffordable', being offered for rent as they will be, at market prices.   Mr Forbes, who has owned the four homes "for decades", is asserting they are "in a state of disrepair " and at 100 years, are past their "useful utility" and good for demolition only.

47th St Homes Landlord

San Francisco Resident Mark Forbes
CEO heir to a real estate & investment
financing fortune.  He enjoys golf and
collecting antique cars according to
the F E Forbes corporate prospectus.
Mr Forbes recently doubled the rent on
his 47th Street tenants to force them out. 

Dispossessed and soon to be dispossessed tenants of Mr Forbes, some having lived there for decades, testified at the Emeryville Planning Commission Tuesday night that their landlord has been remiss in repairing the homes over the years.  Their collective testimony serves as an informing counterpoint that the poor state of repair cited by Mr Forbes as a reason for the demolition, has been brought on by Mr Forbes himself; a classic slumlord ploy.
The tenants told the Commissioners they were all recently offered $5000 to leave their homes by the Forbes Corporation.  Two families took up the offer but the remaining two families noted the offer has since been retracted, replaced with a 95% rent increase.  The families said they cannot afford the increase and will be evicted.  Mr Forbes, for his part said he is observing all existing laws designed to protect tenants in a city without rent control.  The tenants explained to the Commission that their families include the elderly and and at least one disabled wheelchair bound family member.

Area of 'Stability'
The 47th Street Homes are in the General Plan designated 'area of stability', a General Plan determined zone that is supposed to preclude the kind of development density increase this project proposes.  Speaking to the 47th Street Homes proposal, Chief Planning Director Charlie Bryant reminded  the Commissioners about what the Areas of Stability specifically represent.  He said in the attending staff report the Areas of Stability are, '...described as those parts of the city that are not anticipated to change significantly in character, land use or development intensity.'
Proposed Suburban Style Replacement Homes 
High rents & no back yards but nonetheless
these are newer....and therefore better according 

to the developer and the City of Emeryville.
Expect new tenants to be whiter, wealthier 

(despite fake wood siding).
Inexplicably, the City of Emeryville,  siding with the developer of the 47th Street Homes has determined an intensity increase of  50% (six homes replacing four homes) is (according to the staff report) "... consistent with the development intensity of the area, and therefore conforms to the General Plan designation of this neighborhood as an 'area of stability'."  The staff didn't attempt to quantify its use of the word "significant", even though most people would say 50% qualifies.

Notably, the 47th Street Homes request for demolitions within the Area of Stability, is not unique.  Many other developers have similarly requested demolition and been granted despite the protected status afforded by the General Plan.  Indeed, Emeryville's last areas of detached traditional single family homes left continue to fall to the wreaking ball.

Open Space for Families?

One of the "Poor Quality" Craftsman Homes
to be Demolished 
The 'three drop' actual wood siding, dormer, 
and craftsman detailing all are no good 
according to F E Forbes Inc. 
Besides, it can't be salvaged they say 
(nevermind that demolition will increase profits).
Interesting too, is how the staff of the City of Emeryville engages in redefining the qualifications for family friendly housing in general but with specificity to the 47th Street Homes.  Paramount in the City's definition of what makes for housing that will attract families, an official housing policy goal of the City, is two and three bedroom units.  Left out of the equation is what traditionally has been found to be attractive to families; the prosaic notion of large private back yards, but also two and three bedrooms and most of all, affordability.  The 47th Street Homes project takes away the private back yards of the existing homes so popular with families with young children, parents hoping to steal away a few moments for household chores and such while young children play outside, unattended.  The replacement homes will not have any backyard space at all; would be parents forced to settle on small 99 square foot private decks for the three second floor units and no private space at all for the three lower units.
But the boldest claim of family friendliness coming from the developer of the 47th Street Homes is the removal of affordable older housing stock (the rent doubling increase made to force out the tenants notwithstanding).  Not to belabor the well worn axiom of new construction costs driving the need to recoup capital outlays resulting in higher rents, the market rate new homes on 47th Street will come in at a higher monthly rent, resulting in a whiter and likely 'techier' class of renters.  That's a demographic not normally associated with families, more with roomates.

