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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Guest Column: Former City Councilman John Fricke on the Privatization of Emeryville

The Privatization of Emeryville

By John Fricke

Guest Columnist

Back in high school, I learned about the concept, the tragedy of the commons, which holds that unregulated access to public land will inevitably lead to its degradation.  I’m happy to report that we in Emeryville are not at risk of suffering the tragedy of the commons because our public spaces are being safeguarded for private users, to the exclusion of members of the public.

Dean and John on the smaller
play structure in 2019, now
off-limits to the public.


As a parent of a three-year-old, I am again a frequent visitor to Emeryville’s parks and playgrounds.  My son, Dean, my wife, Andrea, and I often visit the public schoolyard next to our house that is owned by Emeryville’s school district.  The schoolyard includes a large play structure for big kids, and a smaller one for kids closer to Dean’s age.  (When my daughters were Dean’s age, we used to enjoy having access to the schoolyard on the weekends.)  But this site is no longer used by the school district as a public elementary school, and the weekend public access is being curtailed by a private school that occupies the site.  

In 2017, the public elementary school was relocated to the high school site, and the school district struck a deal to lease the original elementary school site to a private school that conducts classes in German.  Rest assured, the school district said, public access to the schoolyard would continue.  Indeed, this promise was memorialized in the lease agreement.  


But ever since the German school occupied the site, the public access has been spotty at best.  Most recently, the German school installed a gate and padlock, preventing public access to the smaller playground, sandlot, and community garden.  


Contrary to the lease, access to the public
is denied.

When I brought this to the attention of the school district’s superintendent, Quiauna Scott, Ed.D., a week went by with no response.  After following up with email and voicemail messages, Dr. Scott responded that she would forward my email message the school district’s facilities person, Jody Clarke; and, to the head of the German school, Rufus Pichler.  This latter action struck me as odd given that my message to Dr. Scott included my many unanswered email messages to Mr. Pichler complaining about the German school’s weekly leaf blower noise on Saturdays.  

Apparently, Mr. Pichler felt no need to respond to repeated messages from a member of the public until the superintendent directed him to do so.  His response?  Threaten a lawsuit.  

“It is unlawful to interfere with our contractual relations in this manner. We hereby give you notice and ask that you cease your unlawful interference.”  -- Rufus Pichler.

As it happens, not only does the lease with the German school require that weekend public access be maintained, it also requires the German school not to engage in annoying behavior, such as hours-long leaf blower noise on Saturdays (often coinciding with Dean’s naptime and his parents’ only quiet time during the day).  

Let me pause here to state the obvious:  there is no need to use a leaf blower at all.  The state of the schoolyard grounds before the leaf-blowing is generally fine, except for small areas that can be taken care of with a broom.  Just because there is a tool that can remove every speck of dust from the ground doesn’t mean that it must be used.  Schools somehow managed to operate quite well before the advent of the leaf-blower.  

Why does the school create this noise pollution on Saturdays?  In an unattributed message I received the German school stated that “this work can only be done on weekends when the school is not in session.”  In other words, the noise pollution is not acceptable when the private school is in session, but it is fine to create noise pollution on the weekends when the public has access to the schoolyard.  Mr. Pichler would have us believe that this creates no deterrent to the neighbors’ use of the schoolyard.  By sheer coincidence, whenever the private school parents and students gather for a weekend activity in the schoolyard, the leaf blower noise does not occur.  

What can we expect from Superintendent Scott?  Will she exercise her authority over the private German school, a tenant of the school district?  

The lease revenue from the private German school (close to half a million dollars for this school year) represents a significant portion of the school district’s budget.  Any school district would jealously guard this revenue stream since it comes with few reporting requirements (unlike the money from the state).  

Dr. Scott’s most recent email message reported that she met with Mr. Pichler.  Dr. Scott provided assurances that the small play structure and garden area will remain accessible to the public on the weekends, subject to the area being assessed.  As for the weekend noise pollution, Dr. Scott assured me that the German school “will make a concerted effort with the landscaper to reduce the amount of time the leafblower is used as practicable.”  (Read:  the German school can continue its leaf-blower noise pollution on the weekends when the public is present, so that noise pollution can be avoided when the private school is in session.)  Did Dr. Scott ask Mr. Pichler the obvious question:  why is the leaf blower necessary?  Inquiring minds want to know.  

Any email message assurances from Mr. Pichler directly?  No.  Will my “unlawful interference” on behalf of the public lead to a lawsuit against me or the school district?  Stay tuned to this bat channel.  

