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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Court Rejects Woodfin Demand

By Mr. X
A California appeals court rejected a demand by the Woodfin Suites Hotel that Emeryville taxpayers pay the hotel's growing legal fees.
The hotel company, owned and operated by Sam Hardage, a Republican Party activist from San Diego, has fought the city's living wage ordinance for hotel workers since before it was codified.
The ordinance, Measure C, was approved by Emeryville voters in November 2005. While other hotel operators, including Sheraton 4 Points, Courtyard by Marriott and Holiday Inn (now Hilton) have complied fully with the law, Mr. Hardage, Woodfin's owner has stubbornly refused. Hotel workers have faced a string of retaliatory actions, including summary firings. Woodfin has instead launched a string of lawsuits to avoid paying back wages to the workers and seeking to have the measure overturned.
One of the hotel's lawsuits sought to force city taxpayers to reimburse the company for its recalcitrant legal strategy. That suit was rejected. An appeal of that decision was rejected in an 11 page decision by the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District on March 15.
You can read the entire document by following this link to a pdf file

County Investigation Of Emeryville Expanded

Results Expected Soon

Readers of the Emeryville Tattler will recall an investigative piece on the strange conclusions surrounding environmental documents for the newly approved 'Transit Center' on Horton Street. Alameda County officials have indicated that as a result of the Tattler investigative article entitled 'County To Investigate Flawed Emeryville Documents' (March 2), they have been looking into glaring inconsistencies with the documents and City Hall is implicated in possible wrongdoing. The Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (CMA) announced earlier in the week that the initial investigation has been expanded due to findings of possible improper action on the part of the City of Emeryville.

The Tattler will report the results of the investigation as soon as they are released by County officials.

Monday, March 22, 2010

ECCL Busting City Budget

Austerity Measures Enacted City Wide Except At Center

by Mr. X

Taxpayers have spent $2.633 million so far on a pile of blueprints for a building that may never open its doors.
The Emeryville Center of Community Life, an elementary---junior high---high school---recreation center---senior center---library and police station; a project so bold and audacious that some residents have dismissed it as a legacy project for the City Council's old guard, is busting the city's budget. All while the first shovel of dirt is yet unturned. Known around city hall as the ECCL, it's projected cost is $125 million. In January the council added another $1.35 million to architect/design contracts and for "soft costs" associated with the project. The school district has put $330,000 into the kitty for the project or $462 for each student enrolled in the district. This figure doesn't include the payroll of city employees while working on the project.

Neither the city nor the School District has made an attempt to calculate the costly staff time expended on ECCL, but officials admit privately that the number is substantial. The money is not recoverable in any way as some budgetary allocations are and this money is gone forever.

At the same time officials are shoveling money at this project----which has yet to be proven a workable model in any respect----the world fiscal crisis is tightening its grip on city finances today. Rather than rein in spending on an unproven project, the city council is looking at raising taxes and cutting services; both unpopular choices with residents. The imposition of a 'Lighting and Landscaping' tax on property and the privatization of both the Child Development Center and recreation center are just around the corner.

$122.4 Million Still To Go
If the ECCL's price tag remains $125 million, the number insisted on by authorities, taxpayers are still on the hook for another $122.4 million. Unknown, are the likely higher costs for operating, staffing and maintaining the Center compared to current facilities. The jarring fiscal asymmetry between the large amount for the Center of Community Life and the austerity on items in the rest of the project's budget have inspired some residents to deem it a 'legacy project' for aging "1970s reformers" on the council who finally seem ready to retire. City officials have acknowledged this and sought, over the past two years, to convince the public with a series of propagandistic mailers touting the Center's benefits. The residents, for their part, will have a chance to weigh in on the Center of Community Life in a citywide bond funding initiative on November 2nd.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Council Grants Time Extension to Developers

Fallow Land To Remain Fallow

The council once again extended it's legendary generosity to developers at the March 16th council meeting by granting an automatic two year extension to projects in the development pipeline. The vote increased the time required to start building after an approval has been granted from three years to five.

