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Saturday, October 30, 2010

NO On Measure J

Demographics Are The Coup De Grace
NO On Measure J
A Litany Of Bad Public Policy

As Emeryville voters go to the polls on Tuesday to decide on Measure J and the nearly $400 million school rebuild project it provides for, they should maintain a healthy dose of scepticism about the contrivances of the $50,000 campaign directed at them.   Anytime public money is spent like this, we the public should insist not only on an ethical campaign based on transparency but also on rational public policy based in reason, not politics.  Unfortunately, Measure J has not supplied any of this.

The Tattler has exposed a litany of bad public policy over the last few months but perhaps the most damning reason voters should reject Measure J is the unabashed hubris coming from the backers of this ill conceived measure as it pertains to demographics.  The Tattler exposes this in a companion article entitled Measure J False Demographics Revealed, immediately below this piece.

But first the litany (with Tattler article dates):

  • The lack of citizen oversight  (October 3)
  • The anti-grassroots nature  (October 3)
  • The reckless financing  (September 13, 19 & October 4)
  • The unintended negative consequences for resident's livability  (October 17)
  • The phony seismic scare tactics  (October 21)
  • The lack of transparency and the unethical campaign  (September 19, 20, & October 9, 13, 15, 25)
  • The false demographic findings (today)
It is the failure of the School Board and the School District along with the City Council to show how the demographics will support the school rebuild that is the most egregious failure.  They have shown that the new school will need almost 1200 Emeryville students for this thing to work; up from less than 500 we now have.   But they have either displayed a shocking lack of intellectual curiosity about how we are going to get families to move here or they have waged a campaign of disinformation about it.   

This is not the way we should be offered to support our schools and it raises the question of what's really driving this thing.  We feel the driver is simple inertia predicated on certain aging council members having launched a large construction project to glorify their legacy.  Again, the people of Emeryville should have been offered a way to support our schools without naked political ambition and irrational public policy.

Measure J False Demographics Revealed

School Rebuild
Nearly $400 Million, 7 Year Project Based On A
 Puff Of Air

The people that support Measure J, including the School Board and the City Council have lied to Emeryville residents about the most basic tenet of the controversial school rebuild program:  They say the school district is going to attract 1200 Emeryville students, the number needed to have a successful school;  we say there's no way to bring that number of students to the district.

The whole endeavour is predicated on how the city will bring more than 700 new Emeryville students up from the less than 500 that now attend our schools.  The people driving the school rebuild have turned to paid demographers to show how it'll be done.  These demographers have revealed that they used the Emeryville general plan to justify their claims of increased enrollment at the school, and in fact the general plan does show a large influx of families moving to town over the next 12 years.

Two Big Problems
The problems here are glaring and twofold: The first is that general plan is not a mandate, rather an idea, a suggestion for development direction and the second, more problematic issue is that there is no place to put that many families here even if there were the political will to build enough housing for them, never mind the dire economy.

In Emeryville, the general plan historically has never served as an impediment to developers with development plans contrary to it.  Quite the reverse, our general plan is consistently revised to suit whatever developer is challenging the plan at any given time.  The decision makers have never shown the will to enforce the general plan, instead they have served as custodians for the wishes of large developers in town.  It has been a problem of ideology; the council members have not shown capacity for saying "no" to any well connected large development corporation.  Building family friendly housing is unfortunately not something developers want to do as their first choice.

More prosaically though, even if the decision makers in town could suddenly have a conversion of conscience and start enforcing the general plan, we'd have to see a massive building program of family friendly housing begin in this economy.  If that could happen, then the question would become: where do you put the new families?
It's a question of simple geography.  After a boom of 15 years of condo and loft building in town, all decidedly anti-family friendly incidentally, there's no space left to speak of to locate families in Emeryville.  The available land is mostly gone.  If the Measure J backers are positing that we would increase density and achieve the necessary housing by tearing down 10 - 15 year-old loft buildings after seizing them by eminent domain, they are clearly delusional.

Not Rational
Measure J backers have thrown in another way by which we might attract more Emeryville families even without a decent place for them to live; by making the schools so good, families will be clamouring to move to Emeryville to get their kids into them.  The argument is that these families will be willing to live in hovels if needs be, they'll be willing to stack up entire families in one bedroom condos just to get their children enrolled in our district.
While we feel this is a wonderful goal and a beautiful sentiment, it clearly isn't a dependable or even a rational basis for justifying such an expensive project.  We feel there should be decent places for families to live to properly support such a large investment as Measure J demands.

This whole Measure J project doesn't pencil out.  There is no way to achieve the numbers of students needed to make the thing cost effective and successful.  It is jarring to say the least that such a large endeavour is based on the flimsiest of metrics, cooked up by seeming dilettantes.  Indeed, something went terribly wrong with Measure J.  We think the decision makers should come back to Emeryville voters with a way to support the schools that is based on rationality and reason.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Citizens Oversight Committee: No Oversight

Cheerleaders in, Overseers Out
$95 Million Oversight Committee To Be Handpicked By School Board

$95 million ain't chump change. 
Anytime a government agency is given the authority to dispense funds of that magnitude, history tells us it's a good idea to build in safeguards to ensure proper fiduciary diligence.  However, the Tattler has learned that the "oversight" to be performed by a Measure J mandated 'oversight committee' will be staffed by cheerleaders of Measure J, not disinterested overseers.

