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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Mayor Announces No More Bike Boulevards, Yes to Protected Bike Lanes

Two Year Countdown Clock Runs Out For Emeryville to Build Bike Boulevards

Mayor Responds: No More Bike Boulevards

The Mayor of Emeryville has taken a missed deadline in the City’s Bicycle Plan yesterday to announce she will explore finally scrapping Emeryville’s entire bike boulevard system in favor of a system of ‘protected’ bike lanes.  Mayor Ally Medina, who also serves as Council liaison to Emeryville’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), made the surprising announcement in a recent interview with the Tattler in response to probing questions over the City’s recalcitrance providing traffic calming for the 45th and 53rd street bike boulevards.  The two streets are now past due to receive ‘Level Four’ traffic calming measures owing to an excess of vehicle traffic discovered during a City commissioned measurement of traffic two years ago.  Instead of providing traffic calming for the two streets, Mayor Medina indicated she will direct the BPAC to start discussions over amending the Bike Plan with an eye towards finally removing all bike boulevards, an idea she says has not worked well in Emeryville.

Mayor Ally Medina
She says bike boulevards'
time has come and gone
in Emeryville.
Bike boulevards are streets that allow vehicle traffic but are set up primarily for bike travel.  Vehicles and bikes share the street on a bike boulevard but vehicle speeds and volumes are managed by a traffic calming infrastructure.  Streets with protected bike lanes by comparison, are regular streets with physical separation between the vehicle traffic and bikes.  Usually, the separation is provided by bollards or concrete ‘K’ rail.
In Emeryville, the Bike Plan says the City has up to two years to move a bike boulevard up to the next highest level of traffic calming after a traffic count shows an excess of traffic on the street.  Bike boulevards here have routinely been moved up to Level Three traffic calming without incident but Level Four calming, a more rigorous push down against vehicles, has never been applied. The less restrictive Level Three traffic calming infrastructure involves corner intersection 'bulb outs' as well as signage and other such benign measures.

Ms Medina’s desire to finally kill Emeryville’s bike boulevard system comes at the end of a two year period in which the City should have installed temporary Level Four traffic calming for the two bike boulevards on 45th and 53rd streets.  Level Four traffic calming is defined by Emeryville’s Bike Plan as either ‘chicanes’ or ‘chokers’.  Both devices, using bollards, are meant to lower traffic volume to less than 3000 vehicle trips per day, a number that both streets have been in excess of as the Council commissioned traffic count from two years ago revealed.  A chicane is described as a “horizontal” traffic calming measure, a forcing of vehicles to wiggle side to side, whereas a choker is a narrowing of the street to one lane, effectively serving like a one lane bridge.

Level Four traffic calming has proven to be very unpopular with developers and the business community here although it is common in neighboring cities.  Developers, have publicly stated their desire to not have Level Four calming in Emeryville and it has never been used here.  Some Council members over the years have announced they will only go as high as Level Three calming on our bike boulevards despite the clear direction from Emeryville's Bike Plan that traffic calming goes as high as Level Five (traffic diverters).
The former Horton Street Bike Boulevard was removed from consideration for Level Four traffic calming in 2016 when the City Council signed a ‘Statement of Overriding Considerations’ (SOC) that posits the Sherwin Williams development on that street is more important than the bike boulevard and that the City has no interest in keeping traffic on the street less than 3000 vehicle trips per day after the development, with its 1000+ vehicle trips per day generated, was found by its attending Environmental Impact Report to be in conflict with the bike boulevard.  The street will have approximately 4000 vehicle trips per day including the traffic generated by Sherwin Williams.  Horton Street still has signs up claiming it to be a bike boulevard but the City Council, by signing away the Bike Plan’s provisions for it in the SOC, has said it will not place Level Four (or Level Five for that matter) on the street regardless how much vehicle traffic it has.
So 2019.

Mayor Medina used her influence to place bollards along Horton Street in 2018 it should be noted, after she received many complaints from bicyclists over vehicles blocking the bike lanes around the Amtrak train station at 59th Street.  The bollards themselves, consequently, have become a source of controversy as car and truck drivers complain they have no place to make drop offs or deliveries to businesses in the area.  These complaints, ironically, would not be happening if the City had enforced a bike boulevard for Horton Street because bike lanes are not to be used on bike boulevards and as a result, street parking, including yellow zones, could have been employed in that congested area.