Before the vote, council member Nora Davis noted the move will not only benefit the developers, but residents as well, "Some of these developers are experiencing extreme financial hardship in this bad economy and this will help make sure we get the development that was approved" she said. "This is in the resident's interests" she hastened to add. Some residents however expressed concerns that the time extension will keep land fallow that could be developed by other developers with more resources. The vote was unanimous by the council.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Council Holsters Firearms Dealers; 'Gun Nuts' Outgunned by Vocal Emeryville Citizens

A duel over proposed gun regulations Tuesday ended in victory for proponents of regulation.
Rules keeping children out of a proposed firearms store, and requiring the owner to bar felons and those with mental health issues from employment were tentatively approved Tuesday after a tense and well attended meeting. A final vote is scheduled to occur next month.
The ordinance was approved after language regulating the sale of ammunition was stripped from the proposal. Officials were told that such language could expose the city to a lawsuit.

More than 50 out-of-town gun zealots stormed the meeting Tuesday night intending to foil the proposal through force of reason and numbers. But they were countered and disarmed by a wall of unified Emeryville residents arguing in favor of the modest regulations. The issue rose to prominence after a proposal to open a firearms and ammunition retailer on San Pablo Avenue---next to Emery High School---emerged.

In all, 50 people from out of town thundered against the ordinance while 27 mostly Emeryville residents, spoke in favor. One Emeryville resident was against the ordinance. Gun law opponents argued that federal and state laws already regulate firearms and thus municipalities can't add their own restrictions. Yet, many in the group acknowledged that other businesses are regulated in Emeryville. Proponents insisted that the proposed ordinance went no further than ordinary rules binding other types of businesses. Gun rights advocates meanwhile insisted that gun stores must not be regulated in any way.

Verbal tactics employed by those opposed to the regulations mainly centered on threats of litigation peppered with many disrespectful insults directed at the council and residents. In a bizarre moment, charges of racism appeared; one gun enthusiast noted that the council is "white" and admonished them for taking guns away from "black people".

The thrust of the pro-gun argument was that the ordinance prohibits gun stores in Emeryville and that infringes on the second amendment to the Constitution.

City Attorney Michael Biddle, who has been chided in the past for his low caliber legal work that has repeatedly ricocheted into costly verdicts against the city, reminded attendees that the proposed ordinance does not prohibit any gun stores from opening. Mr. Biddle maintained that the proposal is a limited and reasonable set of guidelines gun store owners must abide by. Police Chief Ken James has likened the proposed gun store regulations rules already applied to other businesses such as catering trucks and massage parlors.

Gun lobbyists were partially successful with warnings of an impending lawsuit. The council ultimately approved parts of the ordinance pertaining to guns sellers but removed language regulating ammunition sales. Mr Biddle cited a letter from an attorney representing the gunners that made reference to a pending high level case in another jurisdiction as reason to postpone the ammo part of the new ordinance. The council agreed that exposure to lawsuits from pro-gun groups was not something to trifle with. The meat and potatoes of the ordinance however remained intact.

Heat and Light
The gun enthusiasts pre-meeting web based conspiracies to intimidate residents and others amenable to the ordinance failed. Their expectations of cowering and outnumbered proponents seems to have been the gunner's Waterloo. They expressed dismay at the large resident turnout and the heavy police presence at the meeting. They had planned a program of highly visible up close photo taking of speakers as a means of further intimidation but were met with residents with their own cameras. No one it seems was intimidated.

The council is slated to resolve this issue at the meeting on April 6 at City Hall with a second and final vote. The gunners have proclaimed their intentions to ramp up their presence at that meeting.

Council Splits Gun Vote

The city council tonight split a much anticipated vote on the controversial gun dealers ordinance. They voted unanimously to regulate the gun dealers part of the ordinance but removed the section on ammunition sellers. Council member Kurt Brinkman expressed reluctance to vote for the whole package based on fears of litigation from pro-gun groups. His colleagues agreed and instructed the City Attorney to strike the language that pertains to ammo specifically.