The Measure J campaign literature assures us oversight is well taken care of and point to the enactment of an 'independant citizens oversight committee' should the measure pass but what the literature fails to mention is the fact that the committee would be hand selected by the very institutions that have been pushing the measure and that have shown intolerance for independent dissenting voices in the past: the city council and the school board.  
These are the same two institutions that have moved to shut out dissenters from the deliberative committee for the Center of Community Life called the Partners Committee several years ago.  In October, they reconfirmed their tight control of committee membership and disallowing of dissent. 

Emeryville residents have been barraged by Measure J campaign literature in a $50,000 blitz selling the idea of building a 'Center of Community Life' school rebuild by spending $95 million in bond money added to $25 million in general fund money from City Hall.  The total cost of the bond will be at least $383 million with three out of every four dollars paid by taxpayers going to interest.    

The Center of Community Life is the name of the building project that will receive the $95 million from passage of Measure J.  Measure J watchers have noted the claims of  "citizens" in 'citizens oversight' is meant to blunt criticisms of the elitist culture surrounding the building of the Center of Community Life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Emeryville: Land Of Scaffolding And Tarps

Water Infiltration Plagues Emeryville Housing Development

In Emeryville the refrain has become: down comes the rain and up goes the scaffolding.
In new condo development after new condo development the story is the same; Emeryville housing is just not being built to withstand the elements.  Residents have seen the effects in the form of recently constructed buildings having scaffolding put up and temporary tarps thrown over while insurance company crews redo exterior cladding.  It's happening all over town.  The following is a partial list of affected housing projects recently completed:

  • Liquid Sugar Lofts
  • Oliver Lofts
  • Bridgecourt Apartments
  • Courtyard @ 65th 
  • Key Route Lofts 
  • Andante condos
  • The Terraces condos

The city council approved and encouraged a housing spike in the recent past and developers were happy to oblige.  A lot of money rapidly changed hands in our little town and there was a boom of housing construction before the market crash. Unfortunately the housing stock we acquired during the go-go years has turned out to be sub par.
The problem is construction defects.
Building Department Chief Victor Gonzales said the Building Department and its team of plan checkers and inspectors is not to blame.  "Pinholes made by a myriad of workers throughout the construction process contribute to water intruding" he said adding, "If it happens in the building envelope, there's no way of detecting it for years".
The building Department has created an in house policy that requires a third party testing agency that requires building mock-ups to ensure quality construction.  Mr Gonzales says affidavits of compliance are provided to the city ensuring proper waterproofing membranes are constructed, but still the problem persists.  Mr Gonzales insists there's nothing particular about Emeryville in this water problem, "It's happening up and down the State" he says.
One happy consequence of all the repair work is the influx of insurance money stimulating the local economy.  Still, there are probably better ways to lower the unemployment percentage than the constant rebuilding of recently built construction projects.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Measure J Committee Fraudulent Election Mailer Sham

'Californians Vote Green' Fake Grassroots Group
School District, BEST Wallows In Sleazy Election Ploy

Who could have guessed the politics surrounding a school rebuilding effort in Emeryville could stoop this low?
The Measure J committee known as Building Emeryville Schools Together (BEST) and also by extension the school district, has partnered with a Los Angeles political consulting firm that is masquerading as a legitimate grassroots political organization and has been roundly criticized for deceiving voters state-wide in a bogus 'pay for endorsement' scheme.

Pay To Play
The firm, Californians Vote Green is a for-profit outfit that will print endorsement slates for presumably any politician or proposition, for a price.  Thousands of Emeryville voters received an election mailer endorsing Measure J and other propositions and candidates over the weekend, seemingly from the Green Party but was in actuality just paid advertisements.  Even Republican Attorney General hopeful Steve Cooley has paid the firm and shares the "green" slate with Measure J.

The small print on the mailer informs voters Californians Vote  Green is not associated with any political party organization and that Emeryville's Measure J along with the other propositions and politicians on the slate paid money to appear in the mailer.
The real Green Party has said NO to Measure J, ironically because of what they called its phony grassroots nature.

A primary function of this group is to help its political clients build a (phony) green image with voters, an election tactic sometimes called 'green washing'.
Californians Vote Green has been around since at least last election cycle when they took $40,000 from PG&E in June to help them green wash their Proposition 16 campaign, the notorious $50 million losing  campaign to make it virtually impossible for local communities to set up competing power companies.

Our Emery School District and BEST, the committee for Measure J has thrown their lot in with a company engaging in voter fraud.  The Marin Independent Journal said of the company, "Californians Vote Green is simply a political consulting operation in Southern California, profiting on deceptive mail, with no ties at all to any green groups".
Emeryville council member Jennifer West, a supporter of Measure J seemed discouraged by the fake slate; she said of the weekend mailer blitz, "Measure J makes sense on its own merits and we don't need to play political games like paid political advertising on questionable slate cards".

