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Friday, November 26, 2010

Family Friendly Housing In Emeryville: No Longer An Opinion

November 2nd, We Set Our New Course
Now We Will Remake Emeryville 

News Analysis / Opinion
The voters spoke on November 2nd and what they said will reverberate for generations to come.  The voters said in a loud and very clear voice; they expect Emeryville to be recast.  The game changing  Measure J vote, passed by some 72% of voters, mandates that our town will be completely remade with a whole new guiding vision.  Emeryville will morph from the existing auto dependant loft & condo commuter burg filled with single or childless couple professionals and Cal Berkeley students into a new city brimming with young families living in a new type of housing scarcely recognizable by current standards.
Emeryville residents of the future

Just how we're going to get there is unclear but get there we must since residents are now committed to a nearly $400 million new public school rebuild that requires attracting a minimum of 700 new Emeryville students, according to the school district.  Critics of Measure J , including the Tattler, called attention to this glaring problem of a lack of existing family friendly housing in the run up to the November 2nd election while proponents of the measure devoted no time to explaining how the lack of housing problem would be resolved but residents threw caution to the wind and voted to move forward regardless.

Epic in it's scope, Measure J represented a vote of NO to the status quo and YES to a complete make-over for the town.  Now, it's up to the city council to deliver family housing; lots of it and really fast, to support the new school and make sure the voters will is assuaged.  We mustn't fool ourselves; this would not be easy in the best of times let alone during the current economic morass.

Nevertheless, Measure J will usher in a whole new development paradigm for our town and our aging council members must radically change to meet the new demands; a difficult task given their specific personalities and their overall conservative nature.  Now, city leaders must actively and aggressively seek out new housing options.  The old way, waiting for developers themselves to make development proposals won't deliver the family housing that we need.

Not Open For Interpretation
Up until recently in Emeryville, the phrase 'family friendly housing' has been an imprecise term, even as many sectors have clamored for it.  It's been one of those things that everybody seems to want and yet we still can't seem to get.  The city council members have been liberally using the term of late and developers have noticed the change in rhetoric emanating from the council dais and they have provided assurance to the decision makers that any housing proposals they champion can be considered family friendly.  Some decision makers have gone out of their way to let everyone know that they know just what this new type of housing is.
Meet your new neighbors
Planning Commissioner Frank Flores, for one chastised the council in a sharply worded November 18th letter for even discussing whether a development proposal under consideration was family friendly and whether to require appropriate adjustments from the developer.  Mr Flores, who works for the developer in question, told the council members the loft/condo housing development proposal at 3900 Adeline Street is already in fact family friendly and no improvements need be made on that account.  Mr Flores would have us believe what constitutes family friendly housing is a matter of personal opinion and the developers for their part no doubt would like us to leave it at that.
Unfortunately now in Emeryville, we don't have that freedom anymore.  We must bring families to Emeryville to support the voter approved new school investment and families won't listen to Mr Flores or developers or even the council for that matter; they'll decide for themselves what constitutes family friendly housing and unlike the developers, their decisions will be based on if they actually feel comfortable living there as a family with their children.  Hubris from developers or the council and their sycophants will be exposed immediately by actual families in the marketplace.

Going Backwards
Up til now,  Emeryville has been going backwards; we've actually been losing families over the last twenty years even as our population has risen dramatically.  The lack of family housing has exacerbated the situation.  Council member Ruth Atkin recently complained developers, left to their own devices, have only provided eight three bedroom units in the last ten years in Emeryville.  Ms Atkin is correct; we can't afford to go down this path anymore.

Quaint old Emeryville; so very 2010
Against this bleak backdrop, the city has accepted the offer of local planning firm MIG & Associates to define what exactly constitutes family friendly housing in an urban context with a power point presentation made expressly for Emeryville.  This firm has shopped their presentation around town, and so far they've made their presentation to the School Board, the Housing Commission and the City Council.