Until public access is restored, I will tell Dean that he can only play on the schoolyard’s play structure designed for older children.  As for the leaf blower noise on the weekends, let’s all bring our ear plugs to the schoolyard.  The tragedy of the commons in Emeryville is not overuse, but denial of public access in favor of private use.  


John Fricke is a longtime Emeryville resident, father of three, husband, lawyer, and former member of the Emeryville City Council.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

City Council Special Election 2021: Charlotte Danielsson-Chang

 City Council Special Election Questionnaire: Charlotte Danielsson-Chang

November 2nd, Emeryville voters will decide a replacement for Christian Patz who vacated his City Council seat in June.  This special election asks voters to chose between two candidates, Charlotte Danielsson-Chang and Courtney Welch.  We thank these two democratically minded candidates for running for our City Council.  As you review their candidacies, we think you'll agree both are very qualified to serve.  The two completed the five question Tattler Election '21 Candidate Questionnaire and by a toss of the coin, Charlotte Danielsson-Chang goes first.  Be sure to read Courtney Welch's responses to these questions appearing soon.

Charlotte's campaign website is HERE

Courtney's campaign website is HERE


Charlotte Danielsson-Chang
According to her campaign website, Charlotte is a small business owner practicing business and immigration law for technology companies in the Bay Area since 1998.  She currently serves as a Commissioner for the Alameda County Human Relations Commission, and is Chair of the National Voter Education Forum for the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association.

 

1. Briefly explain what your vision for Emeryville is and how you propose to 
take us there.

Emeryville is the city of “arts and innovation” and my vision is to foster an environment where the ingenuity of our citizens can flourish and where both people and businesses feel genuinely invested in our community. We need to focus more on the livability of our city; we need more spaces for people to connect---more parks, green space, bike/walking trails, public gathering spaces, and small businesses---and we need to deal with environmental and climate change issues more proactively. Our smaller size is an asset and means we can be more creative, nimble, adaptable, and make sure all people within our community are treated with respect and dignity. Diverse input results in more innovative and effective solutions so I would prioritize not only respecting diverse voices but actively reaching out to parts of our community that have historically not been very involved with our city government. I would work with companies within our city to concentrate their social impact and sustainability initiatives in Emeryville to make the companies and their employees feel more invested in the city. I’ve spent decades working with entrepreneurs and building tech ecosystems and will use those contacts and that knowledge to foster more entrepreneurship in Emeryville. More info at www.charlotteforemeryville.com


2. Do you support Emeryville’s Measure C, the affordable housing bond passed by voters in 2018?

Yes absolutely. We need to make sure people at all income levels can afford to live in Emeryville. We need to make sure that the seniors on fixed incomes, many of whom have lived here for decades and hold the historical knowledge of Emeryville that gives us our roots, can afford to stay here. We need to make sure we don’t lose the artists who play such an essential role in providing inspiration for our city. We need our teachers, nurses, fire fighters and police officers to be able to live in the community they serve. We need to take care of our families who are struggling to survive and our homeless because that’s the heart of who we are as a progressive city. 


3. Do you support Emeryville’s Minimum Wage Ordinance?

Yes, Emeryville has a high cost of living so wages should reflect that and reflect our beliefs as a city that workers matter. The Minimum Wage Ordinance often gets blamed for the empty and boarded up retail spaces in Emeryville but that’s inaccurate because this trend predates the Minimum Wage Ordinance. It started off with new developments creating retail spaces that were too expensive for small business owners and now there is the devastating impact of Covid on top of that which is also accelerating the disruption of the retail industry brought on by technological changes and the rise of ecommerce. I’ve been a small business owner for 23 years and my parents were small business owners throughout my childhood so I know personally that being a small business owner is a 24/7 all-in endeavor that consumes all aspects of your life and being able to feed your family is tied to how well your business does. Our city needs to keep our small businesses in mind whenever development decisions are made both in terms of making sure we have viable spaces for them and that we are ensuring that they have the foot traffic and visibility needed to thrive. Our city also has a role to play in helping small businesses build forward-focused resiliency in terms of providing information and resources to adapt to economic and technological shifts more easily.


4.   Name two areas in which you think Emeryville has done a good job recently.

One, Emeryville is a leader in the region for affordable housing.

Two, giving BioMed Realty development approval to expand its Emeryville Center of Innovation. The project involves building 4 new lab buildings which expands our life science core, will bring more high paying jobs to the region, and expand our reputation as a city of innovation.  The project is being done in a way that it contributes to the livability of the community as a whole by including 300 acres of public space including parks, café, etc. 


