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Monday, November 29, 2010

'Bay Citizen' Tracks Bay Street Mall Expansion

Re-printed from today's Bay Citizen:

Emeryville Residents to Challenge Development Plan

In business-friendly city, group wants community benefits and open bidding on new project

By ZUSHA ELINSON on November 29, 2010 - 4:45 p.m. PST 

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Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen
Developer Madison Marquette wants to build on this parcel of land just north of the Bay Street mall
Emeryville is known for Best Buy, Ikea and the Bay Street shopping mall — not so much for organized political dissent.
But next week, a group of residents will challenge plans to build a hotel and a Macy’s on an empty lot adjacent to the outdoor mall that brings shoppers from around the Bay Area to the 1.2-square-mile city.
The group, which calls itself Residents United for a Livable Emeryville, or RULE, wants developer Madison Marquette to pay for community benefits such as affordable housing, parks and living-wage jobs.
In San Francisco and Oakland, developers often pony up. Homebuilder Lennar, which is embarking on a 10,000-home project in San Francisco’s Bayview district, agreed to a community benefits package including job training and affordable housing that is worth $1 billion.
But in Emeryville, where two decades of rapid development have transformed an industrial wasteland into a retail center to the envy of many surrounding cities, there has never been such an agreement.
“There’s an attitude in Emeryville of development and business at all costs that’s really transformed the town in a short period of time,” said Jennifer West, a City Council member who ran successfully as a member of RULE in the last election.
“We feel it's time to slow it down and be a little bit more careful about what we do,” she said.
But West isn’t necessarily in the majority on the five-member City Council. The others say that developers like Madison Marquette are already doing a lot for the city just by building and bringing in tax revenue.
“If you want a city and [you want to] be able to pay your bills, you need a commercial section of town,” said Ken Bukowski, who’s been on the City Council for a quarter of a century. “A lot of these folks don't see the benefit the business community brings.”
On Dec. 7, Madison Marquette — which developed the Bay Street mall — will be asking the city to extend its exclusive negotiating rights to develop a 5-acre parcel of land just to the north. Although no plans are final, one scenario envisions a Macy’s as a bookend to the existing mall along with space for a hotel.
The down economy makes the extension necessary, according to Eric Hohmann, a managing director for Madison Marquette.
“The city owns one of the best commercial properties in the entire East Bay, and interest is strong,” Hohmann said. “It’s just that we need more time to strike a deal.”
Madison Marquette has promised the city that “Macy’s is interested in opening a store at the Bay Street Site B,” but offers no other details or assurances. 
In an e-mail, Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewski said the company doesn’t disclose “where we are or are not looking for new store locations,” adding that “as of this time, we have no announced plans for any future new Macy's stores.”
The city’s redevelopment agency has spent $30 million to clean up contamination from the site, where the Sherwin-Williams paint company and Union Oil once made their homes, said Patrick O’Keefe, Emeryville’s city manager. The city is also considering building a parking garage at a cost of $17 million as part of the deal. 
“To bring in a large anchor tenant who doesn't and can’t pay the rent of small shops does require this investment from the city to make it happen, but the city gets financial benefits in terms of revenues,” said Hohmann of Madison Marquette.
Members of RULE — a group of artists, professionals and longtime residents that formed a few years back — say it’s precisely because of the $47 million subsidy that Madison Marquette should be paying for community benefits. Faye Prince, an Emeryville resident for decades and a RULE member, said Emeryville doesn’t have to give away as much to developers as it used to.
“Umpteen years ago when you had to walk across the railroad tracks and there was nothing here, sure,” said Prince. “But that’s old news.”
RULE has also suggested that the city open up the project to other bidders who might be more open to the group's demands.
Madison Marquette is looking to the City Council to give the word on community benefits. And if council member Ruth Atkin has her way, the word will be no, at least for this project. 
“The goals of RULE and the goals of the city are not contrary to each other,” said Atkin. “The question is, they think they’re going to get more by pursuing another approach, and I’m skeptical.”
Atkin said that businesses benefit Emeryville — for example, the free Emery Go Round transportation service is paid for by businesses, she said.
Part of the battle with Madison Marquette is also over labor, with unions who are working with RULE looking for concessions from the developer and eventual hotel owner.
The battle over Madison Marquette comes on the heels of Emeryville's rejection of plans for an Ikea expansion after a neigborhood group voiced its concerns.
“There is a shift taking place in Emeryville,” said West, the council member.


  1. Bukowski says "you need a commercial section of town"?
    So I guess we need to build a commercial section (in progress) then when we're finished we can have a nice place to live. Funny thing is I thought we had a commercial "section" already. I guess not. Not enough commerce yet in Emeryville yet to make a nice place to live. Some day we'll have enough, just not yet.
    Still, it's interesting that other towns can do it without as much commercial as we have right now. Emeryville's just not as good as those other towns, we don't deserve a nice place to live, right Ken?.

  2. Ken's too busy providing inspiration for the series Breaking Bad to notice reality.

  3. As much as I don't want to defend Councilmember Bukowski, he is right, if simplistic. In post-Prop 13 California, residential uses generally do not pay enough taxes to support the services that residents require/request. Commercial uses are needed to generate sales tax dollars to support high-quality services. Communities with extremely high land values can sustain services without much commerce (e.g. Piedmont, Orinda, Woodside). However, Emeryville has no where near high enough land values to sustain this. The recent cuts of City services such as street sweeping and cuts to the Child Development center were necessary because sales revenue fell durting the recession. Any additonal commercial development generates revenue which could be used to enhance services or to restore cut services. Additionally, new development also produces increased property values/taxes which provides funds to the Redevelopment Agency to spend on future redevelopment of our community.

  4. So, a business pollutes the land...the residents pay to clean it up...then they get screwed by the city council giving sweetheart deals to madison marquette which give nothing back to the community except for more retail space, and ANOTHER hotel the city didn't really need. Do I have this right so far? Did I miss anything?
    Why do you keep voting these bozos back into the city council?
    Prop 13 would have worked well if it only applied to residential property. The real failing of 13 was that it applied to all property in California.
    You want to make up for that? Lift to moratorium on taxes on big business in Emeryville, make church's pay tax on their property.
    Stop spending tax payer money to clean up pollution made by private business'.
    Seriously, the city spent $17 million to clean up land so they can pay Madison Marquette to then build a Macy's, or hotel, or whatever.

    So go on, keep voting these same stooges to the mayor and city council, you deserve what you get.

  5. You are right about the real failing of prop 13; but look how much money the redevelopment agencies take away from the state funds. A huge problem never spoken about.

  6. I love it how the self described progressive Ruth Atkin is so dismissive of direct democratic citizen participation. I wonder how she squares it in her own mind. Chalk it up to the adage about absolute power, I guess.