The council chamber was filled to capacity and then some. The speakers from Emeryville were in the majority and almost unanimously spoke in favor of the ordinance while the pro-gun out of towners were fewer in numbers.

The Tattler will report on the details and the the ramifications of this vote in a later edition.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Special Interest Gun Zealots Barrage Emeryville City Hall

Full Scale Assault In Campaign To Kill Local Rule

News Analysis

It's gone viral; gun toters are waging war on our town. So far it's just been a war of words fortunately. What's at stake is Emeryville's ability to orderly plan and regulate how business is conducted, a crucial task at City Hall since Emeryville began, in the nineteenth century.

Gun enthusiasts, alerted by the NRA and other gun groups from all over the state are threatening to inundate our town with lawsuits if the council votes to regulate gun shops like they regulate all manner of other business in town. The council will discuss the issue on Tuesday night at City Hall.

The council members have been hit with a blizzard of letters and e-mails ranging from outright threats to pleading. Many of the e-mails, directed from a firearm friendly Internet site have taken a hostile tone. "I've been barraged" Council member Jennifer West exclaimed. Council member Nora Davis has chagrined some of these gun enthusiasts by simply asking if they reside in Emeryville. Aware of this vulnerability, the pro-gun is pouring over records to see if they can get any actual Emeryville residents to join the fray.

Chief of Police Ken James questioned the logic of the anti-regulation side, "We regulate every business in some form or another in Emeryville. Their point is that we are unduly regulating them (the gun dealers), but the proposed regulation is not any more onerous than the regulation we currently have on card rooms, cabarets, massage parlors, catering trucks or taxi cabs" he said.

This campaign, if successful will limit our town's ability to regulate other businesses like adult bookstores and even fast food restaurants. This goes right to the heart of the sovereignty of our town; should we be able to regulate businesses who's unfettered practice we deem detrimental to our vision we hold for our own city? If the city council gives in to an angry mob of outsiders here, it's easy to see how other businesses will make arguments for questioning our ability to regulate them as well. They would have a point.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NRA Is Bringing The Big Guns To Emeryville

The NRA is coming to Emeryville...and boy are they pissed!

On Tuesday night at City Hall, the council will consider a new ordinance that will regulate gun shops in town, just like how other businesses are regulated. The problem is the National Rifle Association caught wind of it and they're planning a big mobilization for our town. The richest and most powerful lobbying group in the US has alerted their troops from across California. They have started a mass letter writing campaign and they say they'll show up en mass Tuesday in our little council chamber.

The Ordinance, Chapter 30 of Title 5 of the Emeryville Municipal Code will regulate firearms dealers and ammunition sellers much like how the Oaks Club card room is regulated. This ordinance calls for the following measures:
  • background checks of personnel
  • security measures
  • sales records to be kept
  • no used guns
  • no minors permitted in the stores
The ordinance is fully supported by Chief of Police Ken James.

The southern California based gun group is calling on members in the Bay Area and even from the south land to descend on Emeryville with cameras to intimidate any council members or even members of the public who may support the ordinance. They're directing their minions to lay the intimidation on us.

Any actual Emeryville resident that feels we should be able to craft our town to our liking should make their voices heard, regardless of any gun enthusiasts' threats. We currently have regulation about a host of businesses in our town from adult book stores to fast food restaurants. Residents who are not intimidated will be heard at 7:15 at City Hall at 1333 Park Avenue.

Strange Existential Dental Observances

Peculiar Mandible Phenomenological Occurrences Surrounding Council Member Bukowski

Strange cluster of extreme tooth decay centers on Bukowski Compound

The statistical likelihood of Americans aged 20-64 to suffer from toothlessness is just 3.75%. That our own council member Ken Bukowski (58) is among this small statistical group is worth noting. But what really sends the statistical models reeling are the strange peculiarities revealed when one couples this consideration with the dental conditions of Mr. Bukowski's personal associates.

An extraordinarily high number of tenants at Mr. Bukowski's secluded compound on Doyle Street likewise suffer from poor dental hygiene. During a police call to the compound concerning a domestic dispute in November, at least three toothless tenants were observed making statements to the police. None of the tenants observed appeared to be over 60 years of age.