5.   Name two areas in which you think Emeryville has done a bad job recently.

We haven’t done enough regarding climate change or public safety. Here’s an example that encompasses both: my husband, an avid cyclist who rides 20-30 miles multiple times per week, would say the bike trails are great here and I know many cyclists would probably agree.  Biking, however, is not currently a truly viable alternative means of transportation that would make our city more livable and decrease our negative impact on the environment.  You know you’ve attained the goal of cycling as an alternative form of transportation when you see seniors with groceries, parents with kids, and people in their regular clothes (not special biking clothes) using our bike lanes and there are safe places for them to store their bikes when they get to their locations.  Emeryville has an extremely high property crime rate, a lot of which could be reduced by better urban planning, smarter infrastructure, and more community engagement. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here and waste taxpayer dollars trying to figure out what would make this transition work…we only need to talk to cities in Europe who have successfully transformed their infrastructure as I have been doing for over a decade in my nonprofit work…to successfully do this in the cheapest manner possible.  

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bike Lanes on Horton Street Put Bikers in Danger

 Photos Reveal Public Policy Failure

There Are Not Supposed to Be Bike Lanes on Horton Street

So Why Are Lanes on the Street?

News Analysis

There's a warehouse on Horton Street with a shallow loading dock that delivery trucks back into, leaving the street partially blocked while workers unload it.  Note the photos taken today (below).  Actually there are several such loading docks on Horton Street.  They are relics from Emeryville's industrial past.  Fair enough.  But why is there a bike lane in front of a loading dock?  The bike lane gets completely blocked every time a delivery truck arrives.  Blocked bike lanes are a safety hazard to bicyclists who have to swerve out into the traffic lane to avoid the obstacle.   This erratic movement has been identified as extremely dangerous for bicyclists in numerous bike safety studies.

So why would Emeryville place bike lanes in such a place?  

Horton Street is designated as a bike boulevard.  That's a street where vehicles are allowed but bikes are preferred.  Bike boulevards are not supposed to have bike lanes.  They're instead supposed to have low vehicle volume.  In the case of Horton Street, there's supposed to be no more than 3000 vehicle trips per day.  To make sure that number is not exceeded and bicyclists are safe, the City is supposed to place traffic calming devises to divert vehicle traffic to other streets.  Businesses in Emeryville have told the City they don't want traffic calming on streets where they do business.  So the City put bike lanes on the bike boulevard rendering the designation meaningless but in so doing, they also created a public safety problem.  

The photos below are not special.  These loading docks are used every day on Horton Street.  Delivery trucks wouldn't be a problem for bicyclists if there was a real bike boulevard here (no bike lanes).   The businesses could still use their loading docks if there was a bike boulevard, but the truck drivers might have to drive a block farther to get around a diverter.  The City of Emeryville doesn't want to inconvenience these businesses even a little, even if it means putting bicyclists in danger.

When City Hall works for the business community instead of OUR community, this is the result.  Bike safety is a secondary concern over business profits in Emeryville.  These (unremarkable) photos prove it.


   




If there was very little traffic on the street, bikes
wouldn't need bike lanes and they wouldn't
have to swerve out into high volume traffic 
to avoid truck loading.  That's how it's supposed 
to work on a bike boulevard.


Sunday, August 8, 2021

School District Made Up of Abnormal People

 Why Can't Emery School District Attract 

Normal People to its Administration?


Stark Differences Between the School District and the Community

Community Wants to Help the Poor & Downtrodden Among Us, the District Doesn't


News Analysis

The people that run the Emery Unified School District are bizarre.  By ‘bizarre’  we mean not normal.  What else are we to believe when we have a local government agency in a democracy that demonstrably represents the polar opposite of the values of the community in which they exist?  Not to put too fine a point on it but the opposite of normal is expressly, not normal.

Here in Emeryville, we have a community that wants to help the working poor among us.  They want to help build a more equitable community that empowers all in the community.  We know this by the results of many votes taken over the years.  Yet our school district is here working to highjack these values, despite all their propaganda to the contrary. 

Consider what it is that Emeryville residents want: we want to increase the wages of the poorest among us.  We know this from votes taken in 2015 and 2019 and the election of each of the pro-minimum wage ordinance City Council members.  Our School District however, wants to keep wages low.  We know this from their actions and their statements.  Also, we want to hold ourselves accountable for past bigotry.  Our School District however wants to change the subject, run away from accountability.  We want to help our teachers thrive in our community.  Our School District wants to fire teachers.  On matters of existential importance like this, the community and the School District are opposites.  It’s all very curious. 


