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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.


  1. presently out of the country and check emails as infrequently as possible; however, this article prompts me to repeat what i have publicly stated before ie. city mgr okeefe has not done his 200k plus benefits job, city attorney biddle, if he has lost more law suits than he has won, has also performed his 200k plus benefits job poorly and both have not had to compete openly for their position..

    remove them ASAP; do the right thing; in this economy their will be many competitors for their positions which should be open for competition in any case..

    emeryville needs the monetary savings..

    i have spoken also of need to get income via a restaurant in marina and the councils failure to get that done ,failure to fire the contractors who have not done so.

    google hertzeliya, israel; marina on the med with many restaurants... it might serve to offer info on how to get that done... not saying it is the same as our marina - for several reasons- but looking at business success could not hurt..

  2. For reading this it sure doesn't sound like you "interviewed" Mayor Atkin and School Board Member Dwin. There is only one quote in this entire article, which is long by the standards of this blog. Rather, it sounds like you heard them speak in another forum and wrote the article as an interview anyway.

    You spend the entire article putting words in their mouths and attributing to them concepts that they never discussed. If you want people to take you seriously, you should show some journalistic integrity.

  3. The interview took place on Saturday October 9 at an outside table at Arizmendi's bakery on San Pablo Ave. The meeting was pre-arranged and agreed to by all. Present was myself, Ruth Atkin and Miguel Dwin. I took notes and read back to them their quotes. I gave both the opportunity to retract or modify their comments a day later by e-mail. The Mayor did restate a quote which is in the story.

    The story is a 'news analysis', a kind of article usually reserved for a more in-depth look at the not immediately discernible effects of public policy by decision makers. News analysis commonly assumes the official long view of policy is either not truthful or not apparent.

  4. To the readers:
    This story contains three direct quotes and two indirect quotes from the elected officials. One indirect quote from the Mayor was that the Watergate foreclosures would be offset by other development. The other indirect quote was also from the Mayor who said the Bay Street mall 'site B' expansion would be one of the offsets. This sentiment was volunteered by the Mayor.

  5. This is part of a larger discussion; we need a more walkable, liveable community for the best interests of all the residents. We have over 10,000 residents and our population will continue to grow. The first mall has not worked, shops cannot make it there; most of the jobs have part time employees and not full-time positions, employees are not happy.

    Shopping malls are a thing of the past; we will never have the emphasis on shopping for shopping’s sake again. We have to rebalance our priorities, the push for ECCL would fit into having this land reassessed and made into a mixed use/including family friendly housing, of which we have little, and ethical land use—mixed economic housing. Piazzas, connecting spaces and places, a meeting place for residents, local shops, light industry all will improve the quality of life and increase civic engagement.

    E-ville city is worried about funding and thinks that over time the mall will help solve its problems. I think that changing the tax-base on large business will solve the problem of our finances. Right now corporations pay nothing to speak of. If you think about Disney’s Pixar earning 109 million in a weekend for their latest animated film and how much tax they pay to the city, it is laughable; especially when you consider everything they have been given.

    Time to revisit the needs and rights of the citizens of Emeryville. No more extensions to Madisson Marquette, no more lost revenue on the land. We need a council who works for the residents who elected them. We need a council to make this a livable city for those very residents.

  6. You talk about a future where developers call the shots in Emeryville as if it isn't that way right now. Everybody that's paying attention as you say already knows the council will give the Bay Street mall developer everything they want, regardless of Measure J. Where's the news?

    The council's job is to sit there and wait for a developer to approch them with a proposal and then vote YES. That's the way it's been for years here. Seems like you're kind of a pollyanna.