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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Council Punts on 47th Street Homes Project: Unstoppable in Wake of New Sacramento Law?

Tonight the City Council threw out a decision on the controversial 47th Street Homes project based on a lack of knowledge when the application was completed.   The date is important because the State of California has passed several laws protecting ‘upzoning’ or increasing density, as the 47th Street project would do.  At issue are SB 330 provisions that would make it more difficult for the Council to vote NO to the project.  Council member John Bauters asked staff to report on when the application was “deemed complete” because if that could be determined to be before the passage of Sacramento’s SB 330, then presumably more lax and defensible findings against the project could be made.  The staff was directed to find the application date and return the project to a future meeting.

100 year old Craftsman Homes would be
replaced with this.

The project was recently declined by the Planning Commission based on their finding that the existing homes are affordable and the replacements would be unaffordable, a fact the applicant, Forbes Development, admits.  But that finding might not be an acceptable one to turn down the project now that SB 330 is the law of the land.  The Council also had previously said NO to 47th Street Homes, in January due to the project's transitioning of the neighborhood from affordable to unaffordable.  

The action tonight indicates the Council believes they will have a difficult time voting NO to the 47th Street Homes project with the new rules in effect, barring a clear calendar impediment.  This could serve as a signal to developers to start tearing down existing homes all over the Triangle neighborhood and North Emeryville, the last stands of affordable single family detached homes in Emeryville, a clear goal of California Senate Bill 330.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Emeryville Transit Center's $8.4 million in Public Funds Fails to Help Transit

No Transit at Transit Center

City Won't Say When Bus Bays Will Be Operational

More than ten years after the City Council OKed it and after Emeryville taxpayers were later tapped for an economic subsidy of $4.2 million to help build a private development laboratory/office tower near the Amtrak station on Horton Street known as the Transit Center, citizens still wait for the publicly accessible bus bays that were touted as the primary reason for the Center and the public subsidy.  A year and a half after completion of the Transit Center, City of Emeryville officials are now admitting negotiations between the developer, the City and Amtrak are "not progressing as expected".  An agreement should eventually be reached and the bus bays made available for public transit use, the City added.

Privately however, a City official told the Tattler that the COVID pandemic has brought down Amtrak to such a degree (Amtrak ridership down a whopping 95%), it is unlikely the rail service even has any use for the bus bays anymore and any agreement for their use may be a long way off.   

The Transit Center, built by Wareham Development is also known as ‘Emery Station West’, and was approved for construction  in 2010 with a toxic soil clean up.  Wareham received its final occupancy permit in April of 2019 and with the Amtrak serving bus bays, Wareham also secured an additional $4.2 million in State of California Transportation Fund money ($8.4 million total public expenditures).  

Emeryville Transit Center
For all the taxpayer subsidy,
it's supposed to have a transit component.

The public largess given to Wareham for the Transit Center has been substantial. Notably, the City will receive no taxes by agreement for 12 years after the issuance of the occupancy permit.  This 'tax increment'  forgiveness is a relic from the days of the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency (RDA) and was commonly used by other RDAs up and down the state until they were all ordered shut down by then Governor Jerry Brown in 2012. The idea was that developers would get a tax break for a certain number of years in order to spur development. Critics noted that RDA financing came at the expense of local school districts and contributed to California’s public education slide beginning in the 1980s.  

However Wareham, unlike most other private developers from the redevelopment era, got an exemption from the State shuttered RDA money after the City of Emeryville convinced Sacramento of the extraordinary public benefit of the bus bays.  It is notable that the bus bays were added as an afterthought by Wareham and were meant to juice public money for the Transit Center who's primary function was always Emery Station West, the laboratory/office tower.  

Emeryville also gave Wareham a $208,000 tax rebate in 2017 for the project after CEO Rich Robbins convinced the City Council that since the bus bays represent a public benefit, he should get relief from the standard developer impact fees. 

The 165 foot tower also required the City Council in 2010 to amend the then newly certified General Plan to increase the allowable hight in that specific area from 55 feet to 165 feet.

The Mayor of Emeryville, Christian Patz was contacted to comment on when the public can expect to get the bus bays they paid for, but he declined.

CORRECTION NOTE:  Earlier we reported that Mr Robbins of Wareham asked for and received a tax rebate of $729,000 from the City.  That is not what happened.  He did ask for that amount but he lost a council vote and only received a rebate of $208,000 as today's story now reports.   The Tattler reported both 2017 stories and we should have more closely checked our own archives.  We thank the reader who corrected us and we apologize to the rest of our readers for the mistake.   

Free Parking at the Transit Center
Private vehicles are using the bus parking  
that Emeryville taxpayers provided.
Why not?... since buses aren't using the spaces.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Blocking Bike Lanes: Code Should Reflect Public Safety Hazzard

Q: What Happens When Public Safety Fines Are Too Low?

A: Public Safety Goes Down

Emeryville has a big problem.  Delivery trucks keep blocking our bike lanes, putting bikers in harm’s way as they swerve out into the adjacent traffic lanes to avoid colliding with the trucks.  It’s not a problem restricted to Emeryville of course but it’s a problem that begs for a solution nonetheless owing to the extreme danger to bicyclists when vehicles collide with them.  We suggest a modest correction to a large and unacceptable problem: increase the fines for vehicles blocking bike lanes from the existing $58 to at least $303.

As it stands right now, the Emeryville vehicle code provides for the same $58 fine for vehicles blocking a bike lane as blocking a vehicle traffic lane.  Both infractions are seen as equally egregious by our vehicle code.  But both are not equal.  Numerous studies have shown a bike swerving from a bike lane into a traffic lane as an exceptionally dangerous move….for the bicyclist.  Even at normal city vehicle speeds, the human body cannot absorb the kinetic energy of a 3000 pound vehicle's impact.  The result is extreme injury or death.  Compare that with the possible consequences of the other infraction; a vehicle rear-ending a delivery truck blocking the traffic lane.  In that case, even at normal city speeds, the bodies involved are encased in cocoons of steel with seatbelts and airbags.  The result of such collisions is vehicle damage but more importantly, little or no harm to people.
Our vehicle code should reflect this extreme difference in harm to human health and safety.  Fines for the two should not be equal.
$58 in Emeryville
Cost of doing business.

If a vehicle in Emeryville blocks an intersection wheelchair crossing, the fine is $303.  It’s bad for someone in a wheelchair when a vehicle blocks them; they have to travel as much as an extra two blocks in that case.  We in Emeryville think it’s terrible for drivers to inconvenience our neighbors in wheelchairs like that.  As a result, it’s bad for the driver….$303 bad.  But shouldn’t the possible maiming or killing of a bicyclist be considered at least as bad as inconveniencing someone?

