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Monday, August 30, 2010


Food Trucks And Juice

Ruby's Cafe on Hollis Street serves several different kinds of juice. Ruby's owner, Albert Repola knows a lot about juice, and he's using it right now at City Hall, trying to oust food trucks that he sees as rapacious competitors. Mr. Repola has been very vocal in this view, repeatedly demanding action from City Hall. Officials, who seldom act in the benefit of small businesses, suddenly appear unusually responsive, vowing to add further regulations to the city's Food Vendor Ordinance.

At a time when the popularity of food trucks, especially those serving more upscale cuisine is growing exponentially in the Bay Area, Emeryville it seems, is destined to go the other way. And it's all because certain small business owners that, with justification, feel they have special access to City Hall and want to shut down the competition.

This is not hyperbole. Limiting competition is among the seven objectives of Emeryville's newest government entity: a 'Food Vendor Task Force" according to a story concerning the formulation of the body in last week's e-newsletter from City Hall. The story examines how the new 'food vendor task force' will investigate making the ordinance more rigorous. In addition to "limiting competition", the items being considered include:
  • Limiting the geographic area that mobile food vendors may operate
  • Limiting the number of mobile food vendors
  • Raising permit fees
  • Regulating mobile food vendors on private property
  • Use of public right of way for cooking, seating and/or storage
  • Developing remedies for non-compliance with the ordinance

This list clearly shows who's got the juice in this town. It's very telling that none of the bullet points from the city are in support of food trucks and it's very clear that residents that happen to like food trucks are not going to be listened to.

We are chagrined that the bullet point list makes it obvious that City Hall is LOADING THE DECK and not interested in presenting unbiased finding of fact for this task force. At the Tattler, we have to ask why? Could it possibly be political patronage at work? After all, Mr. Repola has been very generous in his support of the Council majority over the years.

Nevertheless, times are tough, and everyone is looking for a scapegoat. If Mr. Repola's business isn't quite as prosperous as it once was, perhaps it is the result of the unemployment or foreclosure rate, rather than from "competition" that cannot offer shelter from the weather or the amenities of a restaurant.

Unlike some restaurant owners, the food truck vendors have not paid money to the re-election campaigns of the Council majority. Maybe they think they'll get a fair shake at City Hall regardless. Obviously, these vendors are new to town; they may know about food but they're obviously selling the wrong kind of juice in Emeryville.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Planning Commission OKs Controversial Ikea Expansion

Specter Of Veiled Threat From Ikea

Ignoring residents jammed cheek-by-jowl in opposition, the city's Planning Commission narrowly OK'ed a busy Ikea warehouse on the edge of a residential area near 53rd and Hollis Street. The planned facility would function as a place for Ikea's patrons to pick up the furniture retailer's largest and bulkiest items.
The commission approved the proposal in a 4-3 vote Thursday night (Kuemmerle, Donaldson and Steinberg dissenting), leaving many residents surprised. Residents chief concern was the added din of traffic noise and safety concerns from the project, which could bring hundreds of extra vehicles to Hollis Street and 53rd Street, especially on weekends when customers flock to Ikea.
The proceedings were marred by what appeared to be a veiled threat against the city concerning a public easement for a planned foot bridge over the railroad tracks unless city officials played ball. A pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the tracks connecting Novartis on Horton Street with the Bay Street mall has long been planned.

Commissioners mostly disagreed on the compatibility with the city's new General Plan. The three dissenters presented findings that the project was in fact not compatible. The 22 citizen speakers, mostly Emery Bay Village residents agreed that the proposed warehouse use is not 'office/technology' as the General Plan requires. Only one speaker supported the project.

Ikea Threatens The City
The evenings most noteworthy moment came when Ikea representatives stated that the company was prepared to allow the city full use of its back parking lot as a staging area for construction vehicles should the city ever proceed with its approved but as yet unbuilt bicycle/pedestrian bridge. The implication being that no such permission would be forthcoming in the event of a NO vote by the commission.

After the vote, a high level city official unwilling to state their name told the Tattler that there would be "no way" Ikea would freely allow the city to encroach on their property without a YES vote on the 53rd Street warehouse expansion. The official stated that the commission had saved the city "a lot of lawyer time fighting Ikea with this yes vote".

City Hall was filled to capacity and the council chamber overflow was forced to watch from the basement by closed circuit TV.

Representatives from the ad-hoc '53rd Street Neighborhood Committee' stated they intend on appealing the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I See Dead People

There's Dead People On The Side Of The Building

Don't accuse the dearly departed of not leaving a mark.
It's certainly not true of those cremated by Apollo Crematorium, one of the state's most busy incinerators of human remains.

The longstanding Emeryville business, whose attempted relocation to Richmond was scuppered by protest, continues to operate where it always has. But the once heavily industrial area is now blossoming with chic loft residences and sprouting trendy businesses.

Richmond residents, already enduring refinery releases, successfully blocked the move in 2007 citing mercury toxicity, presumably from burnt fillings.
Meanwhile, though the crematorium and its smokestacks have been hemmed in by development, it is no longer invisible to casual observers.