 

Emeryville’s record on raising the hourly wage of the working poor is impressive; we easily passed 2005’s Measure C, the ‘living wage for hotel workers’ when 54% of voters said hotel workers should make at least $9 per hour.  The school district on the other hand, was 100% against it.  Unsolicited, every single school board member signed a letter urging Emeryville voters to say NO to the wage increase.   In 2015, the City Council voted to increase the minimum wage in town to $14.03 with cost of living increases baked in.  Later when three Council members voted for a wage roll back at the behest of business owners, the residents of Emeryville fought to keep the progressive minimum wage by petition with the threat of an election.  The Council backed down because they could see the writing on the wall: Emeryville people support living wages. 

Increasing the wages of the poorest workers in our community is very popular with the whole community (except at the Emery Unified School District).  Current school board member and former City Council wannabe John Van Geffin pledged to voters in 2016 he would try to kill the Minimum Wage Ordinance at every single City Council meeting if voters would only elect him to that body.  Voters resolutely said NO to Mr Van Geffin for City Council.  So off he went to where he is more welcome: the Emery School Board.

In addition to keeping worker’s pay low, Emery Unified has sought to stop affordable housing for families in town.  In 2018, only two school board members were willing to endorse Measure C, Emeryville's affordable family housing bond then on the ballot for Emeryville voters to decide (the same Measure C name but distinct from the 2005 hotel workers measure).  A majority of board members said NO to the Measure and as a result, the District failed to endorse it.  A full 72% of Emeryville voters passed the Measure C affordable housing bonds.  Again, very compelling and illuminating numbers; almost three quarters of residents supported the housing bond but the school board couldn't even get a majority to support it.
72% of Emeryville voters were in favor of the
Measure C  affordable family housing bond.

In the 1970s, our school district fired a teacher for being a transgender person.  By 2020, a groundswell of citizens in the community sought to make amends for the District’s role in that anti-transgender bigotry.  The grass roots action was seen by our school district as something to put down.  And so they moved in and disallowed naming the school gymnasium after the teacher they had fired so many years ago.  The bigotry continues at Emery Unified.  The community is now trying to name the athletic field at the school site after the fired transgender teacher but again, our School District is actively pushing down this new community effort against bigotry and for accountability (see upcoming Tattler story on this).

In 2014, the board hired a new superintendent of the schools, John Rubio.  Mr Rubio used his office in a multi year radical effort to wholesale fire veteran teachers putatively to drive up test scores at Emery.  The effort placed Emery in the unenviable position as the worst school district in the entire Bay Area for teacher retention, a well known benchmark for assessing a school district’s success.  After a couple of years at it, Superintendent Rubio was firing new teachers he himself had hired.  Emery’s test scores fell every year Mr Rubio was at Emery, a point lost on the school board who continued to support him as he drove Emery down to the bottom, becoming the worst school district in the East Bay.  More important than raising test scores was the board's bizarre need to fire teachers.

60% of School Board members were against
the Measure C  affordable family housing bond.

In a scathing rebuke, nine teachers testified against Superintendent Rubio at a now legendary school board meeting.  The board, working for Mr Rubio,  gave individual fired teachers only three minutes to speak their piece on their way out the door.  Some of these teachers had worked for the District for over a decade.  Afterward, the school board, in a whitewashing response, refused to faithfully record the event in the official minutes as they are required to do.

Another former Emery Superintendent testified in federal court against teacher unions.  Superintendent Debra Lindo, a very popular superintendent with the school board, used her time at Emery to try to take down the teacher’s union, netting a ‘teachers resolution’ countering Ms Lindo and signed by 93% of teachers.  Later, little Emery Unified was featured in the notorious 2014 Vergara v. California, a case with national implications.  Our superintendent supplied the billionaire tech titan plaintiff, David Welch, with a legal declaration in which she said teachers unions must be destroyed 'for the sake of the children'.  

What are the odds that in a fair world, the values of the democratic government would so nearly be completely at odds with the governed?  Take the minimum wage issue: how many people are in favor of increasing the minimum wage in Emeryville?  We know by the 2005 plebiscite that number is 54% (and that’s with a massive campaign spending imbalance in favor of the NO side).  One would expect at least half of a school board who presumably would want to help poor families in our town, to be on the same side as the majority of residents.  And yet 100% of our elected school board members, inextricably people culled from our community, were against it.

This long standing record of Emery employees shows us what this public agency stands for.  And what they stand for is what the people of Emeryville stand against.  The Emery Unified School District is an alien presence in our community.  These are not normal people.   But why should abnormal people be ensconced in a democratic agency?  Shouldn’t our values be reflected in an agency that’s answerable to the people?  One would think so but the fact this is not the case tells us political ideologues are in charge at Emery.  