Emeryville School Board member Josh Simon didn't return calls for this story but Berkeley School Board member and Green Party representative John Selawsky expressed annoyance at the mailer.  He said, "This slate card doesn't represent the Green Party and I would warn voters to be wary of slate cards in general unless they come from a known local organization.  They're not endorsements, they just represent who's paid money to get their names on the things".    He added, "This phony slate card politicking is corrosive to  the democratic process".

It is unknown how much BEST paid Californians Vote Green to appear on the slate and calls to BEST political operative John Gooding were not returned.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Council Considers Another Bay Street Give-A-Way

Land Fallow Five Years And Waiting
Council: Sixth Year Of Taxpayer Handout?

And now, you won't even be able to count it on one hand.
The City Council keeps telling voters they "get it" and they're now interested in making Emeryville more livable but whenever they're actually put to the test, livability always seems to be set aside for another day.  The council's much vaunted Emeryville livability goals will be tested once again at Bay Street this November when they will consider whether to grant an unprecedented sixth year of dilly-dallying by mall developer Madison Marquette. 

What The...Six Years?
For five consecutive years the council has deferred to the whims of Washington DC based developer Madison Marquette.  Now the mall builder wants a sixth year of 'exclusive negotiating rights' on the land cleared by the city, north of the existing Bay Street mall up to the Powell Street overpass while they decide if or how they want to develop it. Madison Marquette again wants the city to reserve the land exclusively for them and to protect it from other developers who have also expressed interest in developing the site.

The give-a-way spectacle is becoming a reliably classic Emeryville autumn tradition.

Last year, residents showed up en masse to protest the yearly granting of a pass to Madison Marquette. The protesters, organized by the citizens group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE) called the exclusive negotiating rights a taxpayer funded give-a-way to a favored developer.  Each year the land coveted by Madison Marquette sits idle is another year of lost potential revenue for the city and the taxpayers.  RULE members have called this land banking a defacto subsidy the city has granted Madison Marquette, an add on to the more than $50 million taxpayers already showered upon Madison Marquette by the hand of City Hall.

RULE demonstrated that Madison Marquette has not honored their Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with the city five years running.  The agreement, good for one year and re-upped every year, states that Madison Marquette needs to provide a 'development plan'; a detailed accounting of the proposed development.  Madison Marquette so far has only stated in the vaguest terms how it would like to develop the site.  RULE has called the embroilment between the city and Madison Marquette an exemplar of favoritism for a single corporate entity at the expense of the residents. 

Council Closed To Other Options
It's not like there isn't another choice in the matter.  Last year when the council was granting a fifth year of exclusive rights to Madison Marquette, a spokesman for Federal Development LLP, a developer also based in Washington DC, stepped forward and said his company was ready to make a development proposal for the site.  RULE members noted Federal indicated a willingness to work with residents to produce a project that would benefit all Emeryville unlike Madison Marquette's existing Bay Street mall.  The council at the time said NO to any idea except granting the favored developer the exclusive development rights.

Madison Marquette has continued to rebuff resident's desires to discuss how a potential mall expansion might be made to lessen the impact for the neighborhood.

Last year RULE conducted a city-wide survey probing what residents would like to see at the contested site and more than 400 respondents overwhelmingly said they wanted something Madison Marquette isn't willing to deliver; a development with locally serving retail, more money for our schools, affordable family housing and local hiring.  RULE maintains the residents should get something better for their $50 million investment while the council has said residents should just accept what they and Madison Marquette are offering.

City Hall has not yet released the council meeting date when this will be considered.  The Tattler will report on the date of this very important meeting as it is released.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Corporate/Labor Interests Pour Money Into Measure J Coffers

Why Are They So Interested In Emeryville?
Out-Of-Town Corporations Suddenly Love Emeryville, Opening Up 
Their Wallets

Large corporations and labor unions are showering our town with money, hoping their gifts of cash will translate into big fat contracts resulting from the passage of Measure J.
The City of Emeryville has released the latest filing on Measure J financial donors and it adds to the previous  disclosure; more money from corporate construction concerns and more money from trade unions.
The campaign finance disclosure form 460 mandated from the State shows a $22,795 haul for Measure J in only 16 days ending on October 16 added to the previous take of $24,575 ending on September 30.  The total amount contributed until October 16 is $47,420 for our little town.
Building Emeryville Schools Together (BEST), the committee for Measure J, the Center of Community Life project, filed the latest form with City Hall that reveals a large lobbying effort by interested parties that want us to vote for Measure J.  Among the donors this period are:
  • Turner Construction, an Oakland based firm,  $10,000
  • UA Local 342 plumbing and steamfitters union,  $2000
  • PG&E,  $5000
  • Local 595 IBEW electricians union,  $2000
  • Concordia LLC, a New Orleans based architecture firm,  $1000
Last period, BEST filed the required finance disclosure for Measure J 11 days late resulting in cries from residents and a possible fine from the Fair Political Practices Commission, a Sacramento based government agency concerned with election fair play.  Many residents complained the campaign finance disclosures came too late for absentee voters and that the election results could be tainted.  BEST has filed the proper forms on time this period.

Readers may read about the previous form 460 filing by going to the October 15 Tattler story.
The Tattler will continue to report on the financial doings of the Measure J campaign.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Measure J: Emeryville's Meg Whitman Campaign

$48,000 And Counting
Lopsided Emeryville Election Invokes Governor's Race

Well, at least we don't have to worry about Measure J outsourcing jobs.