Now that the two year clock has run out for the City for the 45th and the 53rd street bike boulevards, like the Horton Street bike boulevard earlier, Level Four traffic calming has been taken off the table with the announcement by Ms Medina.  The City Manager, Christine Daniel, whose job it is to place agenda items for the BPAC to consider, told the Tattler she will not allow the committee to discuss Level Four traffic calming for the 45th and 53rd street bike boulevards specifically but she will allow the committee to discuss Emeryville's bike boulevard system as a general thing, in October.  However, she did not say if the October meeting would be the time for the committee to take up the Mayor’s idea of eliminating bike boulevards in Emeryville.  Mayor Medina for her part, refused to explain the City's (and her) failure to implement the Bike Plan for traffic calming on the 45th & 53rd street bike boulevards, using the idea of eliminating the entire bike boulevard system as an indication the City has moved on and bike boulevards are no longer applicable here.

Emeryville's Bike Boulevard 'Treatment' plan may be viewed HERE.

The Tattler's 45th & 53rd Streets Level Four Traffic Calming Countdown Clock
This feature has been on the bottom of the home page for almost two years.
Yesterday it finally hit 00 days 00 hours 00 minutes 00 seconds.
The City couldn't or wouldn't install the traffic calming mandated 
by its own bike plan in that time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Promised Emeryville Community Library May Finally Be In The Works

Oakland May Increase Library Fees Charged to Emeryville From $120,000 Per Year to $800,000

 Fee Hike Drives Council to Reconsider 
 Forsaken Library Promise

Nine years after the citizens voted for and paid for a community library, the Emeryville City Council is finally talking about building it...and it would appear a major increase in the fees the City of Oakland charges Emeryville for use of their library is driving the new found interest in having our own library.
The building of a public library has been entered as item number nine in the City of Emeryville's top ten 'Priorities, Goals and Strategies' for 2020 as voted on by the Council.  This better-late-than-never plan belies the last nine years over which the citizens, after having already paid for the library, have been patiently waiting for its debut.

In 2010, Emeryville library loving voters went to the polls to decide on Measure J, a $95 million municipal bond outlay that would build the Emeryville Center of Community Life, a vast new schools and community center project that promised to provide the town with its first public library as well as an upgrade replacement for the previous 'substandard' school libraries.  Measure J passed and the public money has been spent, but the promised libraries never materialized.  The school library ended up being smaller and less accessible for students than their previous libraries were and the public library was never built at all.

Emeryville: Biggest City With No Library
Emeryville, with its current population of almost 13,000 residents, has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the Bay Area with no municipal public library.  And despite strong public support (the measure passed with 73%) and specific campaign promises from Council members Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in 2018, there has been no movement towards giving the residents what they voted for and already paid for.

A Sign Went Up But
No Library Inside

A large sign facing San Pablo Avenue
tells the community their library is here.
The space inside is being used by the
school district for an extra classroom.

The vexatious sign is an ipso facto graphic
symbol reminder of failed public policy. 
Measure J, it should be stated, also funded the building of a school library on the ECCL site for the K-12 students at Emery Unified School District.  But like the general Emeryville population, the students got shortchanged by Measure J too.  The promised ‘new and improved’ school library as built is considerably smaller than the previous school libraries with far fewer services, including volumes.  The new library contains 27,000 total volumes for the elementary school and the high school combined.  The old libraries contained approximately 50,000 volumes total spread between the elementary school (30,000) and the high school (20,000).
Noteworthy too is the fact there is now only one library serving all K-12 students.  Whereas before the expenditure of the $95 million, students could use their libraries anytime during the school day,  now, with a shared space and the State mandated prohibition against mixing older high school aged students with the youngest children, the times students can access their one library has been severely managed and curtailed.

The community library Emeryville residents paid for was promised to be substantial.  The ECCL plans shows a real functional community library there.  An open public plaza off San Pablo Avenue with copious seating and an open to the public cafe was to front the library.  Inside, the library space itself was to be quite large, 6,600 square feet, large enough to comfortably serve 40 people at a time.  There was earmarked a staff of three librarians and the ECCL parking lot was to include nine spaces for library patrons.  The Emeryville community library was to be "open to public use all day", M-F with Saturdays as well.

Realpolitik Shapes New Library Debate 
The City Council has not done its due diligence with regard to the community library over the last nine years to be sure.  However, the sudden interest taken by the whole Council as evidenced by its inclusion in the City priorities list, has all the attributes of a sharpened focus brought on by the effects of large and unplanned outflows of money.  A new force seems to be spurring all of them into talk, if not action on the issue.  Oakland's Golden Gate Library Emeryville is contracted to use, is raising their rates.  For years the City of Oakland has been charging the City of Emeryville $120,000 per year for our citizens to use their library.  Recently Oakland has announced the yearly library services fee Emeryville must pay is going to be raised to as much as $800,000 per year.  Eyebrows were raised in the Council chambers as well when the staff informed them of the new fee schedule.