What would the net result be of increasing the fine for a vehicle blocking a bike lane but keeping the fine the same for blocking a traffic lane?  It would mean delivery trucks will start blocking our traffic lanes instead of the bike lanes.  It will mean there will be unhappy drivers.  But with the fine rates as they are right now, there are unhappy bicyclists.  There are always losers whenever something is regulated in the public commons, it's true, but we should always strive to provide the greatest protection against the greatest threats to public safety.  

FedEx and other carriers violate parking laws routinely.  In fact, they simply write any parking tickets into their cost of doing business.  That’s well documented.  But they won’t spend extra money when they don’t have to.  Emeryville City Hall made fatal errors in not forcing developers to provide enough parking for delivery vehicles over the years when the buildings were approved.  That’s also well understood by now.  The solution though should not be at the expense of bicyclist’s bodies.  The delivery vehicles need to park in the only safe place available to them; in the middle of the street, keeping the bike lanes open. 

If the City Council moves to increase the fine for blocking bike lanes to reflect the desires of the people to have a municipal code that is interested in public safety in the foremost, we’re going to have a lot of angry (but safe) drivers around here.  And you know what?  That’s better than the existing angry bicyclists who risk their lives as they move around Emeryville.  
We understand the Council is under a lot of pressure from the business community to not implement our ten year old Bike Plan regarding bike boulevards.  They've made that clear.  But are they so craven, so indebted to businesses that they can't increase the paltry $58 fine for blocking bike lanes?  We imagine this existing public safety imperiling fee schedule has been heretofore unknown by the Council.  They know of it now.  This is an easy fix.  The next move is yours, City Council.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

No Apology From School District for Unjust Transgender Firing

District Refusing to Apologize for its Roll in Anti-Transgender Bigotry

More Than a Year Passes After Proclamation Proposal 

The Emery School District’s Board of Trustees this week is remaining steadfast in their disapproval to acknowledge the District’s past bigotry against its former employee, Steve Dain, a Teacher of the Year fired for being a transgender man in the 1970s.  The Board President failed to forward a proposal for the Trustees to vote on Wednesday, a public apology, proclaiming the District unjustly fired the former Emery gym teacher, a proposal brought by Board member Susan Donaldson back in May.  Instead, President Brynnda Collins, feeling no urgency, has bumped the issue down to a sub committee to ruminate on for an indefinite amount of time.  The District, more than a year ago indicated in the abstract it would make an acknowledgment that the firing of Mr Dain was wrong but there has not been a majority of Board members interested in actually following through despite Ms Donaldson’s proposal.

The Board majority has not felt impelled to make amends for the District's firing of Mr Dain, however, they did feel a sense of urgency about the Dain issue in June of 2019 when then President Barbara Inch proposed her colleagues name the newly remodeled gym at the high school, Steve Dain Gymnasium by fiat, to acknowledge the fired Emery gym teacher.  Board members Collins and Cruz Vargas moved quickly and led a successful drive to stop the Steve Dain Gym proposal, settling on a different, non-transgender former gym teacher to name the gym after.  Ms Inch resigned the Board in protest shortly after the Vargas/Collins caper.  Board member Susan Donaldson, who joined with President Inch in voting to name the gym after Mr Dain,  consequently asked for and received assurances from the entire Board (including Collins and Vargas) they would make some other gesture to acknowledge the District’s culpability in the bigoted firing, an idea that has languished now for more than a year.  Wednesday’s Board meeting was to be the vote to apologize by official proclamation.

Emery Teacher of the Year
Steve Dain

After his surgery, Emery trespassed him off 
school property and then fired him
for being who he was.

The City Council, exasperated by the District’s failure to acknowledge its mistake and take responsibility for correcting the hurt the firing inflicted on Mr Dain and the community, took the issue on for itself when they announced they will officially change the name of 47th Street to Steve Dain Drive.  In a turn of karmic restitution, the same gymnasium where Mr Dain worked won’t be named after him but it will have a Steve Dain Drive address.  

Steve Dain, who died in 2007, never received an apology from Emery Unified School District after they fired him following his surgical transformation to a man in 1977.  The official reason for Mr Dain's termination was given as "immoral conduct", a charge that stands today in the absence of an official apology from the District.  

Mr Dain has living relatives still residing in the Bay Area. 

 Board President Brynnda Collins, who helped the Board sink the vote to name the gym after Mr Dain, has called the proposal for acknowledging Mr Dain, "political".  She did not return calls for this story.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

'Vargas Era' Ends: School Board Member Cruz Vargas Announces He's Leaving Emeryville

 Pet Issue, Police in Schools, Likely Dies With Vargas' Departure

Leaving Emery
School Board Member Cruz Vargas

Emery School District School Board incumbent Cruz Vargas announced this week he is moving out of Emeryville and will not seek another term on the Board, marking the end of a pugnacious career for the school board firebrand and his style of imprudent politics that has emblematized the last few years at Emery.  The vacating Cruz Vargas likely puts to an end his signature albeit disputatious policy idea for Emery; putting Emeryville police officers in the schools

 The announcement by Mr Vargas surprised veteran school board watchers who noted the quixotic and brash former Board President had been riding what seemed to be a recent comeback after a public drubbing when his colleagues stripped him of his presidency in 2018.  

Board member Vargas had been arguing that there is a systemic discipline problem and a lack of order among children in Emery schools that only the stationing of police officers can quell.  Such officers, controversial but used in some school districts, are referred to as School Resources Officers (SRO).  There have been studies linking school districts with SROs to greater expulsions and even imprisonment of students.

Mr Vargas made his mark battling the City Council, leading the charge to sever ties between Emery and City Hall after several dust ups between the ‘Vargas faction’ on the Board and the Council members.  The two governmental agencies are contractually bound in their running of the Emeryville Center of Community Life, the joint schools/community center campus completed in 2017.  The two bodies formed a collegial bond in the City/School Committee charged with running the ECCL, that became a battleground subsequent to Mr Vargas’ election to the Board.  The open rancor came to a head when Mr Vargas took on Council member John Bauters over the ‘police in the schools’ idea.  After Mr Bauters delivered arguably the most impassioned and forceful speech ever delivered by an Emeryville pol, Mr Vargas retreated, swearing to go around the Council and take his police idea directly to the people.

Councilman John Bauters
wearing his 'schools not prisons' T shirt, 
volunteering at an ECAP event. 
Foil to Board Member Vargas.

The retiring of Cruz Vargas leaves current Board President, Brynnda Collins as the sole supporter on a five member board of the Vargas police in Emery schools idea.

In the wake of the nation wide paradigm shift following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it would seem Board member Vargas’ police in the schools idea is on the wrong side of history.  Many, Mr Bauters among them, have noted how police in schools especially those with large populations of black and brown children like Emery, tend to criminalize normal children's behavior.  It’s been widely criticized as part of the so called ‘schools to prison pipeline’ for minority children.

