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Friday, January 28, 2011

Photo Gives Expression Of Political Power

A Portrait Of Power
A Picture Of Juice In Emeryville; Who's Got It,Who Doesn't

Here's the Horton Street Bike Boulevard near Amtrak and its infamous and dangerous yellow curb bike lane.  This photo depicts the struggle between two special interest groups in Emeryville; automobile/business interests and bike/resident interests.  Can you tell which one has the city council's ear?

Twice over the last few years the City's own Bike Pedestrian Committee unanimously voted to get rid of this yellow zone and twice council members Nora Davis and Ken Bukowski overrode the committee in favor of Wareham Development who wants their business tenants to have convenient truck parking (in this case dumpster) instead of a safe space for bikes to ride.

When vehicles park in the bike lanes, bikers must swerve out into the automobile travel lane to get around them and they point to accident studies that show this move is particularly dangerous.  But for Emeryville to paint the curb yellow alongside the bike lane and actively encourage drivers to block the bike lane is beyond the pale and it actually forces the bicyclists to break the law when they swerve out to avoid hitting the trucks.  The vehicle code states bikes must stay in bike lanes if they are provided.

Even though the above photo starkly depicts the behind the scenes political favors at City Hall and shows who's got the juice, this photograph is unremarkable in that it merely shows an every day scene on the Horton Street Bike Boulevard with nothing out of the ordinary taking place. The City of Emeryville talks a good talk about bikes and the virtues of "complete streets" and "multi-modal transportation" but in any political contest between cars and bikes, invariably it's the car driver's pain that the city council feels.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Missing Trees At Target Store Site 18 Years Later, Mistake Is Perpetuated

This is what the East Bay Bridge Mall
was supposed to look like.
This is what we got and it seems,
all we're ever going to get.
Staff Makes Same Mistake Again; Can't Learn
 Emeryville: The Little City That Can't Seem To Do Anything Right

The 1992 Environmental Impact Report for the sprawling East Bay Bridge Mall says it all:  The rows of parked cars there will be ugly and create harsh glare, lowering the quality of life; a "significant" impact for residents.  Fortunately for us the report also identified the fix: plant trees, lots of them and then the problem will become "less than significant".  Unfortunately for us though, Emeryville contains more than its share of pro-developer government officials that don't really care about the resident's interests.  So we didn't get the required trees.
Now years later, part of the mall is being redeveloped with a Target store moving in, and we've been given a second chance to get the landscaping right, but once again government officials can't or won't work in our interests so again we won't get our promised trees.

The Target parking lot has been reconfigured and they're planting new trees right now after having recently cut down the 1990's specimens.  The city says perhaps as many as 100 new trees in all will be planted by Target.  But as in the 1990's, the percentage of the parking lot tree 'canopy coverage', that is the percentage of the parking lot covered by trees when viewed from above, will not be close to the 25% required by the mall's environmental documents.  What percentage of tree coverage Target will plant the city cannot say since apparently only Target knows that; the city hasn't taken an interest.

Past Corruption
Back in the '90's, how we first lost the trees is a history of bad governance; essentially a primer on how not to do it.  A citizen prompted 2003 Planning Department investigation revealed certain rogue Planning Commissioners had 10 years earlier, unilaterally revised the contract with the developer of the mall, Catellus Development Corporation, freeing the developer from the large number of parking lot tree plantings mandated by the mall's Environmental Impact Report document.  The action was literally a back room deal.  The environmental document required a minimum of 25% tree canopy coverage, but the actual amount planted was about 2% according to the investigation.
The investigation fingered at least three Planning Commissioners and cleared up the question as to why the environmental document required 25% tree coverage but the final 'Conditions of Approval' for the mall ultimately showed no tree requirement at all.  The investigation revealed the Planning Commissioners in question never provided testimony as to why they had intervened and let the developer off the hook for providing the trees.  One of the commissioners reflecting on the contract revision from 10 years earlier, did indicate that Catellus simply didn't want to spend the money the larger number of trees would cost and they asked the commissioners for relief from the 25% tree requirement, a task the commissioners gladly, and out of the public spotlight, provided.  The Planning Commissioners must have felt Catellus' pain since the Planning Department's investigation found no evidence of bribes having taken place.

Ghost Of The Corruption
Today, the staff has finally given up on the idea of planning at the East Bay Bridge mall since they are content with letting Target decide how many trees it wants in its parking lot.  The 25% requirement seems to have been abandoned and deference has been given to an 18 year old back room deal between some former Planning Commissioners and the profit maximizing Catellus Development Corporation.  We're locked it would seem, into a place where we cannot honor the ethos of livability the city council keeps publicly hawking.  Nobody at City Hall seems to see the folly of this: it was the apolitical Environmental Impact Report, a scientific document, that ruled that the 25% tree coverage to offset the parking lot negative impacts was necessary, not any commercial interests.  Now it seems this random piece of bad government from a bygone era is going to continue to haunt future residents of Emeryville until a forthright leader steps up and disposes this ridiculous impediment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wareham Drops Half Million Dollar Claim Of "Unexpected Expenses"; Adds New One

$500,000 Shell Game
Wareham Mysteriously Drops Claim, New One Added

Before last Saturday, the City of Emeryville was being asked to kick in $500,000 for "unexplained expenses" related to Wareham Development's new building project, then suddenly Saturday morning that request was mysteriously dropped and the city was asked to kick in the same amount to attract Lawrence Berkeley Labs to rent space in the building upon completion.