As the election looms in Emeryville, a repellent similarity has emerged between the campaign for the budget-busting Measure J and that of well heeled Republican hopeful Meg Whitman. While Whitman has been dumping $140 million of her own personal fortune into a blizzard of misleading attack ads, far outpacing Democrat Jerry Brown, supporters hoping to tear down Emeryville's schools and build a new mega-campus with Measure J are infinitely outspending proponents of fiscal sanity. According to recent campaign filings, the committee behind Measure J, with its focus-group tested moniker "Building Emeryville Schools Together (BEST)," collected close to $50,000, versus zero for the residents opposing the measure. If $50,000 doesn't sound like much, consider that just 1,599 Emeryville residents cast a ballot in last year's election, meaning that Measure J has amassed a war chest capable of spending $31.27 to convince each likely voter in town. This may be the most lopsided election in Emeryville history in terms of campaign spending.

Worse Than Whitman
The Measure J campaign as it turns out is actually spending more per voter than Meg Whitman. The Whitman campaign has spent about $140,000,000 on 17,000,000 likely California voters, or $8.23 per likely voter. But all the disinformation and cheesy tactics aren't resonating with California voters. A Public Policy Institute of California Poll released this week found Brown suddenly eight percentage points ahead of "Meg-A-Bucks" Whitman. It's unclear if even Billionaire Whitman will pump enough cash into the race to reach the per-voter spending level of the Measure J campaign.
Two weeks ago the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce reported that political operative John Gooding told their Board of Directors that some $48,000 had been already streamed in. Mr Gooding told the Chamber BEST planned to put the money to good use; a barrage of mailings to compliment push poll phone calls and door-to-door work was already under way.

As the Tattler reported on October 15, the vast majority already collected has poured in mainly from corporate and construction interests hoping to win contracts to build the new school, which Measure J supporters are suddenly ashamed to call the Emeryville Center of Community Life.

Tattler readers will have to wait until after October 31, the date of the next BEST State mandated filing requirement to learn how much other money has been donated and by whom. If BEST shirks the filing requirements as they did after the first deadline passed and earning the slap on the wrist of a $10 a day fine, residents will have to wait longer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Seismic Safety Conundrum

Seismic Safety: The School District Can't Have It Both Ways

Implicit in all the hyperbolic Measure J campaign rhetoric emanating from the school district about the need to seismically upgrade Emeryville's schools is the jarring fact that the schools must therefore now be unsafe.

In their zeal to push voters into supporting Measure J, the school district has been sowing fear of earthquake catastrophe for the existing schools in city-wide campaign mailings. Of course pushing the fear button cuts both ways and the school district must acknowledge this tactic comes at a price. By constantly barraging residents with what amounts to warnings of earthquake calamity, the district is sending the unintended message to parents that the existing schools are unsafe and their children's lives are at risk.
To keep citizens from drawing this rational conclusion, schools Superintendent John Sugiyama has been speaking to people at Measure J events around town. He has attempted to reassure parents their children are safe in the existing schools, "I don't want parents to get the impression the schools are unsafe" he has said.
But the Measure J committee and school district can't have it both ways. Either the existing schools are safe and all the campaign talk is overheated histrionic bloviating or we truly do need to replace the schools; in which case alternative accommodations must be made now to keep the children safe until the schools can be rebuilt.

Since the school district is complicit in the ubiquitous seismic safety mailings, we'd like to know just when exactly, did our schools become unsafe?

Since the State of California has not issued any warning or notice of unsafe buildings at the school district as they would were it true, we can assume all the campaign talk is just so much hot air.

We feel its irresponsible for the school district to engage in this kind of politicking. We say the people of Emeryville should vote on rebuilding the schools or not, on its own merits without the government trying to scare them. This is not proper ground for any government agency to tread. We call on the Measure J committee and the district to veer away from this tactic.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

53rd Street Neighbors Committee Savors Its Unlikely Victory

After Ikea Victory
What Next For Impressive Neighbors Group?

News Analysis
It's not often a group of lowly residents can go up against the entire collective will of the Emeryville city staff and a multi-billion dollar corporation and pull out a victory, and yet that's just what happened Tuesday night at City Hall. Ikea and the staff may still be wondering what hit them. The 53rd Street Neighbors Committee rose seemingly out of nowhere to meet the Ikea warehouse retail proposal so fast that it had a good deal of stealthiness before delivering its final one-two punch.

It was a rare combination of corporate hubris meeting effective community organizing mixed with the intangible and hard to predict wrath of an enraged citizenry. Once these ingredients were mixed, Ikea really didn't stand a chance. The City Council just withered.

Tuesday's victory makes two, recently chalked in the resident's column. The other of course was the impressive victory of the parents at the Child Development Center in May. In the child center case, parents went up against the will of the staff and beat back the outsourcing of the school. City Manager Pat O'Keeffe threw everything he had at the parents, to no avail. Impressive and unlikely as that victory was, there was no multi-billion dollar corporation in the fight. The residents fighting Ikea had an extra hurdle.