The withdraw by Mr Vargas incidentally leaves the three seat school board race without an incumbent and automatically adds another week for would be applicants to submit their paperwork says the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Onni Withdraws Big Residential Project: Labor Issues Cited

Bad Labor Relations Cited in Onni Project Demise

Emeryville’s planning director announced on Thursday that Onni, the corporate developer of a 54 story 650 foot residential tower proposed for Christie Avenue has withdrawn their application to build after refusing to pay fees associated with the project.  Facing an aroused and generally displeased resident community, the ill fated 638 unit all rental Onni project faced several hurdles, including newly formed Emeryville family housing regulations that would preclude such a project.   However, an Emeryville City Hall employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Tattler the death knell for the controversial project ultimately came as a result of Onni’s poor relations among local Bay Area labor unions and their unwillingness to work with them on this project.

The Canadian based Onni has become a major developer in Southern California, especially Los Angeles where the company has more than 8000 housing units in the pipeline, primarily in the downtown area.  The developer is facing increasing labor backlash as a result of unfair practices there as well, putting some of the projects in jeopardy with a city hall not wishing to stoke labor strife in that city.  Meanwhile, in Seattle, Onni has recently cancelled a residential project because of COVID they say.  Here in Emeryville, Onni has not yet announced their reasons for the withdraw of the project.

Onni watchers started getting suspicious that all was not well with the Christie Avenue project as the Planning Department’s predictions for the Environmental Impact Report publishing, initially slated for March, kept getting delayed.  By June, staffers had stopped predicting the Onni EIR timeline altogether.  The developer needed to complete the EIR for the project to move forward.
There is still a possibility Onni could re-apply for this project but that is widely seen as a non-starter at City Hall.  Onni did not return calls to the Tattler for this story.

Hard to Miss
The Onni project would have been more than twice
as tall as Emeryville's next tallest building.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Sherwin Williams Whistleblower Charges State Agency With Corruption

Sherwin Williams Toxic Cleanup Whistleblower
 to File Complaint With Feds:
  Corruption Charged

State Department of Toxic Substances Control  
Called Out For Incompetence, Worse

City Council Listed as Responsible Party to Protect 
Emeryville Citizens

An employee with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC)  turned whistleblower has notified the City of Emeryville that he will be submitting a citizen complaint with the United States Attorney’s office for the Northern District of California, alleging fraudulent practices of a DTSC staff member related to regulatory oversight at the Emeryville Sherwin-Williams toxic brownfields cleanup site.  Speaking as a private citizen, in a June 29th letter to the City of Emeryville and City Council, the former Sherwin-Williams project manager and current DTSC employee, Tom Price said the department has a “corruption problem” related to this toxic site and that the public may ultimately be exposed to toxins at the future residential site as a result.
Toxic soil being removed at the
Sherwin Williams site.

Mr. Price filed complaints with state overseers against DTSC staff starting back in August 2019 regarding what he called bogus sampling plans and inadequate investigation and cleanup of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs and SVOCs).  At the time, Mr Price charged DTSC officials of working with improper regulatory oversight, hand in glove with the residential developer of the site, Lennar Multi-Family Communities, a charge he is continuing in his impending complaint with the feds.

The impending citizen complaint by Mr. Price, who has protective whistleblower status under Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, include complaints already made against the state-issued professional licenses of five DTSC employees, including an engineer, Jose Salcedo, whom he says “inappropriately approved site development documents” at Sherwin Williams since proper investigation and cleanup were skipped.  Former DTSC Northern California Division Chief of the Site Mitigation and Restoration Program, Mark Malinowski is also named in the citizen complaint for what Mr. Price says amounts to a cajoling of DTSC staff to inappropriately approve development plans with inadequate technical evaluations and attempting to deprive future residents of the honest regulatory oversight services which DTSC normally provides.
Mr. Malinowski has since reported to be retired although the DTSC appears to be using his services in some consultancy capacity.

Regardless of the misconduct of DTSC managers noted by Tom Price up until this point, the former project manager told the City Council it is not too late to properly clean up the site.  He said the City of Emeryville, with its authority over a grading permit which was issued to the developer, should direct DTSC to require the developer to investigate and/or excavate potentially contaminated soils from hundreds of feet of abandoned utility lines on the site that were identified on old maps from the days when Sherwin Williams was engaging in pesticide and paints manufacturing.  Writing as a private citizen in his letter to the City and the Council, Mr. Price recommended bringing a mobile laboratory to the site to complete the investigation with screening of soil gas samples for VOCs and SVOCs in the locations of the abandoned utility lines and former tanks which correspond to the planned living spaces which have not been tested yet.  Mr Price named DTSC senior staff in Southern California including Shahir Haddad and Theodore Johnson, who conducted a review of site documents and identified those deficiencies yet, he noted, they failed to recommend customary investigation and cleanup.

Speaking as a private citizen to potential risks at the Emeryville Sherwin Williams site, former project manager Price told the Tattler,  “According to guidance documents of DTSC and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a vapor intrusion mitigation system such as the one planned for this site should not be considered a substitute for appropriate investigation and remediation. If that is skipped, the long-term protectiveness of the remedy may be compromised. That is unacceptable because these residential buildings will house sensitive receptors including pregnant women and children for decades.”
Mr. Price’s professional experience includes conducting dozens of such field investigations as a field chemist at former industrial sites and service stations across Northern California. It was noted Branch Chief Richard Hume of DTSC's Sacramento office has not responded to Mr. Price's requests for the additional investigation and cleanup of the site which has a history of being one of the most polluted sites under DTSC oversight in the region.

A long-term DTSC employee and Sherwin Williams project manager from May of 2018 to October 2019, Tom Price used the June 29th letter to the City of Emeryville and the Council to inform them that the people of Emeryville, especially the future residents at the Sherwin-Williams site, deserve the honest and professional services of the Department of Toxic Substance Control and they have not received it.  The City and the Council have not yet responded to Mr Price's letter.

After his attempts to provide appropriate regulatory oversight for the project were unsuccessful due to reported interference from Mr. Malinowski, former Northern California Division Chief of the Site Mitigation and Restoration Program at DTSC, Tom Price requested to be transferred off of the Sherwin-Williams cleanup, a request that was accepted.  He remains an employee at the department.

The Sherwin-Williams residential project will have land use restrictions owing to the toxins that will remain on the site.
The apartments being constructed, including many 'family friendly' units, will be ready for occupancy some time in 2022.
A new park adjacent to the residences will be separated from toxic soil by a geotechnical cloth product according to the DTSC cleanup plan.