For the last few decades, Emeryville has been on a pro business/development trajectory that has netted a degradation of public amenities and services here.  Unlike previous more conservative iterations of the City Council, the current 'progressive' Council, to their credit, has focused on bringing in new affordable housing and living wages to our lowest paid workers.  They have had a nearly singular regional mindset.  What this Council has not done is address the needs of those who live here now.  They've been no better than their predecessors in improving livability for existing residents.
From its inability to provide parks to match our burgeoning population rise, to its failure to provide places for families to live in support of our school district, to its troubling deficiency in stemming the transition of our town from a city of homeowners into a city of renters, this Council has shown little interest in improving the lives of the people who live here.  Regardless they may be primarily driven by the distasteful idea of shelling out $800,000 per year to Oakland and their attempts to stanch that, their new found interest in honoring their commitment to the people of Emeryville as far as the community library goes, represents a welcome change. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Onni Project Asks Permission to Build Beyond 'By Rights'

Huge Difference Between What Onni Wants and What They Have a Right to Get

Developer Should Come to Us,
Cap in Hand
News Analysis
The Onni development project is really big.  It's big, even for Emeryville, known throughout the Bay Area for welcoming extremely large development projects that couldn't get approved elsewhere.  This reputation precedes us and is likely the reason Emeryville was chosen by Onni to locate its 640 foot tall building, the tallest residential tower west of Chicago, here instead of Berkeley or Oakland.
Christie Avenue's proposed Onni project
It has to please us or it's going to be a no go.

But what if Emeryville acted more like our neighboring cities?  What if we decided we didn't like the Onni project as its being proposed?  What if we thought it's too much?  This corporate developer, like all land owners, has rights to develop their property.  But they can't develop as intensely as they're proposing without our permission.  Emeryville has rights too.  We can say no.

So what's the difference between what Onni wants to build in Emeryville and what they have a right to build?
Quite a lot as it turns out.

What Onni Has
Onni can build 'by rights' a building 75 feet tall, no matter what Emeryville says.  On the 3.76 acre real estate parcel they bought, Onni can build a building or buildings totaling as much as 163,706 square feet.  They can build up to 320 housing units on it with a floor to area ratio of 3.0.  Meaning they can build a building that covers the entire 3.76 acres that's no more than 3 stories tall.  Or they can go as high as 75 feet but they would have to leave some of the lot as open space to meet the 3.0 FAR regulations.

That's it.  That's as much as this developer is legally entitled to build.  Everything beyond this meager amount of development has to be done to our satisfaction.  And Onni wants to build A LOT more than what they have right to build.  So that means they're going to have to satisfy us.  They have to do as we please if they're going to build as intensely as they're proposing.

What Onni Wants
Onni wants to build a tower 640 feet tall; 565 feet over what they have a right to build.  Onni wants to build 638 apartments; 318 over what they have a right to build.  Onni wants to build a project that's almost a million square feet (982, 236); 818,530 square feet over what they have a right to build.  And Onni is proposing to build their project with a FAR of 6.0; twice what's their right to build.

As the Onni project moves towards approval by the City of Emeryville, the people have a right to ask for concessions from this billion dollar development corporation.  The concessions should at a minimum, make up for the development's impact on us, over and beyond what Onni can build 'by rights'.  Otherwise we're on the losing end of the deal.  There is nothing that says we have to concede anything beyond the by rights numbers.  Beyond the minimum is at our pleasure.  This project needs to markedly make our town a better place to live for the existing residents.  Anything less than that, constitutes a gift from the people of Emeryville to the billion dollar Canada-based multi-national corporation.

The by rights legal minimum development rights Onni has should be known by everyone as the City and the developer move this consequential project forward, least we let the developer obscure and cajole us and reap unjustifiable benefits at our expense.

The apartment tower at Onni will be 8 1/2 times
  taller than they are allowed to build by rights.

Double the number of apartments 
over what's allowed by rights.

How big is Onni?
Six times bigger than the by rights size.

The developer is asking to double our by rights
FAR allowance.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Emeryville Celebrates Its Status at the Rotten City Block Party

Emeryville celebrates this Saturday 11:30 - 4:30 in the first annual Rotten City Block Party at City Hall.  All are invited to what is being called a celebration of our past, present and future.  Our future is what we make of it but our reputation in the past was cemented in 1927 when Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren called Emeryville with it's reeking rendering plants, dirty smokestacks and corrupt politics "The rottenest city on the Pacific coast".  Today Emeryville has shown a remarkable penchant for consistency.  Our town is still rotten with its worst in the Bay Area record in many areas of livability including the lowest ratio of park acreage per residents, the unfriendly-to-families lowest number of people per housing unit, the worst record on home ownership and our school district's highest per pupil spending netting the lowest test scores and worst teacher retention.