'Wood' Siding Issue
San Francisco Victorians: Too Old
Even older than craftsman era homes. 

Some are past 130 years; well past the "end
of their utility".  Just think how much nicer
new homes would be here.
The artificial wood siding proposed for the houses that will replace the demolished craftsmen homes on 47th Street, not normally an existential concern with most residents, nonetheless stands out for its mockery of our City Hall and its General Plan.   Amid the wholesale denigration of public policy the City of Emeryville signs onto as a consequence of the City placating developers like Mark Forbes, this little artificial wood detail stands out less for its naked audacity and more for its pedestrian annoyance, a pact that gives away the game as it were.  The City of Emeryville is clear on this one specific, albeit minor score when it comes to demolitions within the Areas of Stability; the siding of any new replacement house must be authentic wood.   The General Plan states it unequivocally, calling wood siding a "high quality" material that needs to be provided if siding is used for a replacement home.  That the City staff did not call out this developer for this transgression informs Emeryville citizens as to the nature of the authority of our General Plan and its Areas of Stability provisions at least as much as the very idea of tearing down homes cast as 'stability' in the first place.   

Having completed the Tuesday Planning Commission study session unscathed, the next stop for the 47th Street Homes project is the City Council who will give their thumbs up or down on the controversial proposal at a to-be-announced meeting.  Watch the Tattler for details.
47th Street Homes Landlord CEO Mark Forbes' Tangled Corporate Web
Shell Corporations put to work to increase his fortune at the expense of working families.
This is who the City of Emeryville will be in bed with if they help kick out the existing 
Emeryville low income families of color that live in this man's Emeryville rental properties.


  1. It's bad when the new homes are worse than the homes they're replacing. But it's even worse when nasty landlords evict their tenants to do it. Don't let this happen Emeryville!

  2. Any architects want to chime in on stopping this? If we have enough researched ideas, they have to think about it. I have the plans. I don't think it will take much.

  3. Any increase in housing density is good. opposing this is classic NIMBYism, especially because you'll miss the "quiet" old neighborhood. So what if there are no back yards for the new units? My kids can go to parks. That's why I live in emeryville and not the suburbs of lafayette. The new homes look nice, and with two stories, that's a significant improvement to single story single family homes. And posting a picture of the big, scary evil developer does not make a compelling argument. please don't insult your reader with ad hominem attacks and red-yarn conspiracy diagrams.

    1. Thanks for your opinion that increasing housing density in Emeryville is inherently good. However, opposing that is not evidence of NIMBYism, rather more of being pro-democracy. Because here in Emeryville, our General Plan got an award for being one of the most democratically vetted general plans in California; approximately 25% of residents attended at least one scoping meeting as we were writing the plan….a record. The ‘Areas of Stability’ were negotiated democratically in the formulation of the plan. It is what the people of the City of Emeryville want. The Tattler is biased in favor of democracy; we think people should get the town they want (while adhering to the CA constitution).
      Against this backdrop, the City of Emeryville actively engages in regional housing advocacy, something we’re in favor of. Emeryville is a member of Association of Bay Area Governments and we sign on to that organization’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment that shows how Emeryville has built more than its share of housing in the Bay Area.
      You’re free to be against democracy and regional housing planning of course, but don’t expect a news site that promotes the residents’ interests in its masthead to come along with you.

      RE-backyards; this has been shown to be very compelling to families, especially those with young children. We see evidence of this as young families depart en masse for the suburbs when they get children. The single family detached residence has been shown to be the most family friendly type of housing. That’s not an archetype we have much of in Emeryville but the areas where we do have them have been identified as ‘Areas of Stability’ by the General Plan because we have recognized that while we’ll not likely ever build any more of this kind of housing in the future, we should save the small stock of it we have. Besides, the City is partnered with the Emery School District with the ECCL and we have a material interest in attracting families to our town. This area of town is where our families mostly live.

      RE- The big scary developer…the ‘red yarn’ diagram is not driven by conspiracy, rather his actual corporate holdings. Yes, Mr Forbes does have a whiff of Mr Burns of The Simpsons fame about him. The level of pure evil is almost cartoonish. Makes for good copy.