A 1996 video from the UC Graduate School of Journalism (above) presupposed that underground toxins in Emeryville would be contained in a good faith manner.  They didn't count on the Department of Toxic Substances Control, a government agency tasked with regulating private sector developers and polluters, would be in bed with the very organizations it is supposed to regulate.  It's a classic case of 'regulatory capture'.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Announcing: The Emeryville Tattler Police Accountability Project

The Emeryville Tattler Police Accountability Project
Has EPD Engaged in Racial Profiling?
The Police Accountability Project Will Find Out

Public Announcement
The Emeryville Tattler is in the process of obtaining years of data from the police department that will show indications of racial profiling the department may have engaged in. With a series of Public Records Requests, we will expose the field notes currently in the possession of the Emeryville Police Department that will show among other things, the race of civilians stopped in their vehicles, and as pedestrians in the commons and when the police use force for any reason.  If the police find an individual or group of individuals ‘suspicious’ for whatever reason and they stop them, we will know the race of those stopped.  We will be enabled to compare our police department with other departments.
The resultant data collected will reveal hard truths about our police department independent of any government claims to the contrary and thus will be very helpful in delivering the police reform the citizens are clamoring for.

In the wake of the mass nation-wide racist police brutality protests rocking our country, Emeryville residents would be wise to question the police in our own little town.  It’s clear police departments around the nation are racist.  But is our own little department also racist?  If they’re interviewed on the subject, police uniformly downplay or even deny there’s a problem.  Police sometimes lie...even Emeryville police. That’s to be expected. But what is the difference between what the government claims is the case and the actual record?  That’s what we intend to find out.
The Emeryville Police Department
Is it as good as they say?  The records that will show us
belong to us.  We're going to get the records and open them.

Citizens should know that Emeryville's City Hall, scared of open citizen revolt, is attempting to seize the narrative on police reform. They're seeing this as primarily a public relations problem and they're attacking it in a two pronged way; they're playing down calls for reform while admitting some cause for reform at the margins (that they say they can be trusted with administering).  They're going out of their way to assure the citizens the police department is already effectively a priori constrained with their recent City web posting that would mollify an agitated public.  And the City Council is also preparing meetings that will putatively reveal some problems at the police department and offer some fixes.  The first such meeting is slated for late July.  However, the timing of all this newfound desire for police accountability should be seen as suspect.
The Tattler has reported on evidence of racism at EPD and the existence of an undemocratic culture there for years and the Council has shown no interest in even investigating.  From the EPD killing of a black woman, Yuvette Henderson, to the militarization of department weaponry with the wholesale issuance of assault rifles, to the racist postings by the Chief of Police on the City’s website police blotter, there has been a lot to look at for would be reformers.  Unfortunately we could not get a City Council member interested in looking at any of it.  Claims made now for self reform will not be seen as credible or good enough.

The Tattler will report on what the City Council reveals in their investigations into our police department of course, but we suspect there’s not going to be much of anything helpful brought by them.  That’s where the Tattler will step in and fill the void with actual and relevant data.  We've already begun the data collection process but so far the EPD hasn’t been forthcoming with our initial public record request.  We're undaunted and you can count on the Tattler's dogged persistence as we retrieve the public records the people have a right to see.  We hope the City Council will partner with the Tattler and use what we find to drive reform as we begin the Emeryville Tattler Police Accountability Project.  Watch this space...

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Defund the Emeryville Police Department

Defunding Is Our Best Hope For REAL 
Police Reform

Their Backs Against the Wall, Police Praise Protesters 
Against Police Racism

Next Will Come Phony Talk of 'Reform'

News Analysis/Opinion
After many retail establishments were broken into and merchandise stolen, the Chief of Police wrote a letter to the people last week telling us that looters in Emeryville are taking away from genuine and peaceful protests against the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.  Chief Jennifer Tejada's letter told us she supports the peaceful protests going on and she said she wants “equality for all” and to “give voice to those who are marginalized” and that “racism is real”.
And with that, our chief of police is repeating what chiefs of police are saying all across the country.  Racism must end, the chiefs are saying and they're nearly tripping over themselves to announce they are allied with the peaceful protestors that have taken over America’s streets of late while denouncing looters (even as some are clearly ordering attacks against peaceful protesters).  Praising peaceful protesters against police racism has become the thing to do for police chiefs in America in June 2020.  Thus, ipso facto, each police department is not racist they would have us believe.  It must be other police departments that are the racist ones.

Next up in this archetype is massive ‘police reform’.  Like last time, police departments are going to tell us they’re going to self reform.  In fact that discussion is already being presented by many chiefs.  They say they recognize the problem police have with race and they’re ready for reform.
So what’s going to be offered up?  Sensitivity training, police attending seminars on race sensitivity, First Amendment rights and that kind of thing.  Virtually every police department in America is going to be on board because the police hear our frustrations they say.  Chief Tejada says it.  Should we feel hope and encouragement by these stirring words?  Is this going to be enough to solve this problem that Chief Tejada recognizes?
Emeryville's Chief of Police
Jennifer Tejada

She loves peaceful 
protest against police racism
in June 2020. In 2017,
she loved racist police 
blotter posts.

The answer to those questions is: we should look to what they do rather than what they say they’re going to do.

Broken Record
‘The police are going to reform themselves to address systemic racism’.  Where have we heard that before?
We’ve heard it every time the media grabs onto a compelling story with above the fold reports of a racist police culture, starting with the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and extending past the shooting of Michael Brown and the choking of Eric Garner.  Academic studies have shown it over and over; police are far more racist than the control group of average Americans.  There is an enduring  culture of anti-black racism among America's police departments and everybody knows it.
Police keep telling us during these crises that they ‘get it’ and they’re going to reform.  But policing in America doesn’t get fixed.  Since Rodney King, it’s actually gone in the opposite direction as departments get more and more militarized, police arming themselves with deadlier firepower leading to more killings of citizens, usually unarmed black men.  All this has evolved against police claiming wholesale persecution of them by the public.  They’re claiming there’s a ‘war on police’ despite the fact policing has never been safer in America than it is right now.  They’re presenting a narrative of the loathsome public that hates police that must be controlled or else police will be killed or attacked.  This is driving municipalities around the country to pour more money into police departments.  Constrained by budgets, cities increase spending on police at the expense of community services.  Emeryville's police budget now resembles the pentagon's budget as a percentage of government spending.

Where police departments across America goes, so goes Emeryville’s police department.  This is a broken paradigm.  We should never expect any police department, including the Emeryville police department to self reform.  Police departments will only change if we force them to.  That force is their budget.  We need to join with other cities who are now openly talking about changing the paradigm by going after police budgets.  We need to begin defunding the EPD.  That’s the only mechanism that will drive real change.

We must learn the only reason America's cops are talking so eloquently now about reform is their backs are against the wall.  They're hoping the talk will be enough to defuse the situation and they'll be able to stop real reform.  Indeed, every other time police faced this level of public outrage, it's been enough to eventually force a return to normal.  What’s normal?  Normal is when chiefs of police around the country feel emboldened enough for instance to castigate Colin Kaepernick for his peaceful protest of kneeling during the National Anthem.  Mr Kaepernick was outraged over racist police brutality in 2016 and so he peacefully protested.  But that was unacceptable said America’s police.  Now that their backs are against the wall, police say peaceful protest against police brutality is suddenly perfectly fine.  Just ask Chief Tejada.  Where was Jennifer Tejada when Mr Kaepernick was protesting peacefully.  We didn’t get any letters supporting him then, did we?