This school district is and has been steadfastly and demonstrably against the working poor in our community.  They are anti-union.  They are anti-transgender.   There is a culture at Emery School District that works against the people they are paid to work for. 

We don’t know why this district attracts people so wholly against working poor families like this but such a paradigm should be inherently unstable in a community such as ours.   The only way it can endure is in darkness.  Emeryville residents should shine some light in there.  

School Board Member John Van Geffen
He's really not fond of the working poor.
As a City Council candidate in 2016, he said if elected 
 he would try to overturn Emeryville's Minimum Wage
Ordinance at every single Council meeting over
his entire four year term if needs be.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Arias Housing Investigation Expands to Include More Alleged Fraud in BMR Program

‘Mr Emeryville’ Surrenders Emeryville Loft Home

'Hyper-Local' Promoter , Rob Arias Ensnared in Affordable Housing Fraud Allegations

A family atop Emeryville’s long waiting list for an opportunity to buy an affordable loft home are about to feel that they won the lottery.  The winnings might be easier to come by for more people in coming months as fraud is uncovered in the City's BMR subsidized housing program..

Every unit within one of Emeryville’s main affordable housing programs is being investigated for fraud after authorities uncovered one unit being used as an office. Several other units are under suspicion. It is unclear how many units within the city’s Below Market-Rate (BMR) program are being illegally sublet, used as AirBnBs, or as a pied-à-terre.  There are 238 for-purchase and rental units in the program, in a city where 134 mostly market rate housing units were built in 2020.  There were about 2400 people on the City’s wait list for the last tranche of BMR affordable units that became available. 

Ironically, the incident sparking the investigation starts with one of Emeryville’s leading promoters, a man who made a second career building an on-line hub for positive, ‘hyper-local’ spin.  Rob Arias, editor of the E’ville Eye was asked to sell his loft home at 1500 Park Avenue back to the City this month, after admitting to city investigators he had purchased a Pleasant Hill home in 2019.  Tuesday night, after the lengthy City investigation, the City Council voted to place Mr Arias' Emeryville home on the market so that a needy family can take advantage of his unit, a coveted ownership BMR affordable home.

People using Emeryville’s BMR program must annually certify the unit is their primary residence.  The City investigated following repeated calls from The Tattler after neighbors said the unit was seldom occupied, and even more rarely after business hours.  Numerous photographs taken by Tattler staff showed the unit vacant every night for weeks. The evidence was later confirmed by City staff, presumptively at the behest of the Council. 

When drawn into direct communication with investigators, Mr Arias asked for elaboration on the definition of 'primary residence' even though he had annually signed a legal document certifying the loft had been his primary residence since 2003.

Arias purchased the Park Avenue unit in 2003 for $206,000.  The City paid $338,200 to buy it back this week.  Essentially, Mr Arias received free housing for eighteen years and left with $132,000 in walking around money. He can’t be faulted for that.  That’s how the BMR ownership program is supposed to work.  Give people in need a chance.  But if you strike it rich, or in this case find a way to finance a second home, continuing to own a government subsidized unit is wrong morally.  And legally, if you live primarily in your new market rate home.  It violates the legal annual certification and is a slap in the face to everyone on Emeryville’s lengthy affordable housing waiting list.  

Mr Arias needed an affordable home in 2003 and he was lucky existing BMR unit holders didn’t exhibit the same behavior he has been engaging in over the last two years, otherwise he might not have been able to get affordable housing through Emeryville's BMR program.   People’s financial situations can change.  And the financial lure of holding on to a bargain in Bay Area real estate must be great.  But officials are finally acknowledging in action that poorly supervised affordable housing is an ‘attractive nuisance’ encouraging misuse. 

The housing authority at City Hall is wrapping up its investigation of other abuses in the BMR affordable housing program.  The Tattler has public records requests pending and will continue to report on the un-needy but greedy people who take advantage of Emeryville's good will and non-wealthy people who would be helped with housing in our town. 

Tattler Investigation:
Eight successive nights between 8 PM and 9 PM last spring revealed 
lights out at Rob's Emeryville loft (red arrows).   Early to bed?



Tattler Investigation
Rob's Car is Almost Always Parked at His Pleasant Hill Home
Eight different days; mornings, afternoons and nights.  Only one time
on a Saturday at 11AM was Rob's car not in the driveway. 
A clear sign he likely lives at this address.  The City of Emeryville agreed.


Under Penalty of Perjury Rob Signed This Declaration
This was signed in July 2019 AFTER he and his spouse had
purchased their Pleasant Hill home.  