In a bizarre coincidence, Mr. Bukowski's husband, who lives with him on Post Street in San Francisco, also appears to suffer from extreme tooth decay. Further, a neighbor down the hall in the Post Street apartment building who wished to remain anonymous, reported that most of the nightly traffic in and out of what Mr. Bukowski's insists is a San Francisco pied-a-tierre consists of toothless people.

Before retiring, former councilman Dick Kassis told a gathering of Watergate residents at a candidate's debate, "Ken hasn't taken care of his teeth very well".
Indeed, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), the mean number of permanent teeth for white non-Hispanic Americans Mr. Bukowski's age is 25.23. When one considers the mean number of permanent teeth divided up between Mr. Bukowski and his associates, one might wonder about the origins of this improbable cluster of toothlessness.

What Are The Odds?

An examination of statistics raises more questions. Compared to what one would expect in a random sampling of any similarly sized parcel the Bukowski compound on Doyle Street appears to be an extreme abnormality. Using NIDCR's formula, the total number of Emeryville residents under 65 suffering from extreme tooth loss should be about 375. Based on an average city-wide population density of 3,400 square feet per person, the likelihood of four people suffering from extreme tooth loss on a 9,200 square foot parcel (the approximate size of Mr. Bukowski's compound) is very remote indeed. The odds are about .000001978 or almost two in a million. Perhaps the purchase of lottery tickets is in order. These numbers might however be skewed due to social effects; the toothless would probably cluster for non-random reasons.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NOW They Want To Make The Business Taxes More Progressive


How much money have we lost in Emeryville because of unwarranted and rigid ideology on the city council?

As the realization of our terrible fiscal bind grows, once sacred pro-business tax code ideology is starting to crumble. Even corporate maven and City Councilwoman Nora Davis uttered the unthinkable at a budget study session last week, "we need to look at raising revenue in all areas, including possibly lifting the cap on the business license tax," she said. A surprising statement since the existing tax structure, enacted by Ms. Davis and her colleagues, has limited our city's ability to pay for needed services for years. Indeed, our city has the lowest tax on business, by far, in the entire Bay Area. They are also heavily regressive, falling disproportionately on small businesses, while giving the city's biggest firms a huge break.

Business taxes in Emeryville let the largest corporations off the hook by "capping" the tax. Once the maximum amount of $115,774.03 is reached, all profits above the amount are fully exempt, even for a firm with multi-million dollar profits. As a proportion of overall income, large businesses pay much less per dollar than smaller business. Effectively, small business has been subsidizing large business in Emeryville for years. Small businesses have complained about the unfair nature of the business tax, but they have been rebuffed by the Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber's friends on the council.

Emeryville resident and college professor Brian Carver has been alerting fellow residents of the absurdity of our tax code. In a letter to the city council, he demonstrates how unprecedented the cap is; no other city in the entire Bay Area has it. He has showed if the cap is lifted, even a little, millions in revenue would be gathered for our cash strapped city. According to his analysis, the burden would be very affordable for Emeryville's largest businesses.

The unfair tax structure in Emeryville is no accident. It a product of the city council's rigid ideology. Some argue that lower business tax can serve a city well but obviously this is not the case. To forgo so much revenue is reckless. We need to finally get our financial house in order and stop being a pariah on the Bay Area stage. One would be right to shake one's head and wonder how many millions of dollars we have given up due to this dogmatic policy and how that money could be used right now.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

City Hires Big Guns To Move School Center Forward

Voters To Be Asked To Pass Expensive Fall Bond Initiative

By Mr X and Brian Donahue

When the pricey dream of a combined school campus crashed into financial reality and public skepticism, Emeryville officials changed course.

Rather than explaining how a $125 million building for the district's 770 school children would elevate academic performance, they hired a team of political consultants to sway public opinion. Or maybe they aren't trying to sway public depends on which city council member you ask.