An off-white ashen smear mars more than 100 square feet of the metal-clad side of AgeSong, a $29 million assisted living facility with about 160 residents. The discoloration reaches all the way up to the building's roof deck.
While death is ultimately part of life, having 3,000 to 4,000 cremations a year drifting past your window, maybe a little bit more of a reminder than necessary that life is after all cruel, brutish and short.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Neighborhood Group Fights Ikea Expansion

Ikea To Expand Into Emery Bay Village Neighborhood

Group Decries "Wrong Site/Wrong Use"

Emeryville City Hall backed development proposals have a way of incubating neighborhood preservation groups. Such is the case of a new, so far nameless group some are calling the '53rd Street Neighborhood Committee', an ad hoc resident group formed to stop a proposed Ikea bulky item customer pick-up center slated for 53rd & Hollis Streets next to the sylvan resident enclave of Emery Bay Village.

The committee, some 125 resident petition signers strong, says the proposal is a "regional retail facility", incompatible with Emeryville's new General Plan and will negatively impact an adjacent existing 'family friendly' neighborhood by 200 customer vehicle trips per day, not including the copious delivery truck traffic generated by the proposal.

Emery Bay Village resident Marcia DuBois, a member of the committee's 12 person 'core group', says Ikea representatives gave a presentation of the proposed expansion to 52 neighbors in late July but was met with "blanket opposition". She noted, "Not one citizen speaker was in support of the proposal". Ms DuBois said much opposition centers on the negative impacts that will be borne by neighbors. She cautioned, "The projected 200 customers pick ups per day, with vehicle activity from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm - seven days a week, would severely degrade our quality of life with noise, fumes, potential hazards and traffic jams".

Ms Dubois saved much of her ire for the incompatibility with Emeryville's new General Plan, "We need the citizens of Emeryville to stand up for the General Plan so many worked so hard to create: big-box regional retail should be west of the RR tracks and south of 40th St., not next to homes. This location is zoned for office/technology, a use more compatible with family housing".

Ikea seemed to scale back the plan after calls from committee members highlighted incompatibility with the General Plan. The existing warehouse where Ikea proposes the pick-up center, is about 120,000 square feet and Ikea at first planned to use more than half, 62,000 square feet, a number that would automatically require a General Plan amendment under 'secondary use' planning provisions. Later, committee members noted the planned usage had dropped to 59,000 square feet, barely under the limit line and rubber stamp approvable with only a 'conditional use' permit . The 3000 square foot reduction move by Ikea has been called a pittance and a way to avoid a potentially difficult General Plan battle. Some neighbors insist the Ikea project remains a General Plan violation, at least in spirit. Others called the slight-of-hand a cynical ploy by Ikea.

Marcia DuBois joined her core group colleagues on the 53rd Street Neighborhood Committee in opposition to the IKEA proposal, "We oppose the location of an IKEA bulky-item customer pick up facility immediately adjacent to a family-oriented residential community of 142 homes, 2 pre-schools, a children's gym and a high school". She appealed to all Emeryville residents to help save the neighborhood, "Please come to the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, August 26 to protect our homes" she said.

The committee is primarily comprised of Emery Bay Village residents, 53rd Street residents and Emeryville Child Development Center parents.

The Planning Commission will debate and vote on this issue after public testimony is taken. All are encouraged to attend at 6:30 PM on Thursday August 26th at City Hall.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

They Said It

Pat Cashman Said It-
"40th Street Will Look Like The Champs d'Elysees"

Politics in Emeryville have produced quite a lot of hyperbole over the years. At the Tattler, we occasionally post quotable quotes from Emeryville personalities since where we've been can sometimes inform where we're going.

Back in the early 90's, mall developer Catellus Development Corporation was making its pitch to the people of Emeryville about how nice the proposed East Bay Bridge Center was going to be. Residents were told the mall might even attract a Home Depot as an anchor. A newly proposed boulevard, 40th Street, to be built to serve the mall, was also part of the development proposal. The developer's public relations team was tasked to sell the project to a skeptical public. At a public scoping session, corporate PR point man Pat Cashman told the assembled throng that the new 40th Street would rate as one of the world's finest urban thoroughfares. He told the crowd "40th Street will look like the Champs-d'Elysees".


Friday, August 13, 2010

It's Not That We Hate Gays, It's Just That We Don't Think They Should Be Granted Basic Human Rights

Target Targets East Bay Bridge Mall

East Bay gay bashers that want everyday low prices on quality home supplies are eagerly awaiting the opening of a new Target store in Emeryville's East Bay Bridge mall. With a opening date slated for March 2011, the store opening is part of a three store Bay Area expansion for the Minneapolis based anti-gay retailer. San Jose and Dublin are also on the list of sites the retail giant has selected for new stores.

Human rights watchers have long been agitated by Target's anti-gay culture nation-wide and the latest dust up has centered on CEO Greg Steinhafel's donation to an anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial campaign.

