Search The Tattler

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Redevelopment Agency Experiment Runs Its Course

City Ponders Post- 
Redevelopment Fate,
New Chapter In Emeryville History

The California Supreme Court ruling posted today is definitive; all redevelopment agencies state-wide are dissolved.  Emeryville, being more than 90% in a 'redevelopment zone' will feel the impacts of the decision more than most cities.  Virtually every capital fund project and every large-scale development over the years including the Bay Street Mall, has been financed with redevelopment tax increment money and today's announcement will reverberate, its effects far reaching.  Many projects still in the pipeline including the Center of Community Life, the Performing Arts Center, new proposed parks and the bike/pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at 53rd Street are funded with redevelopment money and their future is now in limbo.

The ten year project, the Emeryville Center of Community Life, has already taken a massive hit on its funding earlier in the year when Emeryville's bonding capacity was more than cut in half; from $95 million to $40 million.  The Redevelopment Agency was on tap to pitch in $25 million and if this funding dries up with today's Supreme Court ruling, the entire project will be put in jeopardy.  School District officials are in holiday mode and could not be reached for comment.

City Manager Pat O'Keeffe, formerly Chairman of the California Redevelopment Association has been a stanch advocate for Emeryville's Redevelopment Agency citing the agency as the only option for developing the town and he has been sounding alarm bells over the possible elimination of the agency by Sacramento for months.  Mr O'Keeffe is on holiday and could not be reached for comment.  Deputy City Manager Delores Turner told the Tattler she expects Emeryville to experience "significant impacts" and expressed hope some "fix it legislation" could restore some of what has been lost with today's ruling.  She called the redevelopment era a boon for the local economy and for job creation.

Redevelopment Agency Dissolved

Breaking News:
Emeryville Redevelopment 
Agency Kaput

Reprinted from Reuters:

California court says state can kill redevelopment agencies

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In a major victory for California Governor Jerry Brown, the state supreme court on Thursday upheld a law that would eliminate 400 local redevelopment agencies and could divert billions of dollars to schools and other local services.
The court ruled that the state legislature was within its rights to abolish the agencies, which have long played a major role in local development projects ranging from apartment houses to train stations and sports stadiums. At the same time, the court struck down companion legislation that would have enabled the redevelopment agencies to stay in business if they agreed to pay a big chunk of their revenues to the state.
Local officials vehemently opposed the elimination of the redevelopment agencies, and a group of plaintiffs, including theCalifornia Redevelopment Association and the League of California Cities, asked the California Supreme Court to declare both laws unconstitutional.
Redevelopment agencies, widely used around the country, sell bonds to fund local development projects. They pay them off with the increased property tax revenue, or tax increment, that results from the project.
Governor Brown has argued that because of the convoluted way in which property tax revenues are divvied up in California, redevelopment agencies have the effect of diverting money away from schools and other local services. The state is then forced to fill the funding gaps for basic services while the local redevelopment agencies pursue projects that might be beneficial locally, but do little to lift the state's economy as a whole.
The most immediate effect of Thursday's court ruling will be to preserve the state budget for the current fiscal year. The budget, passed last summer, includes $1.7 billion in redevelopment funds that would flow to the state as the agencies are wound down. Successor agencies would assume responsibility for repayment of existing redevelopment bonds; projects that are already underway would in most cases go forward.
The non-partisan legislative analyst's office has estimated that the elimination of redevelopment agencies could free up $2 billion a year for schools, courts and other services.
Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, called the ruling "good news for the budget."
Local officials, on the other hand, say they will lose a crucial tool for revitalizing blighted areas and promoting local economic development. Redevelopment agencies often acquire land in run-down parts of a city and invest in infrastructure improvements. They then work with private developers to build parks, convention centers, transit stations, shopping malls and apartment buildings, among other things. The agencies also help to fund affordable housing projects around the state.
The elimination of redevelopment agencies is among Gov. Brown's boldest strokes since he took office last year, and a key part of what he calls the "realignment" of state and local taxes and services.
Because the "tax increment" generated by redevelopment projects is not subject to the state-mandated formula on how local tax revenues are divided among cities, counties, schools and special districts, local officials have an incentive to rely heavily on redevelopment districts for a wide range of projects. The city of Oakland, for example, was found earlier this year to be financing some police services, and even part of the mayor's salary, with redevelopment funds.
Redevelopment critics also say the agencies have gone far beyond their mission of combating blight and often subsidize projects that either would have been built anyway, or would have been built in a nearby city.
(Reporting by Jonathan Weber and Dan Levine; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Emeryville's Mayor Is Appointed

Power Retention Is Goal-
Mayoral Selection Politically Calculated

News Analysis
Emeryville doesn't have a "strong mayor" style leader at City Hall as does Oakland or San Francisco but the mayor here does wield considerable power running the council meetings and making political appointments as they do.  Rather than by citizen election, by law, Emeryville's mayor is decided among the ranks of the city council itself.  Many Emeryville residents though are baffled by the mayoral selection process, some old timers have memory of a time when the mayor was awarded on a purely rotational basis from the stock of council members, now however the decision process seems to be screwy, maybe random.  Some might think each council member should be able to serve as mayor since every person was duly elected by the people but that formula has not been in effect since council member Nora Davis consolidated power and the strict rotation was dropped in the 1990's.