Come one and all this Saturday to celebrate how we don't have any parks to speak of at Emeryville's Rotten City Block Party!  It's gunna be bad...super bad!

WE SUCK!  And we're damn proud of it!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Community Benefits Agreement Looming for Controversial Onni Project Says RULE

The Emeryville resident advocacy group known as Residents United for a Livable Emeryville has announced it is considering plans to negotiate directly with the developer of the proposed Christie Avenue Onni apartment tower project, skipping the City of Emeryville, by means of a Community Benefits Agreement to deliver a more resident friendly project than is being proposed.  In an August 17th letter to its members, RULE's steering committee indicated they have requested the City host a town hall type meeting to address resident concerns about the controversial 650 unit Onni project to be followed by a RULE facilitated Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the developer, depending on the outcome of the town hall.

A CBA is a legally binding contract signed by the community and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide certain amenities or mitigations to the proposed project in exchange for the community’s acceptance of the project.  Often, the community forms a coalition with labor organizations and environmental groups.  CBAs are open processes and the whole community is encouraged to attend meetings and engage.  Usually CBAs accompany the largest development projects.
The Proposed Onni Project
At 700 feet, the Onni tower would be
America's tallest residential building
west of the Mississippi River.
RULE, extant for more than 10 years, is open to all Emeryville residents and even out of town residents (in a non voting capacity).  The only group excluded from RULE meetings have been City Council members although they have been allowed in by invitation.  However a RULE facilitated CBA would likely allow out of town groups to have the same legitimacy as Emeryville residents.

The Vancouver-based Onni developer is entangled in a FBI bribery allegation after officials accused a Los Angeles Councillor of accepting money from Onni in exchange in 2018 for a positive vote on a pending LA Onni project.

In Emeryville, Onni plans an all rental 650 unit 700 foot tall apartment tower joined by a bridge with a 200 foot office tower.  The City Council has been working to help the developer, voting to remove existing ‘tower separation’ regulations from the books in July.   Additionally, the Council will seek to overturn existing family housing regulations at the request of the developer who claims he can’t afford build the towers if he is required to build family housing as other developers in Emeryville are.  These regulation rollbacks were chronicled in a Tattler story exposing City Hall of ‘regulatory capture’ and has contributed to a lack of trust among the residents, helping fuel a push for a CBA.

CBAs have a checkered history in Emeryville.  In 2016, a private group of property owning neighbors formed the Park Avenue Residents Committee (PARC) for the sole purpose of negotiating a CBA with the developer of the Sherwin Williams project, a 500 unit development on Sherwin Street slated to begin construction later this year.  The City assisted PARC with the "CBA" and ultimately the City Council used it to justify approving that project.  However, the Sherwin Williams "CBA" turned out to be out of character for a CBA; the PARC group operated behind closed doors and only invited guests could attend their meetings.  No other community members or labor or environmental groups were permitted to take part in the negotiations.  Regardless that the final document produced by PARC and Sherwin Williams didn't fit the description of a CBA, the City proclaimed it as such.
The RULE/Onni CBA by contrast will be democratic and transparent, says members of the steering committee.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

For Shame: Emeryville's Minimum Wage Roll Back Debacle

Dust Has Settled From City Council's Use of Minimum Wage Rollback Bludgeon

Citizens Want to Know Why
They Took Us There

News Analysis/Opinion
Three months ago Emeryville City Hall launched a divisive attack on the working poor in our town; a paroxysm of pro-business ideology in action forwarded by three members on the City Council.  At their May 21st meeting, the Council majority three, working at the behest of certain restaurant owners in town and without consulting any affected workers, voted to rollback Emeryville's hard fought four year old progressive Minimum Wage Ordinance (MWO).  The injudicious action was subsequently beaten back by the people of Emeryville by way of a voter ballot initiative petition brought by a coalition of labor and community groups forcing the Council's hand who voted to retract the wage rollback on July 23rd.
So now that the dust has settled and the minimum wage has been successfully defended, we're right back where we were before this whole thing got started.  The people's befuddlement and acrimony however is lingering over the whole sordid and unnecessary affair. 
Citizens would be right to ask why did all that just happen.

It's been a roller coaster of drama in the people's hall, the actors all playing their parts: posturing, feigning, kibitzing, doubling down, pivoting and then closing with a July 23rd “heartsick” capitulation, to quote Councilman John Bauters, the initiator of the whole spectacle.  Dramatic to be sure, but it was drama the people of Emeryville never asked for.

