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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Racial Discrimination Alleged

Racism At Bay Street Apartments

A local fair housing agency has disclosed allegations of racial discrimination at the Bay Street Apartments, the Tattler has learned. Wanda Remmers of Berkeley based Housing Rights Inc said details cannot be released at this time due to possible legal constraints during an ongoing investigation, but made reference to "a number of complaints" at the for-rent apartments located at the Bay Street Mall.

Ms Remmers indicated that the alleged discrimination has been occurring in association with the below market rate rentals, the set-aside units developers must provide in large scale housing properties in Emeryville. The City has been notified of the allegations according to Housing Rights Inc.

Ms Remmers said that her organization has been "very active in Emeryville" and included information about a 'child discrimination' case that involved a family being evicted because they had a baby, at another, undisclosed Emeryville apartment unit.

The owner of the Bay Street Apartments, General Investment & Development, a Boston Massachusetts concern, and the City Attorney's office, both didn't return calls about the allegations.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How They Voted

Widen Streets In Emeryville?

At the Tattler, we've noticed the city council and other deliberative bodies in Emeryville make controversial votes that get forgotten by the residents over time. In deference to the general edification of public policy and to strengthen Emeryville's democratic institutions, we will publish occasional short reminders on how the Power Elite in town have voted on these controversial issues.

On March 18, 2008 the vote before the city council was:

Should Emeryville rebuke the findings of the just commissioned $70,000 'Nelson-Nygaard' Traffic Study and engage in a street widening campaign to encourage the use of more cars in the city?

Nora Davis - YES
Ken Bukowski - YES
Dick Kassis - YES

Ruth Atkin - NO
John Fricke - NO

Note: In addition to ignoring the taxpayer funded traffic study's recommendation, the three council members also rebuked the unanimous vote of their own Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee by voting YES to widen the streets to encourage more cars.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Center Of Community Life Outreach Cancelled, $95 Million Vote In November

'Living Room Conversations' Silenced

A major community educational outreach effort for the controversial school building project known as the 'Emeryville Center of Community Life' has been quietly retracted by ECCL leaders the Tattler has learned. In it's place, a community telephone survey has been conducted, not meant to educate but to gauge the feasibility of a $95 million school bond initiative proposed to be placed before Emeryville voters in November.

In March, City Hall announced a roll-out of a massive campaign of ECCL educational outreach, they called 'Living Room Conversations', trumpeted through the city's website and by mail. Citizens were encouraged to sign up to host their neighbors in 'conversation' about ECCL in their living rooms. The conversation leaders were then supposed to report what their neighbors had said to the ECCL leaders; the City/Schools Committee, who would presumably change aspects of ECCL to reflect the wishes of the residents. Council members Jennifer West and Ruth Atkin deemed these conversation meetings as "absolutely necessary" to get 'community buy-in' for the ECCL project and it's then $125 million price tag.

Emeryville residents that signed up to host the Living Room Conversations were subsequently left in the lurch when the City/Schools Committee abruptly changed course and canceled the planned community outreach but didn't bother to inform those residents that had signed up.

School Board member and City/Schools Committee member Cheryl Webb expressed regret, "We should have gotten back to the people who signed up for the Living Room Conversations at the time expected". Council member Jennifer West expressed she was "disappointed" with the cancellations, "I had looked forward to hear from the public and incorporate their ideas" she lamented.

Ms Webb however defended the decision to cancel the Living Room Conversation meetings citing bad scheduling. She insisted that the survey needed to happen first, stating that the telephone survey requires an "accurate baseline" of resident opinion that might have been tainted by inaccurate information possibly taken up by neighbors at the conversation meetings. She added "We wanted to have objective opinions (given by residents) with the telephone survey".

$95 Million To Go Before Voters
Planning Commission Chairman, ECCL Finance Committee member and longtime schools supporter Art Hoff questioned the lack of transparency with the ECCL decision makers and consultants. He stated he and his colleagues on the committee were not given the full results of the telephone resident survey when they were asked to approve the $95 million November bond initiative at their June 3rd Finance Committee meeting, "They gave us only a brief synopsis of the survey, and they wouldn't even let me take it home to study it" he stated.

Mr Hoff, a retired real estate developer and major individual financial supporter of Emeryville's schools, cast the sole vote against forwarding of the $95 million dollar initiative said he couldn't vote for it in "good conscience" owing to the lack of transparency. He noted that forwarding the $95 million November vote was contingent on a series of steps that were promised but missing when it came time for the Finance Committee to give their thumbs up. He stated that the City/Schools Committee had earlier voted to spend $1.8 million dollars to move the Center Of Community Life forward by hiring consultants to investigate and make presentations on ways to reduce the price tag on the $125 million ECCL, to meet with the public (living room conversations), make alternative plans (like retaining the recently remodeled Anna Yates Elementary School) and lastly to conduct a community survey to find out the feasibility of voters passing the November bond initiative. "We approved the $1.8 million for consultants to do all that but they only did the survey part" he said. He questioned what happened to the other work that was supposed to be conducted by the consultants. His three colleagues on the ECCL finance committee overrode Mr Hoff and voted YES to the $95 million bond and moved it forward to the City/Schools Committee for their vote later this summer. If passed then, Emeryville voters will be the final judges of the prudence of the bond debt on the November ballot.