Consider the last several mayors-
Sitting as mayor in November of each year:

  • 2011  Nora Davis
  • 2010  Ruth Atkin
  • 2009  Dick Kassis
  • 2008  Ken Bukowski
  • 2007  Nora Davis
  • 2006  Ruth Atkin
  • 2005  Dick Kassis
  • 2004  Gary Caffey
  • 2003  Ken Bukowski
  • 2002  Ruth Atkin
  • 2001  Nora Davis
  • 2000  Dick Kassis
Political neophytes might accept this list as random as it indeed looks at first blush but to the cognoscenti, this list betrays a political patronage system, complete with childish backstabbing and ego maniacal power grabbing; this is after all Emeryville.  To these council watchers in the know, gazing at the list one sees patterns emerging, patterns that affirm the venal politics at play in Emeryville.
    The Metrics (here's how it works)
    Pay attention, it's going to get a little complicated here but once you know the metric, you'll be able to predict every election with confidence. The over ridding metric is that Nora Davis maintain and grow her power base by the mayoral selection.  To watch the patterns in the above list emerge use these metrics:
    • Political enemies of Ms Davis are not permitted to be mayor
    • Those that fall into disfavor with Ms Davis are not allowed to be mayor again
    • Selection is made to assure that the proper person (Ms Davis or those who will assist Ms Davis) is sitting mayor as a city council election takes place, this person benefits by the added gravitas of being mayor at the time of the election in the calculation
    To this bullet point list of metrics one needs to know the election rotation in Emeryville.  It is thus:
    • Three council member's seats up for election every four years
    • Two council seats up for election every four years separated by two years
    These elections are staggered so Emeryville has elections every two years with three seats then two seats and then back to the three seats.  Ms Davis is in the three seat election.  The last election was in November (a three seat'er) when these seats were up for election:  Nora Davis, Ruth Atkin and Ken Bukowski (taken by Jac Asher).  In the election before, these two seats were up for election: open seat previously filled by Dick Kassis (taken by Kurt Brinkman) and open seat previously filled by John Fricke (taken by Jennifer West).   

    One needs to know the political intrigue in town:
    • Former mayor Greg Harper fell into disfavor with Ms Davis in the 1990's and he was never permitted to be mayor again.
    • After being a long time political friend, Ken Bukowski fell into disfavor with Ms Davis in 2009 and was not permitted to be mayor again.
    • John Fricke was a political enemy of Ms Davis and was not permitted to be mayor (if he wanted it).
    • Political friends of Ms Davis have been: Dick Kassis, Gary Caffey, Ruth Atkin, Kurt Brinkman and Ken Bukowski (until he fell into disfavor). 
    Lastly, one needs to know that in off years, Ms Davis will allow other council members to be mayor as long as they're not in disfavor or an enemy.  These mayors can be thought of as inconsequential; these can be thought of as freebies.

    Here's the make-up:

    • Two seat'ers: Dick Kassis, Gary Caffey, Jennifer West, Kurt Brinkman, John Fricke
    • Three seat'ers: Nora Davis, Ken Bukowski, Ruth Atkin, Jac Asher

    So here's the formula in action:
    year (sitting as mayor in November), two or three seat election, mayor (note consequential mayors at election time, inconsequential between elections)
    • 2012 Jennifer West (inconsequential)
    • 2011 Three Seat Election, Nora Davis 
    • 2010  Ruth Atkin (inconsequential)
    • 2009 Two Seat Election, Dick Kassis
    • 2008 Ken Bukowski (inconsequential)
    • 2007 Three Seat Election, Nora Davis
    • 2006 Ruth Atkin (inconsequential)
    • 2005 Two Seat Election,  Dick Kassis
    • 2004 Gary Caffey (inconsequential)
    • 2003 Three Seat Election, Ken Bukowski (he was thought to have needed the extra help this year)
    • 2002 Ruth Atkin (inconsequential)
    • 2001 Three Seat Election, Nora Davis
    • 2000 Dick Kassis (inconsequential)
    So you can see the metrics work perfectly.  Knowing these metrics, one can predict who will be mayor in the future (if Ms Davis stays healthy).  Going forward it will look like this:
    • 2013 Two Seat Election, Kurt Brinkman
    • 2014 Jac Asher (if she doesn't fall into disfavor with Ms Davis) (inconsequential)
    • 2015 Three Seat Election Nora Davis  

    Re-negotiate Approved Lofts: Build Family Housing

    Bad Economy Offers New Opportunities:
    Everybody Says They Want 
    Family Housing, 
    Now Let's Start Making It Possible

    After a frenzied 25 year loft and one bedroom condo building boom in Emeryville, it would seem the now frozen housing market would have shut the door on any chance for the town to re-make itself as a family friendly destination.  The bad economy, seemingly antithetical to any building activity at all however may be giving Emeryville a chance to redeem itself.  Developers with previously approved but as of yet un-built loft projects as it turns out, are coming in from the cold; they all seem to want time extensions on their agreed to start-up dates for their projects, creating an opening to make change possible.  These developer time extention requests are offering a second chance to re-negotiate these bad loft projects into family friendly housing.