The May 21st City Council minimum wage incursion, led by Mr Bauters and joined by his colleagues Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue, formed the spare three member majority needed to roll back wages for small restaurant workers in town.  The insurgent majority set up an ambitious timeline for themselves; by July 1st, they would have to finish the required second reading necessary to amend the existing ordinance (effectively creating a new ordinance), in order to make sure the restaurant workers didn’t get their MWO mandated Consumer Price Index pegged raise set to take effect on that date.  A lot of finagling of schedules was necessary owing to California’s Brown Act ‘sunshine law’ notifications and individual Council members’ personal calendars, to make the hard July 1st date.  The 'Council three' made use of a controversial but technically legal provision performed by a family event obliged Councilman Donahue phoning in live from the East Coast to cast the deciding vote.
All their hard work paid off and in the eleventh hour, the City Council three was able to stop the Emeryville restaurant workers from getting their raise, just in time.

Or so they thought.

The problem is they didn't sufficiently calculate the passions of an aroused and aggrieved Bay Area labor contingent.  Because  of the audacity of the Council’s action, the coalition of labor groups and community activists known as East Bay Working Families entered the fray with a bevy of hot off the presses voter petitions.  Weeks of door knocking and 871 Emeryville registered voter signatures later, the Council majority’s whole ambitious anti-worker plot came to its inglorious end.

Emeryville's Restaurant Sector 2013-2018
The Minimum Wage Ordinance took effect in 2015.  
Restaurant owners are claiming the high minimum wage  
costs are driving them out of business or forcing them to flee.  
Notice what happened beginning in 2015 with new start-ups.
That’s the history of the last three months in a nutshell.  Those seeking more detail may want to make use of the Tattler search bar; “minimum wage ordinance".  But still unanswered is why?  Why did this gang of three suddenly make this incongruous turn?
Surprisingly, in retrospect, the three Council members were all endorsed by the progressive citizen activist group Residents for a Livable Emeryville (RULE).  Cutting the wages of the poorest among us is not something one would expect progressives to do.  The official explanation didn’t shed any light. That argument posited that the restaurant owners had assured the three they were all pushed to the edge, business failures and bankruptcies looming if their workers were paid more as relayed and repeated by the Council majority.  But the City Council never checked to see if the bankruptcy claims were true.  They just took the business owners at their word.  And they failed to listen to workers or labor groups at all.  Again- not how one would expect progressives to act.

Trust But Verify
Emeryville, being a small town, has certain advantages when it comes to making decisions such as the Council made based on the word of the restaurant owners.  In this case, the Council could have easily directed the staff to check the veracity of the owner’s claims of looming bankruptcy.  With only as few as 22 restaurants affected by the minimum wage roll back in question, a manageable number, the City could have easily opened the books of these businesses.  A city like Oakland, with hundreds of restaurants, could not enjoy Emeryville’s capacity to actually check before they leaped into such consequential policy change.
Our City Council majority, instead of finding out before they tore asunder the lives of the working poor in our town, instead forged ahead based simply on the assurances of those business owners with a material interest in lying. 

Unlike the City Council, the people of Emeryville, historically, have shown they don't trust the business community to tell the truth when profits are on the line.  In 1997, the City Council looking to increase revenue, began discussions about whether to raise the taxes on the Oaks Club card room up to the Bay Area card room average.  At the time, the Oaks enjoyed an Emeryville tax rate at about 25% of the Bay Area average.  The Council majority believed the owner of the Oaks Club when he said the increase would drive his business into bankruptcy and they dropped the issue.  The people picked it up with a ballot initiative petition and ultimately Emeryville voters approved the tax increase on the Oaks.  Sharp eyed readers will note the Oaks club is still operating at their San Pablo Avenue address - the owner, John Tibbetts having been revealed to have lied about going bankrupt. 
Again in 2005, the people brought a ballot initiative concerning raising wages for hotel workers in Emeryville up to the Bay Area average after the City Council majority believed the hype coming from the hospitality industry warning about wholesale business failures with hotels fleeing Emeryville or being driven into bankruptcy.   An alarmed Council majority alerted the voters not to be "dupes" to organized labor and to vote NO to the 'Hotel Workers Living Wage Ordinance' proposal.  Emeryville voters didn't listen to the City Council who was listening to the warnings of the Hotel owners and they passed the 2005 Measure C easily.  Again, the hotel owners were lying about the effect increased costs would have on their businesses and the only people duped were the Emeryville City Council majority.  Emeryville at the time had four hotels, now we have five, making it hard to make the case for "wholesale business failures".