And what can we learn from our Chief of Police who wants us to rally behind the police who are rallying behind the peaceful protesters (she says) all while castigating the looters?  These are to be looked at as two separate groups of people she says; one good, the other bad.  What she isn’t saying (not part of the police narrative) or doesn’t know (even worse) is the peaceful protesters and the looters are one and the same.  America’s poor and working people of all colors, especially black people, have had their fill.  They’re using the only means available to them to try for change.  People pushed to the edge will turn to violence.  It’s totally to be expected.  The worse it gets for average Americans in contemporary America the more we can expect uprisings like this.  We can expect growing violence in such a downward spiral.  What isn’t helpful is our chief of police joining the chorus of chiefs everywhere trying to hang onto the narrative that empowers them at our expense.  She’s trying to keep the money flowing to the police and we’re trying to upset the dominant paradigm that only leads to more violence and more racism.  The looters and the vandals don't 'take away' from what the peaceful protesters are doing; it's all part of a greater whole, we're all in it together and it's all to be expected regardless of what Chief Tejada says.

We cannot expect vast numbers of people, the poor, working class and black people to behave in a manner that no other people would do.  People cannot be expected to be super human.  We can not have what Chief Tejada is driving us towards: a narrative that would posit black people’s civil rights are only as enduring as average people’s ability to not loot when they’re backs are against the wall and they’re rightfully angry.  We are not accepting attempts to divide us.

We should remember Chief Tejada’s record at the Emeryville Police Department.  After EPD shot and killed Yuvette Henderson, a black woman in 2015, Chief Tejada told us the State of California is wrong about the AR-15 assault rifle that killed Ms Henderson.  Chief Tejada told us that lawmakers in Sacramento who banned AR-15s have it all wrong about these weapons now carried by Emeryville police.  They are not assault rifles she says, rather simple sporting rifles.  This was her narrative when there was talk of taking away these guns from our police.  She was trying to downplay the deadly firepower of these assault weapons.  Incidentally, witnesses and forensic testimony reported the kill shot by an Emeryville police officer's AR-15 was made after Ms Henderson had been hit in the side and her gun she had flew back six feet behind her, making the kill shot unnecessary according to the testimony at the civil trial following the police clearing themselves of any wrong doing.
We should also remember Chief Tejada refused to stop posting racist crime reports in Emeryville’s official crime blotter in 2016/17.  It took nearly a year of Tattler reports for Ms Tejada to finally stop.

Emeryville should use this time to finally do something to change the unacceptable paradigm of anti-black police racism in our little neck of the woods.  It is our good fortune that our current Chief of Police is retiring now amid these epic protests.  We should use this time to drive real change and stop allowing soothing language from police attempting to save their funding, lull us back to sleep until the next crisis.  We need to think globally and act locally.  We need to use our nuclear option now at this propitious moment, and start defunding our police to force change now in the place that never changes.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Emeryville Police at East Bay Bridge Mall Protests

East Bay Bridge Mall (Emeryville)
EPD / Alameda County Sheriffs Deputies faced off protesters earlier this evening before looting began at Best Buy.

Shop owners quickly boarded up at Hollis and 40th Street
waiting for darkness.

Emeryville police joined with Alameda County Sheriffs deputies
ready to face off protesters at the Michael's Craft
store at the East Bay Bridge Center. 

Alameda County Sheriffs Office Deputies formed a line facing off protesters.

Breaking News: Emeryville Protests

Breaking News: (Emeryville)
Protesters tonight broke through metal barricade doors at the Best Buy store and streamed out with electronic merchandise.

Monday, May 25, 2020

School Board Member Proposes Official District Apology for Steve Dain Firing

School Board Member Donaldson: District Needs To Apologize for "Unjust Firing"

1976 Termination of 'Teacher of the Year' Still Isn't Resolved 
at Emery

A week of rapidly moving events at the Emery Unified School District including bad press from the Bay Area's LGBTQ community have culminated in a board member announcing she will propose the district draft an official apology for the 1976 firing of an Emery teacher who after gender confirmation surgery, transitioned to a man, ending in his termination for what the district called at the time, “immoral conduct”.  School board member Susan Donaldson said she will propose to her colleagues at the beleaguered district they write an official letter of apology to acknowledge the wrong done by the district against its former employee, Steve Dain in his “unjust firing”.
Emery School Board Member
Susan Donaldson
The announcement comes after the Emeryville City Council last week pledged to rename the street fronting the high school where he taught, Steve Dain Drive’.  The City was moved to action a year after the School Board failed to act on promises to honor Mr Dain in some other capacity following a board vote against naming the school gymnasium after Mr Dain.
Mr Dain died in 2007.

Current board president Brynnda Collins drew the ire of the LGBTQ community and the news outlet, the Bay Area Reporter during the naming debate last year after she reprimanded her colleague, then board president Barbara Inch for proposing the district honor Mr Dain with the gym name at all, calling it abjectly “political”.  She proceeded to call down Mr Dain, telling her colleagues that instead they should name the gym after “a pillar of the community”.  It was a comment that City Council member Patz called “transphobia”.
Ms Collins refused to elaborate or clarify her ‘political’ charge for purposes of this story.

The idea for honoring Mr Dain initially came some six years ago from then board member Christian Patz who learned of the fired teacher that earned ‘teacher of the year’ commendation from the district the year before they fired him.  Mr Patz proposed naming the newly rebuilt gym after Mr Dain who had been a PE teacher at Emery.  The concept did not go over well with his colleagues who subsiquently deep sixed the idea.  It wasn’t until later, after Mr Patz was elected to the Emeryville City Council and his spouse, Barbara Inch was elected to the School Board, the idea was brought up again.  The board however still resisted the idea of naming the gym by fiat with a simple up or down vote as they could have.  Instead the board members voted to consider other people to name the gym after and then do ranked choice voting.  That vote allowed three choices and Steve Dain lost to a former coach at the high school, Elio Abrami.
Board President Brynnda Collins
Naming the school gym after
the former gym teacher

Steve Dain is "political".
Steve Dain came in second place in a field of 12 choices.

Board member Brynnda Collins voted for Mr Dain as her third choice while member Cruz Vargas didn’t vote for Mr Dain at all, offering instead a vote for Steph Curry, a person who has no association with Emery Unified School District.
Mr Vargas refused to return calls from the Tattler.

President Collins, aware of a public relations kerfuffle stemming from last year’s rejection of Mr Dain followed by last week’s City Council street renaming, has been contacting local leaders (and the Tattler) to let them know she is happy the City is renaming 47th Street Steve Dain Drive.  However, she refused to comment to the Tattler whether the District would go ahead with their promise to honor Mr Dain in some other way as they promised they would last year.