    What a reversal we've seen in the housing market.  The city council was formerly besieged by developers seeking to make a quick buck in the formerly white hot Emeryville real estate market, and the council was facilitating development deals with blinding speed right up to the housing crash.  With the pro-business council majority at the helm, rarely were questions of resident's needs adequately addressed and we ended up with the kind of housing developers want to build.
    After residents voted to rebuild Emeryville's schools in 2010, suddenly the lack of family housing has made the former loft building mania seem reckless and last November's city council campaign season brought the issue of family housing to the forefront. Now it seems everyone agrees; suddenly it's families that Emeryville needs.  The city council seems to have been caught flat footed on this issue; last June, the council was embarrassed by a scathing report from an independent study on the critical lack of family housing here.  The report blamed the council for the lack of families in Emeryville.

    The loft developers that recently got these swinging deals, courtesy of our city council, should feel the heat as they (the developers) come back to the council, hat in hand, asking for their time extensions without condition.
    We're not deluded though: we don't expect leopards to change their spots and we don't really expect council members Nora Davis and Kurt Brinkman to hold any developers to account, their campaign promises notwithstanding.  Ms Davis and Mr Brinkman have show that they think their job is to get out of the way and let the developers re-make our town as their profit needs dictate.  Council members Jennifer West and the newly elected Jac Asher are another matter all together.  We expect these two to build a coalition with swing voter, council member Ruth Atkin.  Ms Atkin proclaimed loudly at election time that she'll deliver family friendly housing and we expect Ms West and Ms Asher to call her out at the first instance of a developer's pre-approved loft housing project time extension request.

    If we don't call back these projects and re-negotiate on our terms, we must ask; when and where are we finally going to get sufficient quantities of housing suitable for families in this town?  Those paying attention to all the loft and one bedroom condo approvals by the council may have noticed that Emeryville has almost run out of locations for building new projects of any kind.  The lack of family friendly housing could torpedo the new school's chances at success and it represents a critical unmet need here.  Each new project now becomes more important than ever to include lots of housing for families to start bringing the ratio to anywhere near where it needs to be.
    We hope the three council members can abide by their campaign promises and coalesce around fixing this dire housing predicament and re-negotiate on our behalf with these late starting developers.  We need to open up the possibility that family friendly housing could be built in this town.

    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Build It And They Will Come?

    Bogus Sports Field Claim:
    Emeryville's Phony Field Of Dreams

    This week, City Hall issued a plea to residents to join in a letter writing campaign to persuade the State of California to unleash money for an Emeryville sports field, something City Hall says citizens sorely need since Emeryville has no sports field.  As it turns out, Emeryville does have a sports field and the bogus grassroots advocacy amounts to a fraudulent claim to State money by the City.

    Emeryville sports field now
    The December 19th letter from City Hall to citizens urged residents to tell Sacramento that Emeryville should get  money to help build the cash strapped Center of Community Life, a school/community center proposed for San Pablo Avenue because the project would include a sports field and that "Emeryville does not have a single sports field".  The letter went on to suggest residents tell the State and that "we will be able to play on a sports field" if the Center of Community Life is built.
    What the City doesn't say is that there already is a baseball field, football/soccer field and track at the existing High School and that the only reason the citizens can't use these sports facilities right now is that the city itself has disallowed it.

    Sports field after $400 million
    Center of Community Life is built
    This fraudulent letter writing canard is but the latest in a multi-year string of deceptive endeavours meant to gin up support for the Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL).  With its huge price tag and its dubious list of pre-awarded no bid contractor cheerleaders, the ECCL project is certainly controversial.  The School District, taciturn and pious in its public face has nonetheless been single minded in its undemocratic behind the scenes maneuvering to facilitate the school/community center project.  The City on the other hand has been pretty much silent about the project other than its commitment to throw in $25 million.  The well documented Machiavellian tactics, so favored by the School District, have been mostly eschewed by the City; that is, up til now.

    The City's attempt to draw residents into this scheme to make false claims against the State of California is bad governance, at best.  We call on the City and the School District to stop with these sleazy tactics in their efforts to build the Center of Community Life.  If the State does disperse funds as a result of the new letter writing campaign directed by City Hall, we hope it will be in spite of, not as a result of the phony claims regarding a sports field.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Guest Column: Art Hoff

    The Tattler introduces guest columnist, Arthur Hoff.  
    A longtime Emeryville resident, business and community leader, Art Hoff is a former president of the School District Advisory Board of Trustees and he now sits on the Planning Commission.
    Mr Hoff has long concerned himself with the success of the schools in Emeryville and he has been a major philanthropist to the school district, generously giving both his time and money for the betterment of our schools.
    Mr Hoff is concerned that the decision makers adjust their planning properly and be open to new iterations as the Emeryville Center of Community Life school/community center is buffeted by large Measure J bond funding perturbations in the wake of Emeryville's skidding assessed valuation.    
       .                .                .                .