Mr Steinhafel, a long standing Republican party supporter, recently donated $150,000 to rabidly anti-gay Minnesota governor hopeful and Tea Party favorite Tom Emmer. Elsewhere, and other groups concerned with social equality have complained many top level managers at the Minneapolis headquarters donated large amounts of money to California anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 and other anti-gay political campaigns.

Government officials in Emeryville seemed unperturbed by the controversy, focusing instead on the benefits for the town. Emeryville's Director of Economic Development, Helen Bean told the Contra Costa Times last week, "The new Target will add to the retail selection available to Emeryville residents". Highlighting the economic benefits for Emeryville she added, "it's a winner in a number of ways".

The future Emeryville/Oakland store, located at the Home Depot Expo site near the 40th Street bridge, will expand from 117,000 to 140,000 square feet and will employ 200 to 250, mostly low paid workers.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

They Said It

Ken Bukowski Said It-
"Let's just figure out what this developer needs and change the zoning law to accommodate him"

Politics in Emeryville have produced quite a lot of hyperbole over the years. At the Tattler, we occasionally post quotable quotes from Emeryville personalities since where we've been can sometimes inform where we're going.

Right after the city completed more than five years of paid and citizen volunteer work to produce a new General Plan last October, one developer, John Nady of Nady Systems wireless audio on Shellmound Street said he wanted to change the new plan to pre-approve unlimited building height (from 75 feet) on his specific parcel of land. He gave no reason for this request for a gift to him from the people of Emeryville other than his desire for more profits.

The council was eager to grant this give-a-way without providing any findings of merit or consideration except staff pointed out to them that if they change the General Plan to increase the allowable building height on his parcel to 'unlimited' then the zoning needs to be changed to reflect the new higher allowance. Specifically, the floor area ratio (FAR), an arcane planning modus, needed to be changed. The council members were bantering this around when Council member Bukowski told the staff to just increase the FAR to whatever it needed to be to make it work to help out this developer build an unlimited height building on his property.

"Let's just figure out what this developer needs and change the zoning law to accommodate him" With this one short and succinct sentence, Council Member Bukowski has managed to sum up the whole guiding philosophy of Emeryville City Hall.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

They Said It

Nora Davis Said It-
"You People Are Dupes For EBASE!"

Politics in Emeryville have produced quite a lot of hyperbole over the years. At the Tattler, we occasionally post quotable quotes from Emeryville personalities since where we've been can sometimes inform where we're going.

Oakland based East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), an economic and social justice nonprofit organization concerned with working people and families, helped push for Measure C, a hotel workers living wage ordinance in Emeryville. In the run up to the 2005 Measure C election, many Emeryville residents publicly testified before the City Council that they didn't like to see hotel workers taken advantage of in their town and that they supported the incipient Measure C.

Council member Nora Davis, who worked against the passage of the living wage ordinance, publicly impugned the intelligence of all Emeryville residents that supported the hotel workers by calling them "dupes for EBASE" from the council chamber dais at an October 2005 council meeting.

Measure C was subsequently approved by Emeryville voters 54% to 48% on November 8, 2005.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Elected Officials Vote 10-0,
How Are Residents Going To Vote?

The recent 10-0 vote by the City/Schools Committee to move the Center of Community Life forward with a $95 million November bond initiative is an indication that the expensive school rebuild project is either the greatest thing since sliced bread or that dissenters have been silenced.

The City of Emeryville used taxpayer dollars and hired Oakland based political consultancy firm The Lew Edwards Group to make sure the November 2nd initiative passes. At an earlier City/Schools meeting President and CEO Catherine Lew told city officials that there must not be even a single dissenter among their ranks or else voters might get spooked about the project. In what may be a coincidence, the remaining straggler committee member critics of the Center of Community Life, fell into line shortly after the warning by Ms Lew.

This latest anti-democratic action adds to what has become a low water mark in Emeryville politics. Emeryville residents should be allowed to hear real objective analysis about this, the largest public construction project in our history especially since the resident's money is being used for it.

We are reminded of the words of former School District Supervisor and champion of the Center of Community Life Tony Smith who said the Center needs to be "kicked by critics and dissenters and kicked hard" if it is to succeed. Mr Smith thought that critical and even dissenting views would only strengthen the Center of Community Life, a view current city officials no doubt consider quaint.

As if consciously turning a page, shortly after Mr Smith left Emeryville to head up the schools in San Francisco, an Emeryville committee he formed, open to all residents called the 'Partners for Community Life' became an exclusive club, open only to supporters of the City of Emeryville's vision of the incipient project. The idea of the committee is to help shape the Center of Community Life. It is ironic indeed since the Partners Committee helped produce a video last summer (again at taxpayers expense) to sell the Center of Community Life staring none other than Tony Smith.

The City likes to point out that they've hosted forums where people can say what they wish about the Center of Community Life. They say they're writing down everything the public says at these meetings. This has been the sum total of public participation so far. We say this isn't good enough. We expect better transparency and a real debate with a taxpayer funded project such as this. So far, we've gotten neither.