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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.


  1. Note to readers-

    A resident e-mailed me tonight to remind me that the "47th Street Neighbors" citizens group should be included in my round up of resident groups I enumerated in the story. The group advocated for the Triangle neighborhood traffic calming that the city is now in the process of delivering. While the group in question did avail itself to working for local livability issues and should be commended for their efforts in improving our town, I didn't include them in my list because there was no push back to speak of. The staff from the beginning was amenable to the traffic calming that the group called for. This is not meant to take away from the considerable work the residents group did to help the project along.

  2. It was an impressive performance. I think Emery Bay Village is now going to be taken seriously by the council just like how Watergate is taken seriously.

    WTF with the planning commission? The four sell out commissioners are shills for developers.

  3. Well done everyone! Remember to attend the next council meeting when the exclusive rights to negotiate for bay street b should be discussed. Check for a change of date at city hall. I am willing to support the land use going to IKEA, how about you?