    The latest financial report from the Emeryville School Board indicates that the School District will have negative cash flows for the next two years, and unless we can make $1.6 million in unspecified budget cuts, we will have a negative fund balance by 2014.  This raises the question of the fiscal stability of a 750 student school district.
    Many years ago, when I served on the board, conventional wisdom was that we needed a school population of 1,200 students in order to keep overhead costs is proper proportions to the total budget.   A school of 750 students was not considered financially viable.
    The plan was to build an all-new 1200 student school as part of the Center for Community Life. Unfortunately, 5 years later, because of the unavailability of bond funds, the proposed new school complex will only accommodate 800 students.  We will need to wait another 5 years to bring the school to the sustainable level of 1200 students.  In view of the current economy and the financial condition of the District, can we wait that long?
    Perhaps we should go in another direction: activate the [existing but abandoned] Middle School. While a 3rd campus increases overhead costs,  they should be more than offset by the additional income from the 300 students the middle school can accommodate.

    Arthur Hoff
    Past President, Emery Schools

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Mayor Jennifer West's New Parking Policy

     New Mayor, New Parking Policy?

    News Analysis/Opinion
    Emeryville's new mayor, Jennifer West, has released a surprising essay detailing her views on how to administer the controversial issue of parking in town, but her record so far on parking has been in opposition to her own newly stated goals.  The article, posted by The Secret News on December 7th, illustrates a new way forward for parking and is sure to raise hackles since the only way to accommodate everybody in a town with too many cars chasing too few parking spaces is to make everybody accept a less desirable policy than what we've had up til now: no policy... and that's a recipe that simply brings more cars.

    Ms West's somewhat arcane approach is to bring to an end the days of unlimited free parking for business and residents in Emeryville, a place that all cities ultimately come to as they grow and mature, least they choke on traffic and devalue the town for all the stakeholders.

    Mayor West's position on parking policy now acknowledges and compliments former council member John Fricke's contribution on the issue of parking for Emeryville's business and residents, a position he held in the wilderness six years ago without any colleague support.
    One issue much discussed by Mr Fricke and now taken up by Ms West is the idea of "unbundled" parking or parking available to the public, not just condo owners where the parking is located.  Mandated unbundled parking would mean that every condo owner in a new project would not necessarily get guaranteed free parking with their unit but they would be free to try to park there for a fee, along with the rest of the public looking for parking.

    The issue of parking is really about livability for Emeryville.
    We realize the easiest way politically for an elected official is to simply ignore the problem or worse; keep adding to the glut of free parking that only further exacerbates the intolerable traffic and forces a regime of ever widening the streets.
    We salute the mayor's courageous efforts to solve this vexing problem without the usual pandering done by her colleagues, pandering that has brought us to this point of immediate concern.  It should be noted that any up-tick in the economy will bring us to crisis: a sea of cars in our town.

    We feel the council should move forward on Ms West's solutions with one proviso; existing Emeryville residents should be given some relief from the more draconian parking fixes she prescribes and the most onerous regulation should be more born by new residents and businesses; after all new residents have a choice about moving here and we're supposed to be making our own town more livable for us, the existing Emeryville residents.

    Lastly, while we are pleased the issue of parking has been taken up by Mayor West, we must ask where her sudden epiphany came from?  Council member West recently helped usher in both the Ambassador housing project proposed for east Emeryville and the Marketplace Development phase 1 housing project to be located near the existing Public Market, and both of those projects were approved without any concern for parking.  The Ambassador Project was approved by the council for 69 units with 110 bundled parking spaces making a development that encourages auto use.  Market Place too, approved by Ms West, has 192 units with 200 bundled parking spaces and as such is also a new project that encourages driving.

    We hope mayor West has indeed changed her ways when it comes to enabling profit maximizing developers who always seem to clamor for more free parking.  It's a catechism at City Hall that has been uniformly embraced by the pro-business city council majority.  We wish Ms West  luck in her push to empower a new pro-resident pro-livability parking paradigm here.

    Mayor West's article in The Secret News may be seen here: The Secret News

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    They Said It: Nora Davis

    Nora Davis Said It-
    "These People Need To Be Recalled, Their Incompetency Is Unacceptable"

    Politics in Emeryville have produced quite a lot of hyperbole over the years. At the Tattler, we occasionally post quotable quotes from Emeryville personalities since where we've been can sometimes inform where we're going.
    .                 .                 .                 .