Here is a portion of the text of Board Member Donaldson’s letter proposing an official apology from the district:

I will be proposing to the school board that we issue an official letter of apology to Steve Dain’s family regarding his unjust firing in 1976.  I am in support of the city naming a street after him and am so happy to see that honor, but I would like the school board to officially apologize for the action it took many years ago.  As a board, we have updated our policies to reflect that we will provide a "Safe, Nondiscriminatory School Environment for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming” students and staff.  Now we must be the change that we ask our students to be by acknowledging this wrong from our past and apologizing for it.  There is more work to do, but an apology is a start.

Susan Donaldson
Member, Emery Unified School District Board of Trustees

Elio Abrami Gym Name: Not Political (presumably)
However, the newly named Elio Abrami Gymnasium
will have a Steve Dain Drive address.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Breaking News: Council to Name 47th Street 'Steve Dain Drive'

Council Moves to Honor Former Emery Teacher After School District Twice Fails

Breaking (City Hall):
Tonight the City Council moved to change the name of a portion of a street in town after an Emeryville PE teacher that was fired by the Emery Unified School District for “immoral conduct” in 1976 after he had gender confirmation surgery, transitioning to a man.  The unanimous vote  to rename 47th Street between San Pablo Avenue and Doyle Street ‘Steve Dain Drive’, came after the Emery School Board failed to name the school gymnasium honoring Mr Dain last summer following a tumultuous public debate there.  The vote tonight directs the staff to bring the issue back to the Council for the final OK at a future meeting that hasn’t been announced.  Emery High School and the gymnasium are located on 47th Street, a piece of infrastructure owned by the City of Emeryville.

Council member John Bauters was the most animated among his colleagues during tonight’s discussion, stating he found the School Board had “reached a new level of disappointment” and that he was “very unhappy” over their refusal to make amends for the unpropitious firing of the Emery teacher, “terminated for who they were” Mr Bauters said.  However the lone School Board supporter of the naming of the gym to honor Mr Dain last year, Board member Susan Donaldson, expressed support for the renaming of the street in a phoned in comment to the Council tonight.  “I was on the losing side” Board member Donaldson told the Council recalling last year’s School Board retrenchment on the Steve Dain issue, but she praised the Council’s vote to “right this wrong” done by the district to the former Emery teacher.
Former Emery Teacher of the Year Steve Dain
His courage will finally be remembered for all
time with the naming of our street in his honor.

The short section of 47th Street to be renamed has the AC Transit’s bus yard facility and the Emery gym and high school on it, fittingly the same address where Mr Dain was a teacher for ten years.  Notably, during his time at Emery, Mr Dain was elected teacher of the year before he was terminated by the district.  He died in 2007 at the age of 68.
There are no residents or businesses located on the portion of the street to be renamed.

After the school district balked on naming the gymnasium after Steve Dain last year, Board members announced they would seek to honor him in some other unspecified way but they failed to do that, a fact noted by Council member Bauters tonight.  Councilwoman Dianne Martinez raised the issue of Emeryville’s legacy with the renaming of the street, recalling that Steve Dain is “an important part of our history.”
But it was Mayor Christian Patz that seemed to best capture the mood of the Council, “you should be allowed to be who you are” he said as he cast his YES vote.

The City Council will make the vote official at a subsequent meeting followed by a street sign replacement, probably this summer.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Breaking News: Emeryville Police Chief Announces Her Retirement

Today, after serving four and a half years on the force, Emeryville’s chief of police Jennifer Tejada, announced she is retiring, effective in mid June the Tattler has learned.  Chief Tejada notified the City Manager, Police Department employees and the City Council of her imminent departure earlier today.   No reasons were offered yet aside from her desire to leave service.  Ms Tejada is 57 years old.  Chief Tejada's short one month notice will necessitate the City of Emeryville to begin searching for a replacement directly.

Chief Tejada was hired in September 2015 after a four and a half month search by the City of Emeryville.  She previously had been the chief of the Sausalito Police Department, having served there for four years.

A controversial chief of police for Emeryville, Ms Tejada instituted a program of “mindfulness”at the department including liberal use of officer yoga.  Sources within the department have told the Tattler over the Chief’s tenure, her managerial style is generally not well received by the rank and file who have complained it has sometimes come at the expense of basic and necessary police work. 
Retiring Police Chief Jennifer Tejada
She made the cover of 'Mindful' Magazine

in 2017.

The Tattler has often been a critic of Chief Tejada’s policing policies, especially her equipping Emeryville beat officers with 'AR-15' assault rifles in their everyday neighborhood rounds and her injecting racist entrees into the Emeryville police blotter released for public consumption.
Ms Tejada insists the rifles in question are not assault weapons, contravening public pronouncements from the State of California and chiefs of police from around the Bay Area, all of whom confirm the rifles now carried by Emeryville police do qualify as assault rifles.
The Chief was told by the City Manager to take down the racist blotter entrees after a Tattler exposé in 2016.  She finally complied after a second Tattler story caused widespread embarrassment at City Hall.

More recently, Ms Tejada was revealed to have failed to alert her officers and technician employees that the Emeryville Police Department is the Emeryville enforcement arm of the mandated Alameda County COVID-19 emergency orders, leaving the rank and file believing the Alameda County Sheriff's Office was the agency tasked with that work.  As reported by the Tattler, an unreported number of Emeryville citizen complainants were mistakenly not assisted and/or deferred to the sheriff's office as a result.

Ms Tejada leaves the Emeryville Police Department after 24 years in police work.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Emery School Board Continues Undemocratic Tradition of Appointing Its Members

Yet Another Appointment to Emery School Board
After Another Elected Trustee Resigns

Emeryville, Meet Your Newest Board Member- 
John Van Geffen; Advocate for Business Interests 
& Foe of the Working Poor 

News Analysis
In his third attempt, local attorney and former City Council candidate John Van Geffen was finally successful this week in securing an appointment to the position of Trustee on the Emery School Board, a governing body that is supposed to be elected by the people of Emeryville.  However due to recurring resignations among Board members, executive appointments to this legislative body here are often the norm.  Also common is the appointing of community members to the Board that have been previously rejected by the voters of Emeryville.  Or in the case of Mr Van Geffen, a candidate that had been previously rejected by the voters AND (twice by) the School Board.  He now takes over the position of former Trustee Sarah Nguyen who resigned earlier in the year.

This week's continuation of Emery's Board of Trustees tradition, manifested by the elevating of Mr Van Geffen, comes after his 2016 City Council bid when he came in last place in a field of six candidates.  The deeply unpopular John Van Geffen was bested by current Board member, appointee Brynnda Collins, who also lost her Council bid in 2016, coming in 5th place in the six candidate field.  Unlike Mr Van Geffen however, Ms Collins actually won a subsequent (2018) School Board bid put to the voters.
Political office aspirants facing voters is the norm in a functioning democracy except here at the Emery Unified School District where Board members commonly resign before their terms are finished.
Third Time's a Charm-
Newly Appointed School Board Member
John Van Geffen

He lost a City Council bid and two previous
attempts to get appointed to the Board.