Rob Forgot What a Primary Residence Was Before His Required Interview by City Housing Investigators
A few days after he sent this email (January 21st) he was interviewed.  He wanted to know what
'primary residence' meant for purposes of the interview, even though he had signed an annual declaration that his Emeryville loft was his primary residence since 2003 without being bothered by this question.





According to Redfin, Rob's home in the suburbs is worth $833,881.  He and his spouse purchased it in May 2019 for $630,000.

Regardless of the government assistance meant for needy families, Mr Arias (and his spouse) own more than $1 million in California real estate, until the final sale of the Emeryville loft probably in about a week


Sunday, June 27, 2021

Tree Stumps on Horton Street Tell Us How Politics Works In Emeryville

 

The Stumps Are Telling Us How Broken City Hall Is


Emeryville Needs Tree Ordinance Reform 

The Ordinance is Too Weak to Save Trees


News Analysis

Tuesday June 15th 2021 has to go down in history as one of the low points in Emeryville politics.  That’s the date the City Council finally agreed to let the developer Lennar Corporation, kill every public street tree abutting their Sherwin Williams Horton Street project.  But this isn’t just a matter of a developer cutting our trees down.  That’s so common in Emeryville, it’s not even newsworthy.  Why the loss these particular trees is so notable is how revealing of the sycophantic culture at City Hall was the two year circuitous path that led to the stumps along Horton Street.  These stumps show us the how the government works at 1333 Park Avenue — how it works for developers, not for us.

Council members Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina
They're featured on one of the stumps their votes produced.
They steadfastly voted to cut all the Horton Street trees
over the years regardless of the wildly changing reasons
the staff has presented to them.

The final City Council vote to allow the developer to cut all the trees was 3-1 (Donahue dissenting).  The swing vote was delivered by the recently resigned Council member Christian Patz who changed his vote, his last vote as a City Council member incidentally, to allow Lennar to cut the trees.  Mr Patz told the Tattler he changed his vote after Mayor Dianne Martinez publicly announced right before the final vote that Lennar had before the Tuesday meeting, gone to the City staff to obtain a special ‘nuisance’ status for the trees that guaranteed the developer the right to cut the trees with or without the City Council.  Mr Patz said he felt at that point the trees were doomed and that the elected officials should take the heat for killing the trees, not the City staff.

Losing these street trees means a loss for the streetscape friendliness, the shade and cooling they provided and all the other benefits that can be said urban trees provide of course.  But it’s not that collectively we didn’t get anything in trade for agreeing to cut them.  What these stumps on Horton Street have bought us is the realization that our values in Emeryville, as codified by our ordinances, are only as strong as we live them.  As simple as it sounds, our ordinance meant to save our trees, the Urban Forestry Ordinance, can only actually save our trees if we vigilantly guard against developers who would cut them by living the life of the tree appreciators the UFO represents.   

That’s what’s missing at City Hall: tree appreciation.

Regrettable Backdrop

In 2018, Lennar went to City Hall seeking permission from the Planning Commission to kill all the street trees abutting their project.   The staff recommended the Commission permit the killing of all the trees along Sherwin Street claiming the existing trees didn’t match the developer’s desire for a different species and that Lennar had a right to a “unified streetscape” near their project (never mind this is not in the UFO).  After Planning Commission buy-in, the Council let that through and the Sherwin Street trees were all cut. 

Then there was the matter of the Horton Street trees, much grander and more visible than the Sherwin Street trees.  For those trees, the staff told the Planning Commission the Horton Street trees were all “unhealthy” and they must therefore all be cut.  But the Tattler pushed back and proved the City’s own arborist said the majority of the Horton trees were “fair” to “healthy”.  

Former City Councilman
Christian Patz

Frustrated by the vote, he said
'If there's a rule, Emeryville
will get around it'.

Undaunted, the staff, representing Lennar, still in 2018, told the City Council at the April 17th  meeting the Horton trees must all be cut because they would be in the way of underground utilities associated with the project.  Again, the Tattler led the drive to prove this was also false.  But not before the staff told the Council they must vote that night on the fate of the trees.  Council member Patz told the staff he resented the Hobson’s choice being offered that night and said he would therefore vote to save the trees. 

The vote that night was 2-2 with Council member Ally Medina joining Mayor Dianne Martinez in approving the cutting of the trees.  Council members Scott Donahue and Christian Patz voted against the cutting (Council member John Bauters is not allowed to vote on this because he lives too close to the project and state law forbids it).  The tie vote meant Lennar could not cut the trees. 