    Back in the late 1990's, a committee formed in Emeryville to search for a new school superintendent and after a nation-wide search, they recommended that the Emery School Board hire former Compton School District superintendent, JL Handy.  Even though he had overseen the bankruptcy of the district in Compton, the committee felt Mr Handy would work out well here.
    The School Board dutifully accepted the advice from the search committee and hired Mr Handy.  After he was hired, Mr Handy also bankrupted Emery Unified School District and he engaged in improper personal use of district funds and other crimes.   Superintendent Handy fled Emeryville in 2000, leaving the School District in ruins, ultimately to be taken over by the State.
    Following this fiasco, a new search began; this time it was the search for the guilty.  A very vocal effort to recall the School Board was initiated since they had hired Mr Handy.  The  successful recall was headed up by non other than council member Nora Davis.  Ms Davis was vociferous in her indignation: "These people need to be recalled, their incompetency is unacceptable" she said at a council meeting. Ms Davis lent her name to the recall literature.  But nowhere was it mentioned by Nora Davis, not in the recall literature nor by her at any public event, that she had been the chair of the superintendent search committee and that she herself was guilty of what she said was an unpardonable offense by the School Board.  Ms Davis kept quiet and hoped no one would remember that she was responsible for the School Board recommendation to hire Mr Handy.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Emeryville's Outstanding Police Department

    Community Policing?  It's Nothing New In Emeryville

    If you listen to the public relations hype at the Oakland Police Department, you'd think they're listening to the residents, you'd think they've got their interests at heart and that they're loved by the residents there.  You'd think this because the department there is fond of making loud proclamations about how they're hip to the latest thing at police departments nation-wide:  it's "community policing" and it's the greatest thing since sliced bread.  The problem is in Oakland and most everywhere else, it's just a bunch of hype.

    Community policing evolved in response to the breakdown of the traditional model of urban policing where in recent years police increasingly found themselves like an occupying army against a hostile civilian populace.  Police departments wisely realized it was time to involve the citizens more and make the community more stakeholders and feel a sense of ownership in their own police departments.
    This is the hype anyway.

    In Emeryville however, unlike Oakland, community policing is not any new thing; it's something that's just practiced, not hyped.

    The recent Occupy Oakland protests and the reprehensible police response couldn't make it clearer: the Oakland Police Department is broken.  One only needs to look to their community support, or better put, their lack of community support.  It's stark: Oakland residents don't trust and don't like their police department.  Moral is low among the rank and file.  The police are alienated from the community and this unfortunate condition makes everyone lose; the cops and the community.
    In Oakland's defence, this scenario is common in urban settings, all the twittering hoopla of "community policing" notwithstanding.

    Contrast this with Emeryville, where there's a decided lack of hyperbole emanating from the police department.  The last time residents were polled a couple of years ago, EPD enjoyed more than 85% positive feedback from the community.  It's a result of real community policing; the cops interacting with the residents in a professional and even courteous manner.  It's noteworthy that even groups such as the Green Party, whom one would not normally expect to be big police supporters, sing the praises of our police department.

    All the resident's love here directed to the police must be attributed in no small part to our Chief of Police, longtime public servant Ken James.  Mr James has quietly built a quintessentially professional force without macho posturing and shameless playing of politics.  He has kept our police force free from the "badge heavy" type-A personalities so common in Oakland and elsewhere and he's made a force respected by the community.  And Mr James has earned the respect of the rank and file at the same time; not an easy feat.

    As Chief James prepares for retirement in the months to come, we must acknowledge a big part Emeryville's livability comes from the high degree of public safety we enjoy, all without feeling like we're living in a repressive police state.  It's not hyperbole to point out that without this kind of police force, Emeryville could degrade into Oakland.  Our envious and palpably collective sense of high civic mindedness could evaporate.

    Government in Emeryville is not something normally very praiseworthy.  Let's take the time to say job well done to government employee Ken James and our very professional and outstanding police force.

    Saturday, November 26, 2011

    Bay Street Mall Protest

    From an edited re-print of the Washington Post:

    Occupy protesters take message about corporate greed to Black Friday shoppers around Calif.

    In Emeryville, a small city on San Francisco Bay that has been transformed from a manufacturing area to a shopping destination, more than 60 people attended a Native American community’s 10th annual Black Friday protest of the Bay Street Mall.
    Corrina Gould, a lead organizer for Indian People Organizing for Change, said the goal is to educate shoppers that the mall was built in 2002 on a sacred Ohlone burial site.
    About one-third of the people at Friday’s protest came from neighboring Oakland’s Occupy movement, and Gould said having the new voices was invigorating.
    Jesse Smith, an Occupy Oakland protester, passed out fliers encouraging mall shoppers to instead support local businesses in downtown Oakland to help “keep them in the black.”
    Williams reported from Sacramento. Associated Press Writer Terry Collins contributed reporting from Emeryville.

    Center Of Community Life Now Costs Only $65 Million

    First It Cost $120 Million, Now It's Only $65 Million:
    School District's Center Of Community Life Shifting Goalpost

    News Analysis
    New and vexing economic tribulations at the Emeryville School District is forging a new counter-intuitive meme, forwarded by officials, that would have citizens believe that it's cheaper to tear down the existing high school and build a whole new campus and community center there than it is to simply renovate Emeryville's schools.