One of the leaders of the 53rd Street Committee, Emery Bay Village resident Marcia DuBois noted the hubris from Ikea, "They [Ikea] didn't think we ever had a chance". She recalled a July meeting between the residents and Ikea, "They were arrogant and acted like the whole thing was a done deal. After the meeting, many of the resident attendees joined our newly forming group".
Ms DuBois noted the fight had implications for all Emeryville residents, "We struck a chord with people in Emeryville... People here put up with a lot. A lot of noise and other impacts from business. People aren't willing to go backwards however, when it comes to livability. The Ikea plan would have been a backwards move". She added, "We fought for all the residents of Emeryville".

A Coalition Of The Clans?
Tuesday night's victory for the residents begs the question of people power in Emeryville. Has a corner been turned, was this a harbinger and will we see greater civic engagement by the residents?
There are three grass roots residents groups concerned with livability in Emeryville, the 53rd Street Neighbors Committee, Residents for a Livable Emeryville (RULE) and the Child Development Center (ECDC) parents. Up til now, there hasn't been much interaction between the groups. An internal sense of singular direction and desires to not diffuse focus may have kept the groups to themselves up until now but the three disparate groups combined would wield formidable power in shaping public policy and livability in Emeryville.
This sort of consolidated force brought to bear against future Emeryville Goliaths could make Tuesday night's victory seem routine.

The 53rd Street Neighbors Committee has showed the rest of the residents that if they venture out of their subjective cocoons, turn off the TV or other diversionary contrivances and embrace civic engagement just a little, we can make this town how WE want to make it, not how the corporations want to make it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Council Votes Ikea Down 5-0

5-0 Ikea Vote Shocker

Tonight the Emeryville City Council, faced with an overflow crowd of angry residents, voted 5-0 to uphold resident's appeal of the Ikea plan to build a retail warehouse customer pick-up for 53rd Street. The residents came out in force and some 28 spoke against the Ikea plan. Only one non-Ikea employee resident spoke in favor of the Ikea plan.
The council members were unanimous in their disapproval of the negative impacts for the residential neighborhood around 53rd Street. The Planning Commission voted in favor of the Ikea plan in a 4-3 split vote in August.

Much of the argument tonight centered on whether the warehouse could be fairly characterized as 'retail', a non-compliant use as dictated by the zoning ordinance and whether the proposal violated the letter or spirit of the general plan.
Mayor Ruth Atkin seemed to speak for her colleagues when she said "I do consider it retail and encroaching on the general plan". Ikea and the city staff attempted to argue that the proposed use was acceptable since Ikea would only use a little less than 50% of the existing building, throwing it into a 'secondary use' category rendering mute any general plan non-compliance argument. Ms Atkin agreed with the residents and characterized the "secondary use" argument proposed by Ikea as inaccurate.

Ikea used the force of two real estate experts and two lawyers including former Emeryville city council member Greg Harper to no avail. Mr Harper later said while Ikea could make changes to their plan and bring it back to the Planning Commission, he doubted the city staff would back them the second time around. "The space will be used for something else" he mused.
Meanwhile an ebullient crowd of residents assembled on the front lawn of City Hall after the historic pro-resident vote. One resident exclaimed, "I'm pleasantly shocked".

Monday, October 18, 2010

Council To Consider Sweetheart Contracts For City Manager, Attorney

Question: How do you spell Emeryville?

Answer: B-E-L-L

Emeryville's City Manager, Pat O'Keeffe and the City Attorney, Mike Biddle are both negotiating new two year contracts with the city. The City Council will consider the new contracts Tuesday night at the council meeting. Presented below are the terms. While reading them remember to think about the recent fiscal emergency at the Child Development Center about how we can't afford to educate our children anymore. Remember how Mr O'Keeffe insisted the parents were "too emotional" when he was trying to outsource and privatize the Center.

Here are their respective contracts in a nutshell:

City Manager's New Two-Year Contract: To be paid: $16,450/month or $197,400 in salary annually. Also paid: $575/month in compensated expenses (car allowance, etc.) plus $900/month into a deferred compensation plan for a total annual pay of: $215,100. 5 weeks of paid vacation per year. 75 hours of administrative leave per year, all of which may be cashed out annually if unused. Note: this cash-out was eliminated for all other employees in the latest budget. Benefits and salary cannot be reduced by the City Council during the term of the agreement. If terminated before the two-year term is up, apparently even if for cause, up to 6 months severance pay, i.e., $107,550. Also cannot be fired in the first 6 months after the election of council members.

City Attorney's New Contract: To be paid: $17,429.67/month or $209,156.04 in salary annually. 5 weeks of vacation per year. Two weeks of administrative leave per year may be cashed out annually, if unused. Note: this cash-out was eliminated for all other employees in the latest budget. Benefits and salary cannot be reduced by the City Council during the term of the agreement. If terminated before the two-year term is up, apparently even if for cause, up to 9 months severance pay, i.e., $156,867.03. Also cannot be fired in the first 4 months after the election of council members.

The most glaring perks are:
1. These two still get to cash out their administrative leave even though all other City employees recently had to give it up to close the budget gap.
2. They both get severance packages over $100k. This is money we have to pay them just to get rid of them!
3. They each get extended job security when a new council takes office. These two get 4 and 6 months "trial period". Apparently, someone new to the Council needs that long to evaluate their performance.