By 2014 however, the City Council finally learned that businesses will lie to protect their profits.  That year, a new more progressive Council majority didn't believe the dire warnings about wholesale business failure and bankruptcies from the California Association of Realtors and the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce if Emeryville were to raise real estate transfer taxes up to the Bay Area average.  Again, the voters approved Measures U&V that allowed for the increase in taxes and again, the business failure boogyman turned out to be nothing more than the business community not wanting to pay more money to conduct business in our town.

Moving ahead to 2019, it would appear it's back to the future for us.  The City Council majority seems to have unlearned what they knew in 2014 and it's back to the old familiar saw about wholesale business failures if the business community is forced to pay more money.  We'll have to wait and see if this time the warnings were prescient but something tells us it's gunna be more of the same.

So why did these three Council members take us down this path again?  Especially when their own staff told them the 2018 Emeryville Mills College Business Study that reported that restaurant business stress, while extant, was not sufficient to propose public policy changes, "A piece of trash that we never should have paid for" Mayor Ally Medina said of the Mills document.  The staff conducted their own research that showed little or no stress for Emeryville's restaurant sector from added labor costs.  High rent costs were shown to be the primary source of business stress according to the staff report that accompanied a May 7th Council meeting on the MWO and the commissioned Mills Study.

The question of why this Council majority listened to the business community instead of the people of Emeryville or the low wage workers who toil here will likely remain unanswered for the time being.  Following the political careers of John Bauters and Dianne Martinez however might help Emeryville citizens find the answer.

Portrait of a Growing Emeryville Restaurant Sector
From the May 7th staff report to the Council.
Sales are beating the Consumer Price Index.  The Council had this info before 
they voted to rollback wages of restaurant workers despite the claims of looming 
bankruptcies from restaurant owners.
A 3.56% per year rise in restaurant sales average from the first year of the MWO
to 2017.  California CPI 2015 .01%, 2016 1.3% 2017 2.1% source: FRB 9th District

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Breaking News: City Council Fully Rescinds Minimum Wage Roll Back

CITY HALL   ---- Breaking
Tonight the City Council voted (5-0) to rescind their earlier vote to roll back wages of small restaurant workers in town, a vote Councilman Scott Donahue characterized as  doing "the least harm".  The vote represents the end of the drive initiated by Council members John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Mr Donahue beginning May 7th to make a carve out in Emeryville's Minimum Wage Ordinance.  The bid to carve out a lower pay scale for an identified restaurant worker class was stopped after a coalition of labor and community groups known as East Bay Working Families gathered 871 signatures in a petition drive of Emeryville voters.  The Council could have pushed the issue into 2020 after the drubbing the three Council members suffered as a result of the petition drive,  by putting it to a vote of the people but they chose instead to end it here tonight.
A buoyant contingent of East Bay Working Families was on hand to witness the final putting to rest the whole affair.  Afterward, Liz Ortega of the East Bay Working Families told the Tattler the victory belongs with those struggling in the lowest paid jobs, "Workers in Emeryville won tonight" she said, smiling.
And with that, the issue of lowering Emeryville's MWO is ended two and a half months after it started.  Every minimum wage worker in Emeryville will now be paid the same amount.  Issue over.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Onni Project Threatens City Hall With Regulatory Capture

City Hall, Enthralled  
Captured by Onni

Work Performed at 1313 Park Ave is Done to Onni's Benefit

"Regulatory capture is a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating."

News Analysis/Opinion
Resident communities get to plan their cities as they see fit.  That's a given.  All the planning documents ensconced in City Hall, made with lots of voluntary citizen work and taxpayer money is evidence of this.  And planning, by definition, means regulation and thus the people of Emeryville have created a regulatory framework to facilitate the building of the town as they envision it.  It’s a good thing.
The proposed Onni Development with its 700' Tower
So seductive to the City Council, they have allowed the
 Canada based Onni Corporation to capture our regulatory
safeguards meant to protect Emeryville's residents.
Except of course for those who end up being regulated.
We needn’t go into a lot of expository rhetoric parsing how the regulated tend to push back against the regulators in such a dynamic.  Suffice it to say the public commons are a contested space and there is always a yin to every yang in the administration of a democratic public policy.
What’s evolved of late in Emeryville however upsets this familiar apple cart; a new grand mal of late capitalism excess embodying total corporate empowerment; private for-profit entities, especially billion dollar entities pushing for and getting carte blanche access to the levers of public power.

Enter the specter of ‘regulatory capture’ to Emeryville; that being an abdication of the checks generally imagined to be inherent in representational governance, by a rapacious private sector intent on seizing the commons.  In a word, Emeryville  City Hall, in the thrall of the recently proposed Christie Avenue Onni project, has abdicated control of the regulatory regime to that corporate entity.  Meaning, the developer of the Onni project gets his say utterly in virtually all the circumstantial aspects of this looming mega-project in our town.  And that’s not all. The regulations that are being lifted for the benefit of Onni now, will expose the citizens of Emeryville to future development of a kind that will likely be at least as voracious. 