    Emeryville's assessed property valuation has markedly lowered in the last couple of years owing to the dismal state of the economy and that has drastically lowered the bonding capacity for the schools/community center building project known as the Emeryville Center of Community Life.  Undaunted, school district officials have moved forward, determined to build ECCL anyway, virtually unaffected by the bleak new economic reality.  This reality disconnect revealed itself at an October 19th Citizens Oversight Committee meeting when the School District reversed earlier predictions about the project's costs, inexplicably making it now cheaper to build the entire schools/community center project than to renovate the existing school buildings to minimum code compliance.

    Slide from the July 2010 meeting 
    showing the $68 million cost to do 
    code compliance only minimum 
    renovation of the existing schools. 
    At a July 2010 City/Schools Committee meeting, District architect Roy Miller told the decision maker attendees, made up of the city council and school board members, that the most minimal possible school renovations would cost a lot: $68 million.  As an alternate, Mr Miller said the School District could generate $95 million from the sale of Measure J school bonds (subsequently OKed by Emeryville voters in November 2010) and instead tear down the high school facility and build an entire new school, K-12 combining the elementary school, middle school and high school with a community center called the Center of Community Life for $95 million plus $25 million kicked in from the City of Emeryville's coffers for a total of $120 million.

    After that pivotal July 2010 meeting, when the City/Schools Committee voted to move forward with the ECCL project and after the voters OKed the sale of the Measure J bonds in November of 2010, the worsening economy lowered Emeryville's bond saleability from $95 million to $40 million.
    So $40 million plus the $25 million from the city totals $65 million.  The new fiscal realities presents the School District with the awkward scenario of explaining how a simple renovation of the three existing buildings could cost more than the total tear down and building of an entirely new suite of campus buildings; their preferred option.

    Artist's rendering of the Center of Community Life:
    Now officials say it can be built for only $65 million.
    Unfazed by the slashing of bond money available for the project, the School District officials now say it can move forward with a smaller version of the ECCL project at $65 million.  The smaller version however still involves abandoning the existing Anna Yates Elementary School and co-locating it on the ECCL site on San Pablo Avenue.  Also unaffected by the reduced funds, School District officials say, is the building of the new community center.

    District officials did not specify at the October 19th Citizens Oversight Committee meeting how the Center of Community Life is to be built at half the cost of previous estimates.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Black Friday Protest

    From the American Indian Movement-

    Friday November 25 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM Meet at the corner of Shellmound and Ohlone Way in Emeryville.
    Annual Black Friday protest at Emeryville's Bay Street Mall. The Bay Street Mall was built on top of an ancient Ohlone burial site after years of protest actions by the local Native American community. The construction of the mall unearthed THOUSANDS of human remains, many of which were taken away to landfill in the name of consumerism.
    While the construction of the mall couldn't be stopped, we in the Bay Area Native American community ask the non-Native community to join us in protesting this obscene structure. On "Black Friday" every year we remind the public that this is sacred Indian land and the Bay Street Mall should be boycotted.

    Letter To The Tattler: Ken Bukowski

    City councilman Ken Bukowski responds to the Tattler story on Emeryville's odd year elections.  The Tattler advocated for moving city elections to even years to save money and increase voter participation. 
    .                 .                 .                 .

    Moving the elections to even numbered years means: 
    1. As a candidate for city council you would have to raise more money to compete with a barrage of other candidates and issues, which would totally dominate the media, the mail and the phones. 
    2.  Campaign consultants would be more expensive, giving the business community greater advantage.
    3.  Odd year elections allow the voters to only focus on Emeryville, and that's a better idea. We may get a smaller turnout but they are more informed on the local issues than they would otherwise be. 
    4. The council adopting this Plan would also have to automatically extend the terms of all 5 members for an additional year. 

    -Ken Bukowski 

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Odd Year Elections: They Cost More Money, But...

    Emeryville's Odd Year Elections: They Cost More Money But They Drive Down Voter Participation

    Emeryville just finished another election and once again, the taxpayers paid a lot more for the election than they could have, at least $10,000 more according to the City Clerk.  But hey, it's all for the good because only 26% of registered voters cast a ballot and that's less than half the Bay Area average.

    That talk sounds kind of kooky, doesn't it?  But it's not kooky; it's calculated, in fact the low turnout worked out exactly as intended.

    Elections cost cities money and here in Emeryville, we routinely pay a lot more money for a much lower voter turnout than our neighbors in Oakland, Berkeley and elsewhere around the Bay Area.  Why is this and who's responsible you might ask?  It's cynical public policy, foisted upon the people of Emeryville by council member Nora Davis and the Chamber of Commerce; policy designed to benefit their pro-business agenda at our expense.

    Many newcomers to Emeryville express surprise at the strange off year elections here.  They often ask, why not hold the city council and school board elections on even years, at the same time as presidential, senate and congressional elections?
    It's a good question, especially since doing so could save so much money.  On top of that, holding elections when everyone else does would have the added benefit of driving up voter participation, most likely doubling it.
    The problem is Ms Davis and the Chamber of Commerce and conservatives in general benefit from a low voter turn out.  It has to do with the fact that conservative voters have greater resources and can be counted on to show up at the polls even if disincentives to voting are thrown up.
    Odd year elections around the nation have been shown to be much more likely to elect conservatives and conservative causes than even year elections.  It's one of the well documented tools in the Republican Party's vote suppression toolbox.