Newly minted School Board member Van Geffen was a controversial pick for the existing four Board members with his conspicuous ‘limited government’ conservative philosophy and open hostility to Emeryville's popular and progressive minimum wage and 'fair work week' ordinances in his failed City Council bid (see the League of Woman Voters video below).  Whereas Emeryville voters (and previous iterations of the School Board) soundly rejected Mr Van Geffen's attacks on the working poor in the community in 2016, the newest iteration of the Board now see a simpatico fellow traveler they can work with.

The appointment of Mr Van Geffen to the Board of Trustees adds to two existing other appointees currently on the Board.  Not including Board member Collins who was appointed and finally elected,  the Emery Unified School Board now is comprised of only three members whom voters have elected and three that have not been either rejected at the ballot box or appointed to their Board position.  A spare majority of three were selected by the people of the City of Emeryville, a tenuous majoritarian condition given Emery's historic inability to hold onto Board members for their full terms.

Readers may wish to review Mr Van Geffen's presentation in the League of Woman Voters' 2016 City Council candidates' forum in the video below and the Tattler 2016 City Council candidates' questionnaire, in four installments:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Police Flummoxed by County COVID Order at Emeryville Construction Sites

COVID Cat & Mouse Game Plays Out at City Construction Sites

Police Unable or Unwilling to Force Compliance

Workers at the Maz housing construction site on San Pablo Avenue got a surprise visit from the Emeryville police on Monday who, responding to complaints from citizens, gently reminded the workers they need to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the community.  It marked the beginning of a week of community calls and police responses to this and other construction sites in Emeryville where large numbers of workers have been flouting the Alameda County Face Covering Order, issued on April 17th.  The dynamic of police prompted to show up to ensure compliance has descended into a puerile if deadly game of COVID cat and mouse, workers keeping their masks at the ready to slip on at the sight of police cars or even an Emeryville Tattler photographer (we were sneaky and quick and caught several workers before they had a chance to slip their masks on).  And so the City of Emeryville appears to be flummoxed by strong willed construction workers and rendered inert in their charge to provide public safety.  Emeryville, it would appear, is not taking the COVID-19 virus seriously.

From the beginning when the pandemic arrived in our area, the Emeryville Police Department has shown a lack of concern.  The Chief of Police, Jennifer Tejada, didn’t alert her troops to the fact that it is the municipal police departments in Alameda County who are charged with enforcement of the county order decrees for the deadly virus.  Distressingly, it was the Tattler who informed the Emeryville police rank and file, that it is their responsibility to enforce the orders.  After the Chief had been made aware it was her and her department that bears responsibility for enforcement but before the Tattler disseminated that information to the EPD personnel, the officers were oblivious to this fact.  Emeryville police officers across the department had mistakenly thought it was the responsibility of the Alameda County Sheriff to enforce the COVID orders.

Starting after they were made aware it is their responsibility to enforce, Emeryville police have mostly reported worker compliance at various construction sites in town.  But how trustworthy is that?  They’re getting calls from the public, they’re driving out to the sites and the workers are pulling up their masks before the police get out of their cars.  This is what has come to pass as effective public policy in today’s Emeryville.  Tempting fate, perhaps the police and the Chief feel they can trifle with this virus.

Some of these work sites in town have 20 or 30 workers laboring shoulder to shoulder, many without wearing masks.  This is not some piddling thing.  This is precisely the kind of public health infection risk the county face covering order seeks to stop.  Alameda County Interim Health Officer and signatory to the order, Dr Erica Pan is adamant that construction workers and others wear masks saying the failure to do so "...constitutes an imminent threat and immediate menace to public health".  Failure to comply with the order can result in a fine or imprisonment or both.

Regardless, contractors in Emeryville aren’t forcing their workers to wear masks and the developers aren’t forcing the contractors and the police aren’t forcing any of them.  But in this dysfunctional dynamic, it’s not the private sector who the Tattler will go after.  They’re to be expected to lie and cheat and cut corners, chasing their profits.  It is the public sector we hold accountable.

And so we are distressed at the idea that our city is rendered impotent in the middle of a deadly pandemic by construction workers who don’t like wearing masks.  We like to think that it would take more than mask hating workers to bring our city down in their charge to protect the public.  But so far in this age of COVID, that’s not the city we live in.  Absurd as it sounds, COVID is likely spreading in our community because the Emeryville Police Department hasn't so far had the wherewithal to defeat cleaver construction workers who quickly pull up their masks upon the sight of a police car.

Insofar as construction site mask compliance may be had as a result of an embarrassed Emeryville Police Department due to our reporting, this is not a responsibility the Emeryville Tattler wishes.  We don’t want public safety to be in our hands.  We’re not paid for this.  We are here simply to report.  It is the Chief of Police who is paid for this.  We want her and this city to start taking this virus seriously.

No Masks at Maz Work Site
Caught in a candid moment by a Tattler photographer Thursday, workers wait for a crane
to lift a modular housing component into place.  Elsewhere on the site, when they saw our camera, workers quickly put their masks on... for us and for the police.  

Sunday, April 12, 2020

COVID-19 Forces 'Maz' Developer to Negotiate With City For Affordable Housing

Finally: Something Good Comes From the 
Caronavirus Epidemic

Virus Increases Emeryville Housing Affordability

The developer of the ‘Maz’ project, a large apartment building being constructed at 3800 San Pablo Avenue, renegotiated his agreement with the City of Emeryville last week, volunteering to add 10 units of affordable housing as a result of the Alameda County COVID-19 Shelter at Home Order.  The County order includes a prohibition on construction projects during the corona virus pandemic and would have forced Holiday Development to stop all work on the 101 unit housing project because Maz was approved without any affordable units.  Rick Holiday, CEO of Holiday Development, approached City Hall Thursday offering to renegotiate his project to add a permanent deed restriction for 10 affordable units to thwart the County’s stop work order for all housing construction projects with less than 10% affordability, coming in just under the wire (actually 9.99%, 10 out of 101).

Mr Holiday has had a very difficult time completing the Maz project, formerly called ‘The Intersection’ after getting City Hall approval for it back in 2013.  The 1.1 acre project, located at San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street has been set back two times before after an arsonist twice burned down the nearly finished five story building.  After the second fire, the developer optioned to change to modular offsite prefabricated construction.  During the interim period, Holiday also contracted with the University of California to make the building exclusively for the housing use of Berkeley students, a change that incidentally wasn’t cleared with the City of Emeryville.
Maz developer Rick Holiday

In response to citizen calls received by the Emeryville Police Department last week referencing the County work stoppage order and police visits to the site enforcing the order, Mr Holiday at first claimed that since the project is now for student use, that could be defined as low income housing. The argument was presented that with the students (at 100%), the Maz project qualifies for the County’s 10% minimum affordability mandate but was rebuffed by the City Manager Christine Daniel, according to City Hall sources.  Following that rejection and facing a County work stoppage of unknown duration, Holliday agreed to guarantee 10 units of affordable housing with an irrevocable deed restriction.
Emeryville's new housing regulations, enacted after the approval of Maz, require a minimum of 17% affordability for all projects over 10 units.

