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Monday, January 13, 2020

Public Records Request Reveals Lie at Center of Noise Ordinance

Noise Ordinance Investigation Reveals
People's Interest Not Represented at City Hall

Public Records Request Proves Developers Are Preferred,
Residents Interest in Peace & Quiet Rank Second Place

Public Records Request (PRR) for internal documents at City Hall, filed by the Tattler as part of an investigation into a breakdown of Emeryville's noise ordinance, has revealed a lie at the center of the ordinance perpetrated by the City Hall staff.  Previous publically made assurances of deference to the citizens and their expectations of peace and quiet by the City staff have given way to a public records revealed truth that it's really the developers who the City works for.  The trove of documents, turned over last week following an initial request filed in mid October, is revelatory more for what it didn't contain than for its mundane contents (mostly concerning getting meeting dates coordinated).  After the staff made blanket assertions of their turning away developers seeking noise ordinance waivers administratively en masse, no such evidence was found among the  documents that would bolster those assertions.  The documents turned over to satisfy the PRR means the charge, brought by the Tattler, that the staff at City Hall recommends noise waivers be granted to developers in a global way at the expense of the residents, remains uncontested.

Anybody that’s lived here for a while can see how Emeryville is changing.  Our population has doubled over the last 20 years and the business sector keeps growing as well. Emeryville is slated to grow even more moving forward; now we’re entering a new era of skyscraper construction.  All this growth means there’s always lots of construction going on.  Seventeen years ago we decided we need peace and quiet on weekends and evenings against the constant din.  And so like other cities, the people of Emeryville enacted a noise ordinance.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the end of it.  The ordinance has not served as a correction.

Developers, always looking to increase their profits, hate our noise ordinance.  Not known as a group fond of regulatory constraint, they’re free to hate it of course but that doesn’t mean we have to grant them the waivers they keep requesting.  We should only grant noise ordinance waivers for special circumstances when any public benefits clearly outweigh losing our peace and quiet.  And there’s the rub: Emeryville has fallen into a bad habit of routinely granting developers waivers for no good reason.  Sometimes for no stated reason at all.  For 17 years the developers have been getting their way at City Hall at the expense of the residents with their interest in quiet weekends and evenings.

The Tattler has followed this issue closely over the years.  We’ve documented how the City Hall staff, specifically Charlie Bryant, longtime head of the Planning Department, keeps recommending the City Council grant every waiver brought before them.  The Council, who has the final say, generally has used the staff waiver recommendations as political cover to say ‘yes’ to each developer seeking relief.

Before the release of the damning noise ordinance documents last week, anyone paying attention could see how developers have been getting preferential treatment at City Hall.  If residents desires for peace and quiet were genuinely and impartially being listened to, one would expect the staff to recommend noise ordinance constraints be waived maybe half the time; 50% in developers interest and 50% in residents interests.  But that’s not what's been happening.  The staff has gone with the developers, recommending the residents give up their peace and quiet virtually 100% of the time (with only one exception over the last 17 years).
Responding to mounting criticism from residents, the staff some months ago, made claim to an unseen world behind the doors at City Hall where they say residents interests ARE being looked after.  Planning Director Bryant says watching the Council meetings, it only SEEMS like the residents are being ignored.  He told the Tattler that the residents are only seeing the waiver requests that the staff thinks are legitimate and worthy.  A great number of developer requests are denied “administratively”, meaning the staff interdicts and refuses to even forward many to the City Council for their consideration.  Many, if not most waiver requests never even see the light of day says Mr Bryant.

The Tattler, ever vigilant, saw in Mr Bryant’s claims of behind the scenes noise ordinance waiver denials, a facile attempt to put to rest resident claims of the staff's anti-democratic behavior once and for all.  And so we made a Public Records Request for all documents including electronic recordings and interdepartmental memos concerning any administratively denied waivers, just to verify.  After waiting almost three months, the documents provided by City Hall reveal nothing to substantiate the claims made by Mr Bryant.
We now know the claim of a staff diligently working on our behalf with the noise ordinance behind the scenes at City Hall is a ruse.  The Planning Department is merely forwarding each waiver request from each developer, no matter how absurd the stated reasons, over to the City Council, after giving their recommendation to waive the constraints of the ordinance.

At virtually 100% of recommendations falling in the developer’s favor, we can now say with certainty the loud weekends we’re experiencing in Emeryville are not part of any compromise.  The noise ordinance doesn’t function.  It’s just for show.  The fix is in.  Emeryville’s pro-developer reputation is not your imagination.  And it's going to get worse.  Quiet weekends are not anything the residents can expect as we enter Emeryville's next phase of frenzied skyscraper construction.


  1. I read your earlier story on the noise ord and you made it clear the staff always goes with the developers. This just makes it official.

  2. Just wait to hear the constant noise from 3 years of the Onni Super Tower construction IF it goes through despite public opposition. Suggest all write to council and Plan Comm to voice their strong concerns now.