    Here in Emeryville, Ms Davis has jealously guarded the odd year vote, acknowledging the value of the low turnouts to her political agenda and resisting all efforts to change, regardless of the cost savings.  It's not for lack of trying it should be pointed out, councilwoman Davis has fought off numerous citizen lead attempts at election reform over the decades.

    As House Majority leader John Boehner says however, elections have consequences and so with the November 8th election of Jac Asher and her new brand of resident friendly politics, we may now finally have enough non-ideological votes on the Emeryville city council to override Nora Davis and the Chamber of Commerce.

    We say it's time to say NO to Republican style vote suppression tactics.  It's time to move now to increase the franchise in Emeryville and cast aside the cynical Machiavellian election maneuvering by Emeryville's right wing.  We should move our elections to even years just like the rest of the Bay Area.

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    Democracy Not Something The School District Is Comfortable With

    Another Uncontested Election:
    Missing At Emery School District: Democracy

    Appointed School Board member Pat Hooper has resigned and now Emeryville's got a new School Board member!   Quick, who is it?

    Too bad no one knows or even seems to care.  Yes, another election comes and goes here in Emeryville with nary a school board candidate in sight.  We must say, this is not a healthy way to run a school district; indeed, it's inviting disaster.

    Not that any of this is news. Given the sorry history of School Board selection in our town, unfortunately it would be considered newsworthy if there were an election.  Emeryville has a long history of appointments and top down selection of School Board members.  It hasn't worked out well for education of children.

    Non-elections are the norm but several years ago, we did have a real election for the School Board; it came only in response to the former Board unanimously hiring the criminal previous chief of Compton Unified School District, JL Handy, to serve as new Superintendent.  Older residents will remember how Dr Handy emptied our coffers and split town, leaving the school district broke and in shambles, the District Attorney in hot pursuit. It was only after the JL Handy fiasco, after the State of California took over control of the School District, was there a real election for School Board members. Unfortunately, after that consequential shake up and ousting of those responsible, again Emeryville has settled back into the old pattern; the lack of elections is once more standard operating procedure.

    One other minor hiccup in this culture was two years ago when two parents had the temerity to run for school board without the sanction of the Powers That Be at the School District and City Hall.  The status quo at the School Board out-spent the two presumptuous interlopers by more than 100-to-one on slick city-wide campaign mailers, proving once again the corrupting power of money in ruining elections by effectively quashing dissent.

    After last Tuesday's non-election, it would appear the School District is now free to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of the taxpayers money for a new school all with unchallenged incumbents, appointed and top down selected decision makers.

    This school district has seen more than 30 years of appointments and top down selections of our School Board.  The results have been devastating for the educational prospects for the children.  It pains us to see this terrible tradition continue on.  There's nothing like the cleansing effect of real democracy in action to cast out corrupting influences and ensure good public policy.  The anti-democratic impulse here may help the Power Elite but it's anathema for establishing a culture of educational excellence at our schools.   To use a cliche; our children deserve better than this.
    .               .               .               .
    The new School Board Member is one Joy Kent, who ran unopposed on Tuesday and didn't appear on the ballots.  Ms Kent will help sheperd the taxpayer's school bond money to build a new school.

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    Final Election Results

    Election 2011:
    Nora Davis Drops To Last Place

    Emeryville council member Nora Davis has dropped from second to last place in the final unofficial tally from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters for the 2011 city council election.  The County showed council member Ruth Atkin trailing Ms Davis in all earlier published results from the November 8th plebiscite.  The Registrar says this final tabulation will move forward to be certified and made official.

    Here are the final results from the 2011 city council election:

    1. Jacqueline Asher        924          27.80%
    2. Ruth Atkin                 839          25.24%
    3. Nora Davis                 822          24.73%
              Ken Bukowski            408          12.27%
              Michael Webber         331           9.96%

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Bukowski's Gone & Emeryville's Now "Legitimate"

    After 24 Years, Post Bukowski Era Begins-
    New Staid Council: Emeryville's Now Just Like Every Other City

    News Feature
    We're living now in an Emeryville that most people have never seen; an Emeryville without Ken Bukowski on the city council. Tuesday's referendum brought to an end the era of Bukowski; for better or worse, the most colorful elected official here in more than a generation.
    The last time there was a Emeryville city council sans Bukowski, Long Playing albums reigned supreme, yuppies, mullets and Fabio were de rigueur.

    As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder and we may yet mourn the days when one could see our council's dirty laundry splashed on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle or watch with amazement, a mayor run a council meeting eyes closed, head bobbing.  Gone are the days of didactic whispering disapproval at Emeryville's representative at regional government agencies.

    Now it's post populist Emeryville; city council members will be neatly filed into left right and center niches with drama and unpredictability expunged from the public realm.  We're all grown up now and we're ready to be seen in public.  Emeryville's elected government joins the greater Bay Area elected governments, now all professional, clean and smelling good with not a spoiler to be seen.