Backpedaling and still representing the interests of Lennar, the staff then reported the vote COULD be delayed and called for another vote at a later date.  

And delayed it was.  At the September 17th 2019 meeting, the matter of the Horton Street trees was back before the Council.  This time, the staff admitted the trees were not in the way of the underground utilities (save for one) and they had been wrong about that.  An “embarrassed” Council member Ally Medina publicly apologized for her earlier vote to cut the trees.  She said she had believed the staff when they said the trees were in the way of the underground utilities.

Undaunted, the staff, still working for Lennar in 2021, accepted the developer’s claim the Horton trees were “nuisances” before the final Council meeting on the 15th.  The nuisance designation meant that the trees would actually have to be cut by order from the City of Emeryville as an abatement against Lennar (never mind it was Lennar’s idea).  The nuisance designation also meant Lennar would not have to plant equal replacement trees as the UFO mandates.  The final deal was all the trees would be cut and a two inch sapling would be planted for each tree as well as five other small saplings planted elsewhere.

None of this stopped the two Councilwomen from claiming victory for the people of Emeryville.  Council member Ally Medina said the five saplings would make for a “greener and more beautiful city” while Mayor Martinez, told her colleagues she would not listen to their deliberations in the matter of the Horton trees, she said she had already made up her mind to kill the trees before the debate, “Let me indicate for you tonight, how I’m going to vote” she said.  Later, before the 3-1 vote, Mayor Martinez told everyone that despite her 2018 vote to kill the trees and despite her earlier in the meeting admitting she had already made up her mind, she told a shocked crowd, “Before, I was on the side of doing everything we could to save the trees, but now I’m on the side of having the healthiest and most vibrant trees we can”. 

The staff, working in the interest of Lennar Tuesday said the roots of the trees were close to the surface and that’s why they lifted the sidewalks there and that’s why they should be killed (the nuisance abatement notwithstanding).  The two Councilwomen seized that argument and ran with it but Christian Patz was incensed.  He admonished his two colleagues for their votes to kill the trees because there were no new facts presented Tuesday night he said, “The arborist said [back in 2018] these are known facts” he told his colleagues.  

It was after that, the Mayor, feeling the vote could be another 2-2 affair like the 2018 vote announced, “If we deadlock tonight,  the developer has the opportunity to go straight to our city administration and ask for waivers.  I just want to put that out there.”  And then Christian Patz changed his vote to a YES to allow Lennar to cut all our trees, his last vote as an Emeryville City Council member.  

Casting his last vote, Council member Patz, clearly pained, announced "I'm frustrated by the nature of Emeryville, which is, there's a rule, but we'll get around it".  And those were the final parting words to the people of Emeryville from the former Councilman.


The Former Sherwin Williams Horton Street Trees (on left)
The staff, working in the interests of the developer, falsely told the Council the trees
were unhealthy and in the way of underground utilities.  Those arguments weren't enough 
to convince the Council majority.  Only after the staff said the trees were designated as
"nuisances" and legally required to be cut, did Councilman Patz join his two women
 colleagues and vote to kill the trees
.

Monday, June 21, 2021

All The Sherwin Williams Trees Killed Today

The chainsaws started up this morning at 7:00 and by 2:00 they were just a bunch of stumps.  Photos of Mayor Martinez and Councilwoman Medina were nailed on the top of each stump.


Before 







After







Before



After










Friday, June 18, 2021

Come Say Goodbye to the Trees

The last weekend for the Sherwin Williams trees

Chainsaw Looming Next Week After Citizens Lose a Multi-Year Battle to Save the Trees

Emeryville tree lovers have likely lost a multi-year battle to save blocks of public street trees on Horton Street after a contentious City Council meeting on Tuesday night.  Lennar development workers today removed the protective straw wrappings from around the public street trees joining the Sherwin Williams project after the developer, working with the city staff, invoked a little known and never before used ‘nuclear option’ back door in Emeryville’s Urban Forrest Ordinance (UFO) enabling the for profit development corporation to cut down all the people’s trees without oversight from the elected officials.  The removal of the protective wrapping for the trees, running for three blocks along Horton Street, indicated Lennar and the City will likely move forward with their plan to cut down all the trees despite an announced emergency grassroots citizen proposal to save the trees until voters can weigh in on the issue in November.  

In the days to come, the Tattler will report a detailed piece on Tuesday night's last ditch use of the UFO nuclear option by the staff and Lennar.  The option, inserted into the UFO by staff several years ago, has never been optioned and was considered by many to be too bold for a developer to leverage barring some kind of emergency. The Tattler reported that the trees were saved after Lennar lost a split Council vote two years ago to cut them all.  