It should be noted that the two contracts are giving up 7% in employee self paid retirement, a concession they agreed to in the wake of the budget implosion, so it's not all bad.

Tuesday Night: Make Or Break For 53rd Street Group

Ikea Retail Warehouse
Now It's Up To The Council

The Planning Commission ruled in favor in a split 4-3 decision of the Ikea warehouse retail facility in the residential neighborhood, the ad hoc neighbors group The 53rd Street Neighbors Committee has filed an appeal on behalf of all residents and they have assembled their troops. Tuesday night October 19 at 7:15, the City Council will decide.

The Ikea retail facility would share about 50% of an existing building on 53rd Street with another business.

The neighbors group has stated the Ikea facility is a non-compliant use and therefore a zoning violation of our new general plan, a sentiment shared by three Planning Commissioners in their August 24th ruling. Ikea and the city says there is no violation because the warehouse proposal cleared the general plan's 50% requirement hurdle by less than 1% in a 120,000 square foot building not including outside space.
They quote the general plan's exception for a non-complying use if it can be shown to be "secondary" at less than 50% of the total square footage.
Since a lot of neighborhood impacting use by Ikea would be in the outside truck loading areas and the use of the building by Ikea would therefore be much more than 50%, the neighbor group and the three Commissioners are calling the less than 50% claim disingenuous and wrong.

The neighborhood group is also claiming the proposed Ikea facility will dramatically increase traffic and negatively impact the Child Development Center on 53rd Street and the general plan mandated 53rd Street Bicycle Boulevard.

The neighbors are asking the general plan be adhered to in letter and spirit and they are claiming this kind of cynical and divisive manipulation should be out of bounds for the city to engage in.

Whatever the council decides, the effects of their decision Tuesday night will be precedent setting. Our new $2 million general plan is being put to the test. All citizens who wish to see how elastic or brittle the general plan is should attend.

Tuesday night at City Hall at 7:15 PM.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mayor: We Must Sacrifice Livability In Emeryville For Measure J

Measure J Dictates:
Now We Must Maintain 4% Growth At All Costs: Bay Street Expansion
A Shoo-In

News Analysis

Mayor Ruth Atkin and School Board President Miguel Dwin present a view of Emeryville after the November 2nd passage of the Measure J bond where it becomes imperative to rubber stamp virtually all development proposals because a mandated 4% minimum growth for our city will be like a gun to our head. In the short run, the Mayor tells the Tattler that we must approve the proposed Bay Street mall expansion to help pay for Measure J, an admission that she has already made up her mind about an extension of the mall developer Madison Marquette's 'exclusive right to negotiate'; an exclusivity contract for the council's consideration open to a public hearing in late November. A future of irrelevant citizen participation and near total developer triumphalism is brought into focus in a Tattler interview.

. . . . .

Much has been made about a lack of transparency in the Measure J campaign by those watching closely, especially as it concerns the cost of the thing. Many have rightfully complained that Measure J backers have not been forthcoming with pertinent financial information and that it took the Oakland Tribune to enlighten Emeryville residents as to the fiduciary ramifications contained within it.
Amid the financial numbers flying around with charges and counter charges emanating from the City and the School District vs outspoken residents, the Tattler recently sat down with Mayor Ruth Atkin and School Board President Miguel Dwin to find out some answers.

What's At Stake
The mayor and the school board president wanted to converse about the potential benefits they see for the city but they didn't want to conjecture how the passage of Measure J will impact the city if the required 4% 'assessed valuation' growth doesn't happen as advertised. Assessed Valuation is the total value of Emeryville in the aggregate and is a direct harbinger of bond financing metrics. If Emeryville doesn't continue growth at 4%, taxpayers will be on the hook for a lot more money.
They both maintained the 4% growth number is "conservative" and expressed confidence Emeryville will be able to meet the goal but they concurred the consequences of a less than 4% growth would be dire for Emeryville. Ms Atkin stated, in a non alarmist way, what such a scenario would mean, "It would take longer to pay back" she said of the 47 year payback plan after acknowledging the predicted $383 million cost would soar and the three out-of four dollar financing fee would rise to an even worse ratio.

Ominous Watergate Foreclosures
Against this backdrop is the rash of entire building foreclosures among the Watergate office towers at Powell Street and I-80 over the summer. Three large buildings recently sold for less than their foreclosure price, acting like a lead weight dragging down Emeryville's assessed valuation, threatening our required 4% growth mandate.
Ms Atkin seemed unfazed by the spectacle of such a large real estate melt down and she expressed confidence all that negative growth would be offset by other future development, adding, "The bond underwriters structured in interest rates that are higher than what they are today so that there would be a cushion in case bond rates rose in the future. The assessed valuation increase is actually lower than those of school bond measures on the ballot in neighboring cities and lower than Emeryville's actual rate, even considering the last few years". Mr Dwin agreed.

Good Bye To Livability Goals
All this effervescent talk from the politicians hides a disturbing and dark view of a post Measure J world where the need to exceed our 4% growth rate colors the decision makers ability to deliver livability for our town. For the next 47 years, the term of the bond, the city council will be under pressure to approve the development proposals that come before them.
The Measure J bond financing is so onerous that the most prudent course for our city will be to develop at almost any cost to meet our assessed valuation constraints and get out from under the weight of the thing.