    As the era of Ken Bukowski recedes into history and joins another vanquished bygone Emeryville era, the notorious John LaCoste era, we're going to cease being embarrassed.  We're going to be just like the rest of them (alas, still more conservative than the neighbors though).
    As our town grows beyond 10,000 residents, most are obviously pleased at these post Bukowski prospects but some too, may come to wax about the loss of populism coming as a consequence of the inevitable rise of professionalism in the council chambers at City Hall.  After more than 100 years of iconic characters on center stage here in Emeryville, we're just replaced Route 66 with Interstate 10.

    The last time this was in anybody's mailbox, the Iran/Contra 
    scandal was raging, Mikhail Gorbachev was General Secretary 
    of the Soviet Union and gas cost .89 cents a gallon.

    Thursday, November 10, 2011

    Guest Column: Art Hoff

    The Tattler introduces guest columnist, Arthur Hoff.  
    A longtime Emeryville resident, business and community leader, Art Hoff is a former president of the School District Advisory Board of Trustees and he now sits on the Planning Commission.
    Mr Hoff has long concerned himself with the success of the schools in Emeryville and he has been a major philanthropist to the school district, generously giving both his time and money for the betterment of our schools.
    A respected business leader in commercial real estate,  Mr Hoff weighs in on the alarming recent downgrade of Emeryville's bond capacity and its deleterious effect on the planned School/Recreation & Community Center rebuild project known as the Emeryville Center of Community Life:
       .                .                .                .


    “ECCL is not a building; it is a concept” 
    School Board member Josh Simon 

    A year ago when Proposition J was being considered, it was decided to seek the maximum bonding capacity available to the School District: $95,000,000.  Because of the limitation imposed by assessed valuation constraints, many believed that the maximum actual bonds that would be saleable were $40,000,000.  The reason being that the debt service could not exceed $60 per $100,000 assessed valuation.  In order to sell the balance of the bonds, the Emeryville assessed valuation would have to increase at an annual rate of 7% for 7 to 10 years or almost double.

    Nevertheless the School Board went ahead with planning the project based on the $95,000,000.  We are now told that the $40,000,000 is that maximum we can expect in the foreseeable future.  Considering the sluggish economy, we are in for a long period frugal living.  Emeryville assessed valuation declined 6% this year yet the School Board seems to be on the verge of going forward with the maximum program and finishing it if and when funds become available.  Which means we may end up with a partially built school of only 800 students instead of the desired goal of 1,200. 

    Perhaps there is a better way.  To quote Don Rumsfeld “you fight the war with the army you have”.  We should not make the same mistake again.
    Several suggestions: 
    1.  Maintain Anna Yates Elementary as a local neighborhood school. 
    2.  Reactivate the Middle School utilizing the Doyle/Hollis Park. 
    3.  With City help build a Recreation Center and Theater together with a remodeled high school at the present cite.  And maybe we can get by with one gym. 

    With this program we should reach the 1,200 goal in short order. 
    I do not believe there is substantial evidence that a K/12 configuration is the best school structure.

    Arthur Hoff, former President EUSD.

    Editors Note: The Tattler story on the crash of the school bonds can be read HERE.

    Who Cares About Emeryville?

    Q: How Many People Care 
         About Emeryville?

    A: 1374

    How many of us care enough about our town that they're willing to turn off the TV for ten minutes and actually vote?  These would be the heroes of our town, by the way.

    Here's the sad tale:
    (Info from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters except as noted)

    Emeryville Population:       10,080 (2010)*
    Registered Voters:                5279
    Voted On Tuesday:               1374 (26% of registered voters)

    Compared to our neighbors:

    Oakland Registered Voters:  203,469
    Voted (Nov 2010):               124,557 (61%)

    Berkeley Registered Voters:  78,631
    Voted (Nov 2010):                 49,640 (63%)

    * US Census

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Measure F: Is There A Take-A-Way?

    Will The New Council Take Anything From Measure F?

    On Tuesday Emeryville voters soundly defeated Measure F, the measure that would have replaced the in-house City Attorney's office with outside legal counsel, ostensibly, a less expensive option.

    The city council majority opposition attacked the measure that had been backed by their former colleague, ousted council member Ken Bukowski, as more costly and ultimately not even legal since the law only grants the city council the power to make such a personnel change at City Hall they said.
    The fiscal arguments presented by the opposition never made sense and the invalidating legal technicality presented by the council majority wouldn't normally be something the electorate would invest itself in, leaving one to question why voters rejected Measure F so soundly.

    The voter's utter rejection of Mr Bukowski Tuesday and Measure F's close association with Mr Bukowski seems a likely cause for the defeat of the measure, we think.

    We hope the new city council will recognize the failure of Measure F may have been at least partially due to this ill-fated association with Mr Bukowski and see greater value in the aspirations of the measure as they go about their city council duties in the months to come.  Measure F ultimately asked for greater transparency and accountability in city government and that's not something that should be pushed aside along with its dejected council member champion.