The Maz project, likely to be renamed, has been controversial from the start.  Approved in 2013 in a 3-2 City Council split vote (Kurt Brinkman, Nora Davis and Ruth Atkin voted YES and Jennifer West and Jac Asher voted NO), Maz turned away from the attempts to make Emeryville housing more family friendly and affordable being promulgated by the then progressive Council minority.   With its zero affordability all market rate housing, Maz also is not family friendly, coming in with almost no three bedroom or even two bedroom units.  Studio apartments make up fully 60% of the unit mix at the anachronistic housing project.  At the time of approval, Mr Holliday told the Emeryville Planning Commission that he saw Maz as a building filled with dynamic young [affluent] people, “Younger people seeking an interesting place to live”,  a prospect the Commission called “exciting” as they passed it over to the City Council for approval.
When it's finally finished, almost ten years after approval, the Maz apartment building will push Emeryville's housing affordability percentage down, despite last week's renegotiation and will drive down the City's already low ratio of resident families to non-families.

The Tattler criticized the project after it was approved in 2013, likening it to a “men’s dorm” owing to the predominance of tech workers drawn to such market rate housing with so many dorm-like studio units.  The ‘men’s dorm’ charge rankled conservative Emeryville business advocate and Tattler hater Rob Arias, to such an extent, he publicly accused Brian Donahue, the editor of the Tattler of being the Emeryville arsonist at a police press conference in 2017 after the second Maz blaze.
The fact that the Maz project will now be for the exclusive use of UC Berkeley students and is therefore actually a dormitory, is merely a coincidence and the Tattler makes no claim of extraordinary prescience when we called it a dorm in 2013.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Build Baby Build Hits COVID-19

Developers' Best Laid Plans No Match 
For the Virus

How California Cities Develop Will Change 

News Analysis/Opinion
Scoring a stunning victory highjacking California housing policy, multi-national development corporations and billion dollar real estate investment trusts who recently persuaded Sacramento lawmakers to legislate away the ability for California cities to maintain local control, appear to have run into a force even greater than they: COVID -19.  Poetry is invoked when such a lopsided and unexpected contest as this is joined.  Especially when the winning side is so small they can’t even be seen.  These squiggly little viruses are poised to run roughshod over the collective will of our ruling overlords and they don’t seem to care a whit about the hubris of neoliberal capitalism.  Unlike the Emeryville City Council majority, they’re downright unimpressed with all that power.  And so, as we wait for the calamity to pass, human nature, being such that it is, will no doubt reset the paradigm in its wake.
Alas, there are no guarantees we will return to the by now familiar refrain from the developer class, “build baby build”, caterwauled from the rooftops and boardrooms about the supposed existential threat of the ‘housing crisis’.  COVID-19 has taken care of that narrative, hasn’t it?
Nobody seems to be concerned with any of that now.  However, we know some new way to imagine our cities will assert itself....or maybe it's going to be the old way.  We may even collectively decide we want to return to the days when city planning served as a guiding principle for how to develop our town.

It’s pretty obvious that once this scourge passes with its economy wreaking recession in tow, things are not going back exactly how they were, in Emeryville or anywhere else.  And public policy is bound to reflect the changes.  We think that means the end, for all practical purposes, of build baby build.

It was bound to happen one way or another.  The former world, the former Bay Area real estate world, was never going to be sustainable.  The narrative from developers, that the housing shortage was here to stay until we handed the reins totally over to them, was as convenient as it was blinkered.  A market correction was bound to reveal that sham for what it was.  The only surprise is that it came in the form of a virus.

Looking beyond COVID-19, it would do us good to remember the former world.  Three Emeryville City Council members, John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina all told us they were throwing our lot over to the tender mercies of billion dollar developers as they sought to build baby build.  It was to be for our own good they assured us.  It was like the talking points from the former queen of the City Council, Nora Davis… except on steroids.  It didn’t matter that over the previous twenty years, Emeryville had build more than 200% of market rate housing as recommended by the Association of Bay Area Governments, the public agency in charge of Bay Area housing and jobs.  These three Council members, Bauters, Martinez and Medina  said that the fact that our population had doubled every ten years for three decades running amounted to precisely zero.  Developers wanted to increase profits and these three sought to help them by pledging their allegiance to their facile neoliberal notions of supply and demand.  So casting aside any ideas about market crashes (2007 forgotten), they cheered on Sacramento’s anti-democratic SB 330 and other legislation that takes away Emeryville’s right to decide for ourselves how we plan our town.  It’s an emergency they said and the only solution was to build baby build.

The people's will didn't enter into the Council's thinking.  However, you have to assume people moved to Emeryville over the years because there’s something about it they like.  “The small town atmosphere” is what’s commonly cited.  It’s a stretch to assume people moved here hating the small town atmosphere but betting three Council members would rise up and overturn our autonomous City Hall in order to Manhattanize the town.  We know this is false because we’ve already  collectively said we don’t want that.  We voted on the town we’ve been building (more or less) before the build baby build crew took over.  That vote was taken in the form of our ten year old General Plan…the same document John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina now hold in contempt.  We voted on our General Plan…and then we voted for these three Council members.  They never told us when they were asking for our votes that they would move to destroy our General Plan.  Had they done so, it’s likely they would have lost their respective elections to the Council.

If COVID-19 had not reared its ugly face and we had done to our town, through the three member Council majority, what the developers had in mind for us, the wreaking ball would have begun swinging and a town filled with unaffordable luxury apartment skyscrapers would have begun to rise up, in contradiction of our General Plan.  After that, there would be no way to go back to what we were.  The reasons we created our General Plan would have all been rendered void amid all the hulking monstrosities.
But reality was bound to catch up with this boomtown winner take all mentality.  The virus has stripped bare the hubris of the elite, be they in the corporate boardrooms, among individual wealthy real estate investors, in the Statehouse and the warren of lobbying firms orbiting it or even in the Emeryville City Council chamber.  These three Council members either got caught up in the hyperbole or they’re true believers.  Either way, it’s clear in matters of city planning, one of the most fundamental functions of any municipality, they’ve simply stopped working for us.  They should stop trying to be heroes (as they couch it), doing the bidding of the developers and start doing our bidding.  That’s what we pay them to do.
Emeryville public policy in the hands of a developer smitten City Council has long bent towards destructive forces and more enthusiastically over time, notwithstanding our General Plan.  Developers have been having their way with us it's true but now it’s going to be COVID-19’s turn. Afterward, when we’re back on our feet, we’re going to tell the developers we’re no longer impressed by them.