As we become more developer friendly, the goal of increasing livability likely will suffer.

The Future Is Now
The Mayor indicated this Measure J driven program of 'development at any cost' is already effecting public policy. She told the Tattler that one of the offsets for the Watergate foreclosures is the approval of the proposed Bay Street Mall expansion, up for consideration in late November. Ms Atkin indicated the Bay Street mall expansion is necessary to achieve the 4% growth dictated by Measure J and that the Council would extend the 'Exclusive Negotiating Agreement" for an unprecedented sixth year, locking up the fallow land north of the existing Bay Street Mall for the exclusive use of mall developer Madison Marquette.
This admission by the Mayor not only materially shows the negative effects on livability for residents Measure J will have on the council's objectivity but also shows how meaningful citizen participation will suffer. The fact that the Mayor has already made up her mind on the ENA for Bay Street will necessarily have a chilling effect on citizen involvement in their government. The loss of elected official leadership in the Bay Street Mall expansion is a glimpse into our future.

The irony here is that the city and the school district have recently agreed it is critical to build family friendly housing in town to attract more children to the district to justify the whole Measure J school rebuild endeavour. The 'develop at any cost' culture will impinge on the city's ability to hard bargain with developers to deliver the necessary family friendly housing.
The other major impact from Measure J will be the fallout from diminished bonding capacity for other livability projects in town owing to the fact that part and parcel of the measure is the Center of Community Life and the city is kicking in $25 million of city funds for the project. The new general plan shows much by way of resident amenities over the next 20 years and we will likely need to issue bonds to achieve the goals the plan calls for. Measure J and the Center of Community Life will likely have a deleterious effect on any future bonds we may need for parks and other needs the residents have identified.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Corporate Interests Back Measure J

Measure J Backed By Corporate, Construction Interests
The campaign for Measure J is almost exclusively backed by corporations hoping to feed at the public trough and cash in to the tune of millions of dollars if the $95 million bond is passed the Tattler has learned.
In an 11 day late filling, the committee for Measure J, Building Emeryville Schools Together (BEST) revealed the extent of the corporate largess; $24,575 for the period ending on September 30. Of that amount $23,975 is from corporations in the construction trades, legal and bond financing fields. The $600 difference is donated from two individuals.

A spokesman for BEST indicated that as of last week, another approximate $25,000 had been donated.

The corporations wishing to secure contracts associated with the construction brought by the Measure J funds, that have donated to BEST are mostly out-of-town large building firms. The labor union, Sheet Metal Workers International also took a gambit with a $5000 donation. The sole Emeryville firm, Caldwell Flores Winters Inc, hoping to secure the lucrative financing contract for the bond, kicked in for $8000; a paltry sum if Emeryville voters pass the measure.

The city released the State mandated election form 430 from BEST at 6:00 PM on Friday, 11 days late.

Some residents have cried foul for the late filing, coming well after the crush of absentee ballots were mailed. Those residents that have already voted were not able to review the donor lists before they cast their ballots, a diminution of the democratic process. BEST offered no explanation for the late filing but the Fair Political Practices Committee has indicated it routinely fines political committees for filing late.

The Tattler will report on the BEST financing as the city releases the required public documents.

10 Days; Measure J Backers Fail To Disclose

Day 10
Who is paying for all the Measure J campaigning that has been flooding our town? They won't say. How much money has been donated to the campaign? They won't say. The committee for Measure J is now 10 days late in registering their required filing disclosing the amount of money raised and the list of donors.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Caltrans Plans Dangerous 'At-Grade' Crossing For Bikes/Peds At 40th Street

DOT Overrides Emeryville Bike Committee
State Runs Roughshod
Over Emeryville

After more than a year of careful staff assisted design work, the Emeryville Bike/Pedestrian Committee recently finished their plan to safely link bikers and pedestrians on the Bay Trail to the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge only to have the State swoop in and disqualify the whole design for a cheaper but inherently dangerous link. The committee's plan is safer since one arm of the path sweeps under the 40th Street bridge in order to avoid a dangerous 'at-grade' crossing; mixing high speed vehicles with the bikes and pedestrians. The committee vote was unanimous.

The 40th Street bridge has already seen at least one near fatal bike auto collision and an at-grade crossing as part of what is expected to be a popular bike/ped destination is a certain recipe for more car bike/ped collisions. The dangerous situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Caltrans plans on this crossing of 40th Street at a curving section of roadway with limited visibility.

The Caltrans proposed link will funnel all pedestrians and bicyclists from Emeryville, North Oakland, Berkeley and cities to the north who wish to cross the new Bay Bridge through the at-grade crossing.

After diverting off from Shellmound/40th Street at the contentious crossing, a new path will head south alongside the freeway. From there it will turn west and wind its way through the freeway support columns under the elevated freeway interchange and over some infrequently used railroad tracks before emerging alongside the south side of I-8o. There it will join up with the new bridge slated for completion in 2013. The connection to the Bay Bridge has been in the works for years as a premier part of the not yet completed Bay Trail; a bike/ped path circumnavigating the entire bay.

