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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.


  1. This confirms what the Tattler warned early on in the process and what officials should have recognized back then. Compounding the shame is that you’re getting stonewalled now. Since there’s apparently no going back, let’s hope at least that our officials and our voters will learn a lesson from this costly mistake.

    1. A 'glass half full' way of looking at this suggests these bus bays can be held as place-savers until bus and Amtrak ridership increases someday in a post-COVID, post-Trump future. It's not inconceivable.