Mr Hoff expressed chagrin that the high price for the Center of Community Life, originally slated at $125 million, had not been reduced enough, "They're asking for a $95 million bond plus the $25 million already earmarked for this project from the city's Capital Improvement fund and that totals $120 million". Mr Hoff stated that consultants had earlier expressed that the $125 million project could be reduced by 25%.

School Board member Cheryl Webb defended the meager cost reduction by pointing out that the project has been recently bolstered by a proposed new ECCL library open to all residents, added after the consultant claims of 25% reductions were made. She noted that Oakland has been raising the rate for Emeryville to sign on to their library program. "They keep raising the rates" she said. She added that it becomes fiscally imprudent at some point to continue to pay Oakland like Emeryville has been. "Library services are core to a community and will help bump up enrollment at the Emeryville schools" she said.

Ms Webb also stated the entire ECCL project has been well vetted with the greater community, "We've been doing lots of community outreach already" and that the cancelled Living Room Conversations might not be permanent. "I expect there will be a time in the future for the Living Room Conversations but at this point we look forward to hearing the results of the community survey which asked Emeryville voters of their priorities on a variety of School District facilities and program issues" she said. Of the community outreach she added "It's not the right timing for it".

The School Board will hear a presentation of the community survey at their June 15 meeting and the City/Schools Committee will also hear of the survey results at their June 17 meeting. Soon after, at a to-be-announced time, the committee will vote whether to place the $95 million bond initiative on the November ballot for Emeryville voters.

Emeryville resident Art Hoff helped lead the drive for and was the single largest individual monetary doner to, the successful Emeryville schools Parcel Tax campaigns. He also gave a large financial gift to help save the high school girls softball team, bringing it back from insolvency.

The Superintendent of the Schools, John Sugiyama could not be reached for comment and School Board member Josh Simon refused to comment for this story.

The Center Of Community Life Finance Committee is comprised of Art Hoff, Nora Davis, John Gooding and Josh Simon. The City/Schools Committee is comprised of all the council members and all the school board members.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Fine Emeryville Tradition Slipping Away

Below are the telephone numbers for Emeryville's elected public officials as listed with 411 information (in the phone book):
  • Council Member Ruth Atkin - Unlisted
  • Council Member Nora Davis - 652-2199
  • Council Member Kurt Brinkman - Unlisted
  • Council Member Ken Bukowski - Unlisted
  • Council Member Jennifer West - 655-3726 (also made 420-5795 available for constituents)
  • School Board Member Miguel Dwin - Unlisted
  • School Board Member Josh Simon - 601-1480
  • School Board Member Cheryl Webb - 654-6012
  • School Board Member Melodi Dice - 655-4354? (Oakland listing)
  • School Board Member Patricia Hooper - 658-6040? (Oakland listing)
There is no law that says elected officials should be available to their constituents by home phone and in the greater world, generally speaking, government officials don't commonly list their home telephone numbers in the phone book.

In Emeryville however, there is a longstanding tradition that citizens can call their representatives directly, at home. A quick perusal of the phone book in years past revealed all five Council members and School Board members listed. In a town the size of Emeryville, this is something one would expect. The recent trend for elected officials here to not avail themselves directly to the residents is a disturbing one. It would be wise for Emeryville residents to tell their government officials that they expect them to be approachable directly by phone, least we lose something of value.

Small towns have many endemic problems, not the least of which is the tendency towards pernicious xenophobia and retrograde parochialism with its mindless civic boosterism and we have certainly seen these in Emeryville, but one benefit a small town brings is the availability and therefore the accountability of elected public officials. It's sad to see Emeryville lose this valuable intimate nexus between the government and the governed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How They Voted

Hostile 'Private To Private'
Eminent Domain?

At the Tattler, we've noticed the city council and other deliberative bodies in Emeryville make controversial votes that get forgotten by the residents over time. In deference to the general edification of public policy and to strengthen Emeryville's democratic institutions, we will publish occasional short reminders on how the Power Elite in town have voted on these controversial issues.

In November 2008, the vote before the city council was:

Should a private landowner, who has made a request for approval of a rehabilitation development of his existing historic brick building be denied and instead have his property taken away in a hostile eminent domain and given to another (but much larger) private developer, Wareham Development Corporation?

Nora Davis - YES
Ken Bukowski - YES
Dick Kassis - YES
Ruth Atkin - YES

John Fricke - ABSTAIN (conflicted out)

Note: The owner of the building wanted to rehab the existing historic brick building, but in addition to the forced sale, new owner Wareham Development was also granted permission to tear down the building and construct a new building. The council also voted to permit Wareham to exceed the zoning ordinance height allowance for the proposed building. This building will be on the Emeryville Greenway and has been shown that it will block sunlight on the Greenway. It should be noted that the General Plan calls for rehabbing these older historic vernacular brick warehouse buildings in our town.
Council member Fricke previously had a law office in the building and didn't vote.