Onni Residential Tower Unit Mix as Proposed
A portrait of regulatory capture.
While this regulatory capture is unwritten of course, it can easily be seen in the City Council chambers when the existing tower separation regulations are repealed at Onni’s say so.  Done without public debate.  Did we mention this developer’s proposal would be constrained by our tower separation regulations?  …And when our family housing unit mix is repealed, again for Onni’s benefit and without debate.  …And when our General Plan’s provisions for acres of park per new residents are pushed aside, again all for the benefit of the Onni developer and again, without a public debate.  ...And when our General Plan's provisions to make our town a town of no more that 16,600 souls by 2029 are pushed aside, again to the benefit of Onni and again, without public debate.

It all adds up to a corporate capture of the constraints on greed that were set up to serve the citizens’ interests.  Barring a citizens’ revolt against Onni, the public will receive nothing but crumbs for all the destruction of the commons this project with its 700 foot luxury apartment tower and accompanying 200 foot office tower will bring.

Regulatory capture is evident when a single private entity is able to steer the government to its corporate bidding on multiple fronts, simultaneously and without real public debate.  It becomes weaponized when there are enough local calculating politicians with hidden agendas and/or when the private entity behemoth is out of scale with the local government.  City Hall, clearly enthralled with the billion dollar Onni Corporation and wont to hand over the reins likely represents a less corrupt version sometimes called non materialist regulatory capture or cognitive capture, meaning government regulators begin thinking like the regulated.  As opposed to a simple series of illicit money transactions taking place behind closed doors.  That's probably not taking place here.  Probably.

Onni, at 638 units is an extremely large development, and it would remake our town even if we still had control over our regulatory system.  The problems the Onni project brings are legion if not familiar for such a large project; massively increasing traffic and congestion, increasing pollution in all its forms, the blocking of views and the creation of a generally alienating environment of course all come with any large development project to a small city.  But Onni, being a 100% rental project also dramatically drives down the ratio of homeowners in our town, a town that already has the lowest percentage of home ownership in the East Bay.

Onni Residential Tower if Built as Required
Emeryville's existing family friendly unit mix regulations
provides housing for families.  A portrait of a town trying to
make up lost ground after a generation of losing families.

But what’s at stake specifically is our capacity for our own autonomy as we attempt to make our city a city for families, to build park land, to address legitimate concerns over crowding of towers and to limit our city's population to 16,600.  All things we have identified as desirable for us.  All things the law allows us to pursue.  And unfortunately, all things the developer of Onni has captured and turned away from us.
And woe be it to anyone who attempts to defend our public regulatory system in such an environment.  Indeed, the old familiar epithet of NIMBYism has already entered the Onni debate such as there is one.  But there is nothing beyond a debate tactic to conflate the idea that people who don’t want more traffic in their town or their views blocked and those who don’t want to see outright regulatory capture by a specific developer.  One is democratic and the other isn’t.

Residents Per Acre of Park Land
Emeryville Already Has the Least Acreage of Parks in the East Bay
The Onni project will drive down our already lowest
in the East Bay acres of park per resident.
Onni provides park land at 2200 residents per acre. 
Emeryville's existing average is about 512 residents per acre.
The General plan says we should have no more
than 333 residents per acre.

Number of People Per Rental Unit
Emeryville Already Has the Fewest Families in East Bay
Emeryville compared with our neighbors.
Onni will drive down Emeryville's average even lower.

Our schools will suffer the consequences. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tower Separation Regulations to be Repealed Just In Time For Onni Developer

"No Connection" Between Regulation Rollback and Desires of Onni Developer, City Council Assures Us

Planning Director Suggests City Staff Expressed Poor Judgment in 2013 When the Regulations Were Crafted 

News Analysis
The City Council members and the staff at City Hall has a tough task they’re engaged in.  They’ve got to move quickly to repeal Emeryville’s existing ‘tower separation’ regulations meant to protect the residents in order to help out a billionaire developer seeking regulatory relief for his proposed towers all while assuring the residents they’re not doing that.  It’s been an illuminating exercise in government chicanery watching the Council members’ strain as they carry water for the developer of the Christie Avenue Onni project and it’s two towers (one at 700’ and one at 200’), all while they deny they’re doing it…sometimes in the same sentence.