Caltrans announced the rejection of the Emeryville plan to the Bike/Ped Committee at their regularly scheduled October 4th meeting, citing budgetary concerns for the cheaper albeit more dangerous crossing. Long time committee member Scott Donahue, chagrinned with the Caltrans proposal, spoke for the group, "We as a committee feel that this crossing is unnecessary and dangerous; it will put pedestrians and bicyclists at a safety risk for no reason other than a lack of Bay Area governmental regional planning. Additionally, it will slow down vehicle traffic on 40th/Shellmound".

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Measure J Backers Balk On Campaign Disclosures

Required FPPC Forms Not Filed
Measure J Supporters Won't
Disclose Donors

The following is an e-mail intercept from resident and Chamber of Commerce member Liz Altieri to Mayor Ruth Atkin, a supporter of Measure J. Emeryville citizens have a right to know who is donating to Measure J and Ms Altieri says the political committee in support of the Measure has run afoul of the law regarding donor disclosure. The Fair Political Practices Commission is the state agency tasked with making sure political campaigns follow the law.

  • Lisa Taymuree is the Secretary for the Superintendent of the schools
  • Miguel Dwin is the School Board president
  • John Gooding is a resident working for the committee for Measure J
  • Ken Bukowski is a Council Member that has been fined by the FPPC for past campaign violations

Mayor Atkin:
I am astounded that co-chairs of the Support Measure J committee have not filed the appropriate form 460 required by the FPPC (see attached filing deadline listing). John Gooding told the Chamber of Commerce that $48,000 had been raised and that the voters should expect a barrage of mailers supporting the measure. I was told by Lisa Taymuree today that Miguel Dwin told her no filings were due until October 31. Having been treasurer of several PAC committees,on October 6 I went on the FPPC website after going to City Hall, then sent to the School District, then to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters in search of this elusive document...and it does not exist! What are you trying to hide? Why can't the voters know who has poured all of this money into a measure that has been deceptive at best with regard to the "seismic issue" and the total cost of the bond? Our grandchildren will be paying for this. When can we expect full disclosure? I would like a copy of the 460 form emailed to all recepients of this email in an effort for our elected officials (is it even legal for you to be co-chairs of this committee?) to come clean with voters. You are pushing now into the absentee voter response period (which I am sure your consultants have outlined and may be why this campaign statement is "late"?). I understand that you are passionate about this issue, but flouting the law is beyond comprehension. You and the rest of the Council pulled all of Ken Bukowski's committee seats over FPPC violations - what are you going to do to yourself?
Liz Altieri
4 Commodore Drive

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ikea Appeal Imbroglio

Residents Cry Foul
Ikea Warehouse Controversy: City Invokes An 'Anomaly'

There's a new wrinkle in the saga involving neighbors opposition to furniture behemoth Ikea's plans to convert a warehouse on Emeryville's 53rd street into a large-item customer pick up facility.
Neighbors who are appealing the project's approval say they are very concerned about the city's impartiality after a council resolution seemingly already denying their appeal was sent to them. The city's attempts to explain only caused more confusion after the head of the planning department said a previous resolution generated by a different neighbors group, and used for comparison, was an anomaly.

Representatives from the ad-hoc resident organization appealing the proposed Ikea expansion, the 53rd Street Neighborhood Committee, told the Tattler the resolution's language indicates the city is not acting in good faith with the appeal process.

Residents are bristling at the use of the word "denying" instead of what they say is the customary word "considering" in the official resolution from City Hall; a small change they say that will have a big effect.

Marcia DuBois, a member of the residents committee said the word 'deny' brings into question whether their appeal of the Ikea project will get a fair hearing before the City Council on October 19. Ms Dubois said neighbors worry the city's use of the word deny may indicate that the appeal decision has already been decided or that it at least could unfairly bias the council members against their appeal.

Here is the text of the Resolution the City Council will vote on (italics added):

Representatives from the appellants, the 53rd Street Neighbors Committee, complained that in a case decided last year, the last time an appeal was brought by residents, the wording was different. That appeal, brought by a group calling themselves the Triangle Neighbors, was worded in the city's Resolution to read (italics added):

At a subsequent meeting at City Hall, planning department chief Charlie Bryant told representatives from the 53rd Street group that everything was fine and the normal way the city writes appeal resolutions is with the use of the word "deny" but he admitted that the Triangle resolution's use of the word "considering" was baffling, what he called an "anomaly". Since Mr Bryant is the actual writer of both these resolutions himself, the explanation is being perceived by residents as disingenuous.

Ikea plans on adding a 53rd Street adjunct to their Shellmound store for bulky item customer pick up. Residents have mobilised to stop what they call an intrusion of big box retail into the residential neighborhood, a violation of Emeryville's general plan. The Planning Commission OK'ed the proposal in a 4-3 split vote on August 26.

Ms Dubois said several 53rd Street neighbors were exasperated by the wording of the resolution from the city as a "done deal" and perhaps would give up fighting what they characterize as an Ikea steamroller.

Nonetheless all residents are urged to come to the appeal spectacle, regardless of the discouraging language from the city. City Hall Tuesday October 19th at 7:15 PM