  4. Replacing 4 units with 6 doesn't seem so bad. Sure, 4-->6 is 50% but the numbers are so small that any changes as a percent look bad and I don't think that's what the general plan was getting at. It's not like they are adding another 50 story ONNI tower there lol! that would be significant. Should we stop somebody from adding an in-law unit because then we are getting 2 units where there used to be 1? 100% increase in density! OMG! There goes the neighborhood!

    1. The General Plan's 'Areas of Stability' density provisions necessarily concern themselves with with demolitions within the zones. The Plan doesn't speak to the issue of people/developers that want to add density without demolishing existing homes.

  5. I just checked and the the General Plan's "Areas of Stability" states "Areas of stability are those parts of the city that are not
    anticipated to change significantly in character, land
    use or development intensity". It is clearly concerned with 3 things: Character, land use and development intensity. None of those three things are affected by replacing 4 units with 6. Also, "areas of stability" does not say anything about demolishing existing units if those 3 things are maintained. I'm just saying that it seems like a weak argument to point to the general plan if your goal is to generate outrage or opposition to this development.

    1. Yes, the story does focus on the development intensity portion of the three characteristics the City is tasked with preserving. I understand it's your contention a 50% increase in that is insignificant. You are certainly entitled to that position of course. That's a position taken also by the Planning Director of the City as well as the developer, so you're in good company.

      I didn't challenge the City on the first characteristic for the story, at least not directly but I well could have. Many people would take issue with the City's finding that single family detached homes with backyards represents no significant change when replaced by duplexes without backyards. For families with toddlers, that change in character is significant enough for many of them to move out of Emeryville, seeking that kind of housing elsewhere.

      I'm not necessarily opposed to the 47th Street Homes project except for the fact that the historic craftsman architecture slated for demolition is far superior to the uninspired and cheap looking proposed buildings (ironically suburban looking...alas, no backyards). My main problem with this project is the mockery it makes of our democratically vetted processes. The findings made by the City are cynical and contribute to a culture of civic alienation among the citizenry. The City of Emeryville should remove regulations from their books they refuse to abide by. Everyone, including developers, would be happier if the regulations were clear and enforced. Because the Areas of Stability have been shown to have no value over the years, the General Plan should be (democratically) revised and that entire section removed.

  6. You feel that the city is proceeding contrary to the democratically-informed general plan. This is a fair criticism. But you are also saying that my interpretation of this portion of the general plan puts me in good company regarding the view that 4-->6 units does not "significantly" alter the "character, land use or development intensity" of the area. You seem to recognize that this view does not seem like an outrageous or unreasonable interpretation of the language in the general plan (as mentioned earlier, it's not like this is a towering new apartment building). So it follows that the city is not abandoning this general plan but rather is fulfilling its vision?

    Regarding your other point about the appeal of a neighborhood for families with toddlers, I don't know how many children you have, but I happen to have one toddler (almost two). So speaking at the target demographic, I love the look of the new units (at least what is proposed) and I plan on having my child play in parks with other children because I value the social aspect as much as the outdoors aspect. And I've soured on the maintenance and upkeep costs of a backyard. Now, I would love to see way more park space in our city and I think we are failing to fulfill that vision of the general plan, but that is a topic for another day.

    1. My use of good company to describe the Planning Director of the City of Emeryville was meant to be ironic. 50% of something is a large amount of anything and the prohibition against this significant increase is the only thing that characterizes the Areas of Stability provisions. Without it, there is no difference between the Areas of Stability and any other part of Emeryville. Indeed, a member of the Planning Department privately said as much (even while defending this project).
      As far as the 'development intensity' provision goes, I would say a reasonable interpretation of 'insignificant' would be a replacement of four single family detached residences with four slightly larger detached single family residences...or maybe slightly taller residences. To satisfy the 'character' provisions, (perhaps slightly smaller) backyards would need to be retained in order to reach a finding of 'insignificant' as well as retaining the essential characteristics of craftsman style architecture (in this case). The 'land use' provisions are OK as long as a residential use is swapped for a residential use (as this project does).
      Without this level of protections in these specially designated parts of residential Emeryville, the Areas of Stability section of the General Plan is a distinction without a difference and thereby superfluous.