After Emeryville's Planning Director Charlie Bryant made a brief presentation at the July 9th Tuesday Council meeting wherein he said staff had goofed when they added tower separation to the city planning regulations back in 2013, he noted the Council is now being offered a chance to correct that mistake by completely rolling back the regulation.  Staffs' findings from 2013 that were made in support of the tower separation regulation were not presented Tuesday night, only that by overturning it, the Council would be "cleaning up" a terrible staff mistake.  Charlie Bryant, Emeryville's Planning Director, without explaining why, tried to quantify the mistake for the Council members, "This regulation was not based on any extensive research, rather it was based solely on staffs' professional judgment at the time" he said.
Emeryville Planning Director Charlie Bryant
The staff made a mistake in 2013 (lack of research)
with the tower separation rules.  He says the City
Council now has a chance to correct the staffs'
lack of "professional judgment".
For the record, tower separation regulations were to protect against overcrowding of high-rise towers; a condition pejoratively called ‘Manhattanization’.
The Council however jumped at Mr Bryant's reasoning Tuesday and “clean up language” was trotted out as the reason for abolishing the tower separation regulation by three Council members.  They assured the citizens it’s only a coincidence that they are “cleaning up” this regulatory burden the Onni developer says is unacceptable, now, just in time for approval for that controversial project.
Councilwoman Dianne Martinez seeking to allay any condemnations from citizens, was unequivocal and she sought to completely uncouple the Council’s action from the wishes of the Onni developer,  “It’s clean up language and it would apply to ANY high-rise.”  she said.  She made no other specific mention of the questionable timing of the rollback.

The wholesale denials that this action the Council is taking has anything at all to do with the Onni project were noted by citizens at the meeting.  One resident who wished to remain anonymous told the Tattler later he found it “curious” the Council members were all so adamant about denying any connection with Onni.  It’s worth noting and it’s also curious that the roll back of the tower separation regulations is happening at the same time the Council is also considering rolling back Emeryville’s family housing ‘unit mix’ regulations, also an existential problem for the Onni developer (or so he has said).  Strenuous denials have been issued from the City Council there as well, about any nexus between rolling back the family housing unit mix regulations and the desires of the Onni developer.  It’s just another coincidence, the Council says.
The Proposed Onni Project
The developer wants Emeryville's  existing
'tower separation' law to be repealed.
The Council says it's all just a coincidence.

Where four Council members left it as self evident that our 2013 tower separation regulations are terrible things that must now be rooted out and rolled back, unworthy of even offering explanation, Council member John Bauters thought a few words about it should be offered to the public.  The tower separation regs are unnecessary, Mr Bauters told the crowd, because future environmental impact reports for projects (presumably that means Onni), will take up any concerns about what the proper distance of towers should be.  That’s a pretty extraordinary plea against the whole idea of city planning but one Mr Bauters bolstered when he said if we don’t get rid of our separation rules, we’re going to get “sprawl”.  The Councilman didn’t explain how that would work and as such, it was presented as another self evident fact.  But the most incongruent evidence for why the Council must roll back the tower separation regulation was presented in a non sequitur he offered up, claiming regulations in general remove the ability for the "Council to review projects”.  Mr Bauters told the crowd that if the tower separation regulations are removed, the Council will get a chance to review (the Onni) project for the public benefit that somehow would not be possible were there to be tower separation regulations on the books.  Again, no explanation of how that works was offered.

Mr Bryant, throwing out a lifeline for the struggling City Council, volunteered that the tower separation regulation, "... was in merely one page out of over four hundred pages of regulations” that were generated by staff as they sought to overhaul the zoning and planning regulations in 2013 he said.

The City Council will finally remove tower separation from the books at their July 23rd meeting when they do a required ‘second reading’ of the ordinance that forever removes the regulations so unpopular with the Onni developer.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Breaking News: Council Continues Minimum Wage Vote

Tonight the Emeryville City Council took comments from the public about their plan to roll back the minimum wage for certain restaurant workers in town and then they voted to not vote.  At least not tonight.
After certifying the Alameda County Registrar of Voters’ certification that the voter petition drive to stop the roll back has passed, the Council had three options before them; to repeal the roll back they voted on May 29th, throw the issue over to the voters of Emeryville in a future plebiscite. or  continue the whole thing to another meeting.  It was the first two choices the Council said they didn’t want to make tonight and they directed the City Manager to bring the issue back to them in a future meeting, probably in July.
However, the stalling action tonight means the restaurant workers will receive their raises that were mandated by the original Minimum Wage Ordinance, so it will effectively be as if the Council had voted to repeal their roll back vote.  However, the workers could still see their wages rolled back at a future date, but that decision would have to come from Emeryville voters.  If the Council ultimately says NO to repealing their May 29th roll back, the question before the voters will be, ‘should Emeryville restaurant workers have their pay cut?’.
The Tattler will closely follow this issue as it this space.