In the meanwhile come and say good bye to the trees that will likely all be killed to enhance Lennar’s profit margin in the controversial Sherwin Williams housing project.

The corner of Sherwin and Horton Street looking north.


Workers took the protective wrappings off the trees today
(seen cast against the building).


Come Say Good Bye
By Friday evening they'll likely all be cut down.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Public Meeting Called About Controversial Sherwin Williams Toxic Waste Cleanup

 State Toxic Waste Regulators Hosting Important Update on Emeryville’s Contaminated Sherwin Williams Redevelopment Site


A century of chemical and paint manufacturing left behind dangerous levels of industrial contamination at a large site along Horton Street being redeveloped for housing.

On Thursday, officials from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will present a “Five year review” of attempts to remove and mitigate contamination, and detail the potential health threats to those choosing to live at the site, or spend long periods of time there. 

DTSC Officials will collect public input at the on-line meeting, though members of the public must RSVP. You can do so here: https://dtsccagov.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_pwIiJEamSkOhYkqmKkOB4Q

The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 17 from 6:30-8 pm

A DTSC employee and former Sherwin Williams project manager has criticized both the developer, Lennar Multi-family, and  DTSC colleagues, accusing Lennar of cutting corners, changing testing criteria in order to reduce costs and speed the project. 

Toxic concentrations of the following compounds have been documented on the site.

Arsenic 

Lead 

Petroleum 

Volatile Organic Compounds 

In the early decades of operation, it was common practice to dispose of such waste in unlined pits. 

Technical issues left from the cleanup include possible VOC intrusion into ground floor residences at the future Sherwin Williams development, the arbitrary changing of soil cleanup levels by DTSC and groundwater arsenic concentrations flowing unchecked from the site according to the former project manager.

Thursday's public meeting is being held in response to citizen complaint about the Sherwin Williams site.

Project related documents: https://www.envirostor.dtsc.ca.gov/public/profile_report?global_id=60000189

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Breaking News: City Action Leads to Rob Arias, E'Ville Eye Editor to Sell His Former Emeryville Home

 Breaking: City to Take Back its Affordable Home Previously Owned by E'Ville Eye Editor

Tattler Initiated Investigation Prompts City Action

BMR Program Beneficiary May Have Violated Conditions

Tonight, the Emeryville City Council effectuated the sale of the former home of embattled local gadfly and self styled political pundit Rob Arias who had been enrolled in the City’s Below Market Rate housing assistance program since 2003.  The Council took the action unanimously in a ‘consent calendar’ vote at the regularly scheduled Council meeting.  Mr Arias’ unit was taken back by the City in a responsive action to complaints after an investigation into the legitimacy of the contract Mr Arias had with the City regarding the habitation of his unit.  Under contract, all recipients of BMR ownership assisted housing in Emeryville must sign a yearly contract holding the unit as a ‘primary residence’ for 10 months out of every year, a condition the City may have found to be false in the case of Rob Arias.  A January 11th Tattler story revealed Mr Arias had purchased a two bedroom home in the city of Pleasant Hill in 2019.  Tonight's Council action was initiated by the City of Emeryville and initially challenged by Mr Arias but ultimately agreed to.

E'Ville Eye Editor Rob Arias
He has owned a home with his wife 
and child in the city of Pleasant Hill 
since 2019.
As a result of  tonight's action in the Council chambers, Rob Arias' unit, #322 at 1500 Park Avenue, will soon be wholly owned by the City of Emeryville and will be put back into service as affordable housing for low income people who want to live in Emeryville.  The City will buy back the below market rate unit from Mr Arias for $338,200.  After an inspection of the unit, a list of repairs was issued before the sale happens and the City takes possession. 

The Tattler first broke the story of the Arias residence in Emeryville after it was found Mr Arias and his wife purchased a home in Pleasant Hill in May 2019 for $630,000 while continuing to hold his Emeryville government assisted affordable unit.  The City launched an investigation as a result of the Tattler story and citizen complaints that came from it.  The current value of the two bedroom two and a half bath Pleasant Hill home is $751,000.  

Rob Arias, the editor of the right wing pro-business E’Ville Eye ‘community’ news site, has continued to tell his readers he lives in the Park Avenue district and that his “hyper local” E’Ville Eye is the voice of the community.  

Simultaneous with the Arias unit, the City of Emeryville is reviewing the entire BMR program for compliance city-wide in a process that is ongoing and has not been completed yet.  

The Tattler will continue to file public records requests investigating the sale of unit #322 at Park Avenue and other BMR units in the city and report in the days to come.  Watch this space.