Part of the city's recent additional allocation of $1.35 million for "soft costs" associated with the "Emeryville Center of Community Life"---a combined elementary, junior high, high school, recreation center, library, health clinic and senior center ---is a contract with Oakland-based political consulting firm, The Lew Edwards Group. The move was roundly criticized by Councilman Ken Bukowski.

Under the contract, the firm will hold "living room conversations" with voters and conduct a series of polls to ascertain how much tax money city voters are willing to part with in exchange for new facilities. Presumably, ambitions will be scaled back to match the public's limited enthusiasm. All of this work will culminate in a November 2nd bond initiative for Emeryville voters.

The firm has been very successful at winning parcel tax campaigns and school district bond measures up and down the state. It is also no stranger to Emeryville. Lew Edwards took city tax money to help convince voters to extend Emeryville's utility tax and they also ran campaigns for both Ruth Atkin and John Fricke.

While public schools and seniors should be among every municipality's top priority, some have asked if combining so many functions under a single roof is a wise concept. There is a reason other cities do not combine students from age five to 18 on a single campus with senior citizens as well.

At a meeting Thursday of the City/Schools Committee, a body combining the city council with the school board, Mr. Bukowski questioned the consultants polling plans. After Catherine Lew, one of the firm's founders told members, "the surveys will not be designed to achieve a particular outcome," Mr. Bukowski appeared dumbfounded. "Why are we hiring this firm,?" he asked. Mr. Bukowski said that outside expertise should only be sought to help improve the likelihood that voters will approve the funding for the Center of Community Life. "We're hiring a professional company (to help with this) because we want to achieve a positive outcome," he told colleagues.

Councilwoman Jennifer West took umbrage, stressing that residents desires are sacrosanct. "We have to really listen to the community," she countered.

The 'living room conversations' will take place at various locations throughout the city, occasionally in actual living rooms. They are being touted as a chance for residents to express what they think about the proposal. Responding to criticisms that the Center of Community Life keeps marching forward regardless of community input, the committee indicated it will be a time for them to just listen.

The Committee has charged itself with helping to get ECCL built and has been working to get the price tag for the project under $125 million.

If the cost were to come in at that figure, it would equal $162,337.66 per pupil. About 40 percent of the district's students live outside of Emeryville. If non-Emeryville students are excluded, the per-pupil cost climbs to $270,562.77. These figures do not include the extra maintenance costs associated with a larger facility and these costs would be an ongoing extra expense.

Originally, ECCL was planned for the massive AC Transit yard on San Pablo Avenue. After efforts to move the bus yard to Oakland ran into opposition, officials looked into the efficacy of seizing PG&E's facilities on Hollis Street.

After that plan foundered, officials announced that ECCL would be built on the grounds of Emery High School. If a new structure is built, officials might abandon the Anna Yates elementary school where a $9 million renovation project was completed last year.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

County to Investigate Flawed Emeryville Documents

County Agency "Baffled" By Strange Conclusions

County officials said they will investigate a pivotal document prepared for the recently approved Transit Center, the Tattler has learned.

An official with the Alameda County Congestion Management Agency (CMA), said that her agency's data may have been misused. The data was included in planning documents associated with, and helped push through approval of, the 'Transit Center' a nearly 900 space parking garage and office tower.

Beth Walukas, Manager of Planning at CMA said the data may have been used inappropriately by the City of Emeryville in the traffic study used as a basis for granting a 'Mitigated Negative Declaration,' for the project. A mitigated negative declaration permits the approval of a project without more intense environmental scrutiny.

Specifically, Ms. Walukas said her agency is concerned that their data was used to show less 'project generated' traffic on the Overland section of the Horton/Overland Street Bike Boulevard than would be shown if standard traffic analysis methods were used.

Planning Commissioner Jim Martin, earlier objected to the traffic study calling it, "not credible." Mr. Martin speculated that the study purposefully excluded traffic impacts on Horton and Overland Streets to make the office tower an easier sell politically, by omitting any negative impacts on cyclists and the newly created bicycle boulevard.

Ms. Walukas indicated her investigation would be complete in "a couple of weeks".