  7. ah, I see. so you still think that 4 units into 6 units is a significant increase in density (50%). Do you see that "areas" of stability refer to an actual area? Look at the neighborhood or a few blocks and tell me that the 2 additional units are significant. Nobody reasonable person would claim that converting 1 unit into a duplex is a 100% increase in housing density and therefore a significant increase in housing density in the area. If this is truly your position, then I don't think you are in good company. In fact, I find that position quite unreasonable and unpersuasive. Generally, I appreciate the issues your blog brings to light, but with this one, I don't understand why you have an axe to grind. is this construction in your backyard? Will it be noisy? will the 2 stories block your view? I can only question motives at this point because I'm left scratching my head about your untenable position trying to lean on the general plan.

    1. Stability
      sta·​bil·​i·​ty | \ stə-ˈbi-lə-tē
      1: the quality, state, or degree of being stable: such as
      a: the strength to stand or endure, steadfastness, resistance to change especially sudden change

      The above being the actual definition of stability, one is at pains to see how the City of Emeryville, charged with implementing the will of the people who, 10 years ago, elected to fold this operative word their General Plan’s Areas of stability regulations, can thereafter engage in a polity of wholesale demolition of our housing stock. Indeed, the staff has not once recommended a developer not be allowed to tear down homes in said Areas nor has the Council seen fit to say NO over the 10 years. I don’t know if you attended any of the many General Plan public scoping sessions 11 years ago, but they were well attended and ruckus affairs. The staff kept pushing for a major increase in density over the whole town for the new General Plan. The people however were clear on the existing homes in East Emeryville…they wanted the homes in those areas no go to developers. That’s how the A of S compromise was reached. In the intervening years, the staff has taken to relying on their interpretation that the people, when crafting their Gerard Plan, meant that demolition in a designated A of S could occur but generally shouldn’t, morphing into demolition happening as the default position, the people’s interest in stability having to be defended by agitators (presumably NIMBYist extremists).
      So the onus with regard to the 47th Street Homes, is on the staff. They need to show how the people’s word ‘stability’ is being assuaged here.
      If the people had wanted the kind of change the staff and the Council keeps approving in the Areas of Stability, they wouldn't have used the word stability. They would have called them the 'Areas of Modest Change' or something like that.

      I’ve told you what would be a reasonable allowance given by the people’s will via their General Plan in the case of the 47th Street Homes. You and the developer disagree. Again, you’re free to push for as much demolition in the Areas of Stability as you want, even with the Plan in effect. Or you (and even the developers with their asks) could just stay home and watch TV or go for a stroll because the City of Emeryville is very effectively doing your job for you. If you feel passionately about it, and it sounds like you do, you should consider forming a coalition and moving publicly to rescind the Areas of Stability provisions from the Plan (best if you’re an Emeryville resident for this). Then you wouldn’t have to comment in the Tattler or feel anxiety about this. I would even support your efforts to rescind if they were done democratically regardless my public counter arguments likely made to save the provisions. If the people don’t want this in their Plan as the staff seems to imply, we should simply get rid of it. Good luck.

  8. I think the areas of stability provision is quite a good one and I also think the change from 4 to 6 units is minor and will leave the area quite stable and is well within the guidance of the general plan. I just disagree with your interpretation of stability being the only possible interpretation. I'm all for democracy and I think you simply have a different interpretation that puts you in a minority. You just don't get to go around telling people who disagree with you that they are undemocratic. I like the general plan and I think this change is consistent with the general plan and I like that our city is using this democratically informed document to make decisions like this. You can state that you disagree, but you don't get to call people who disagree with you undemocratic. It's a weak argument and it insults your readership.

    1. That's funny, I don't recall saying that people who disagree with me are undemocratic.
      You can agree with the developer that this change represents 'stability', no problem but maybe you should consider joining those of us that want and expect transparency out of City Hall. Why not amend the General Plan to explicitly allow for the kind of change that you want? Let's start by renaming the A of S to the Areas of Modest Change and then reword the provisions to explicitly allow for this kind of change. What's wrong with transparency in public policy and public planning documents? Everyone would be happier with documents that don't challenge the people's reasonable expectation for clear and understandable public processes. You can email the City Council members and let them know.