Luckily for us, MIG has agreed to help us with our lack of family friendly housing.  We no longer need to guess about what it takes to bring families to Emeryville; no longer do we need to listen to opinions from those with hidden agendas to maximize profits for shareholders who might try to fool us.  No longer do we need to listen to ideologues that would help those seeking to maximize profits claiming to want to help build family housing and all the while working to subvert that effort.  Now we have MIG & Associates, a real independent arbiter that is a professional in the field and highly respected among their peers.
You won't see many of these anymore
Bay Street Site Up For Grabs
Given the limited geography of Emeryville and the pressing timeline, every piece of land freed up for possible redevelopment must now be put into play toward the goal of bringing in the 700 new students.  The first on the docket is the large piece of empty land along Shellmound Street directly to the north of the Bay Street mall and coveted by Bay Street developer Madison Marquette.  This land has sat idle for five years, waiting for Madison Marquette to make up their minds if they really want to do a Bay Street mall expansion.  The council has granted the developer exclusive rights to this valuable piece of Emeryville real estate for expanding the shopping mall five years running.
Now the council must expand their thinking and figure a way to build family friendly housing on the site, even if Madison Marquette demurs.

This is what the new Emeryville will look like
Indeed, the council must now be thinking in terms of building family friendly housing on every piece of land until we bring the 700 new students to the district.  Every development proposal must now be considered a contested site.  The past high profit margins from lofts and one bedroom condos developers have enjoyed in Emeryville are at an end.  Now, the profits will be much slimmer.  The council will have to learn how to say NO to developers as they make their claims that family housing developments "won't pencil out", like they always do.  They'll have to hold fast when the developers threaten to leave Emeryville if they don't get everything they want, like they always do.  The council will have to learn to bring a new kind of development to Emeryville.  These old dog council members are going to have to learn some new tricks.  The bonds proscribed for Measure J are being prepared for sale right now and the clock is ticking.  We need family friendly housing now in Emeryville.

Emeryville will be lousy with these
MIG is here:


  1. I think I'm picking up what you're laying down, that the passing of J requires the building of an Emeryville which is neither wholly desirable nor possible. My main question is slightly different. What are the implications of an Emeryville that follows its current path -- young single professionals with tricked out Mini Coopers -- vs a new Emeryville rife with minivans and screaming babies?

    I ask because I'm someone in the middle. I have a Mini Cooper (not tricked out), have a steady job, a steady girlfriend, and no desire ever to spawn. I do live in a single family home though (one of the few, apparently). I'd love to see more people like myself: dependable but non-nuclear family types with enough resources to buy property and contribute (in our way) to the community.

    Schools mean nothing to me personally, that's my life choice. But I am interested in where this city heads, since I'm part of it too.

  2. I think you're just being coy. It's pretty obvious we're not going to get the students because were not going to get the housing. Let's face it, the school is not for Emeryville kids. But what difference does that make?

  3. The "difference" is that the campaign for Measure J told voters EXPLICITLY the new school is for Emeryville children. So really it's incumbent upon those who sold the measure to the voters to deliver on this, its central promise. To not do so now would be to be highly cynical and acting in bad faith, and that's not something that should be promulgated in the formation of public policy.

  4. You've said before that outside students should be welcome in EUSD. I agree. Why, then, should the passage of Measure J effect at all where the children in EUSD come from? Your logic is circular. You are just using Measure J's passage, which you did not support, as an excuse to advance your agenda of "family-friendly housing." If Emeryville voters want to build a new school for their children, that is their perogative. It does not necessarily mean that they want to build a school EXCLUSIVELY for Emeryville children. Demographics change irrespective of public policy and voters are smart enough to know that. All Superintendant Sugiyama told me was that the demographers projected that the school would eventually serve entirely Emeryville students. That was never a promise. Population trends change.

  5. The numbers tell the story: In 20 years, since the days of the great family friendly housing advocate, the late Councilman Robert Savage, Emeryville has almost doubled its population but the number of families has actually gone down. That's the legacy of the long serving current city council, regardless of all the hyperbole.

    Even before voters committed $400 million on a new school we needed family housing here. Cities require diversity for vitality and a lack of diversity is stultifying. Emeryville has been cheapened by over catering to a certain demographic drawn to the now ubiquitous lofts and one bedroom condos in town. Now the diversity that families would bring is needed for more than just crafting a vital city.

    Besides engaging in a campaign of deception on matters financial, the Measure J campaign never volunteered that Emeryville's existing housing stock is insufficient to bring the families to the district. It is irresponsible public policy to not have in place a plan to support the new school and it is bordering on unethical to hide this from voters. The likely fact that voters would have rejected the measure if this were made public is highly illustrative. If Emeryville voters knew they were paying primarily for Oakland children, the vote probably would have turned out differently.