The council ultimately ok'ed the request for $500,000 for Wareham to attract Lawrence Labs Saturday with the provision that any unspent funds must be returned to the city.

The Wareham project, called Emery Station Greenway made an additional request for $500,000 added to the $1.7 million previously received from the city, that made its way onto the capital improvement list that the city council was to take up last Saturday.  The additional monetary request was justified in the capital improvements report with the description of unexplained expenses having been encountered by Wareham.  By Saturday morning however that request had been scrubbed from the list and the city came armed with the new Lawrence Labs request.  The Tattler reported on the previous unexplained construction expense last Tuesday.

Council member Jennifer West inquired Saturday about what the Wareham had encountered on their construction site that the developer previously wanted money for but was not given a satisfactory reason according to Ms West.  The strange coincidence of the exact same dollar amount was not explained.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finance Report Reveals Schools Low Ranking

Snapshot of priorities:
Report Shows Emeryville's Values Laid Bare

The City of Emeryville collected building permit fees in the last six months that funded more than $23,000 for public art but only $221 for the schools according to a City Hall interdepartmental memo released last week.
The information in the memo shows how sometimes a seemingly innocuous bureaucratic staff report can serve a greater revelatory function than by all rights it was meant to.  Such is the case of the 'Financial Progress Report' memo that in a nutshell, starkly illustrates the real priorities of the city, politician's claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

The January 6th memo, addressed to City Manager Pat O'Keeffe from the Assistant City Manager is an accounting of fees collected as a result of the 399 building permits issued by the city between July 10th and December 10, 2010.  The total valuation of commercial and residential building improvements over the six months is shown to be over $35 million netting a total of $221.84 for the schools out of $874,441 total fees collected. The schools came out dead last in the fees collected for the second half of 2010, giving numerical value to the city's moral value as manifest by its fee schedule.

Highlights of fees paid to the City of Emeryville (last half of 2010):

General Plan Fee                 $170,716.00
Technology Fee                     $34,143.35 
Plan Review Fee                  $173,630.27 
Fire Department Fee             $51,820.81 
Traffic Impact Fee                   $2105.08 
Art In Public Places Fee        $23,352.07 
School Fee                                  $221.84 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Men With Gun Look-Alikes Board Emeryville Bus

Re-Printed from the Bay Citizen:

Men with Gun Look-Alikes Board Emeryville Bus

Police stop bus and search passengers one by one; two men detained for questioning

By ZOE CORNELIAARON GLANTZ on January 18, 2011 - 6:30 p.m. PST
Emeryville police have detained two men who boarded a public shuttle bus with real-looking handgun replicas this afternoon, a police spokesman said.
The incident began at 3:43 p.m. when the Emeryville Police Department received a report of someone brandishing a gun at 40th and Watts streets, department spokesman Brian Head said. The suspect then boarded the free Emery Go Round shuttle.
A minute later, police spotted the bus and pulled it over at the corner of Hollis and 40th streets.
Seven police cars arrived on the scene, and officers pointed their guns at the bus as the roughly one dozen passengers exited one by one, walking backwards to the curb with their hands up.
Police conducted a pat search of each passenger and found that two men were concealing replica guns — one in a jacket and one in a backpack.
The guns looked “absolutely real,” Head said. “They’re pellet guns, but they’re made to look like actual working firearms that are brand-name.”
Head had no information about the relationship between the two men or what may have prompted the incident.
No arrests have been made. Head said police plan to speak to the victim who made the initial call in order to gather more information.
Reporter Aaron Glantz was on the scene and took these photos:
Emery Go Round 1
Emery Go Round 2
Emery Go Round 3
Emery Go Round 5
Emery Go Round 4

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wareham Development Wants More: "Unexpected Expenses" Cited

City To Kick In More
Wareham Now Says $1.7 Million Isn't Enough For New Project

Wareham Development Corporation is asking the City of Emeryville for $500,000 to be added to the $1.7 million they have already received for their new development project at Hollis and Powell streets the city announced last week.  The project, called 'Emery Station Greenway', has encountered "unexpected expenses" according to a report to the city council written by Helen Bean, the city's economic director.  No elaboration was given.

The project, on the east side of Hollis Street at Powell, has been controversial from its inception.  The property was originally wrested away from a private citizen and given to Wareham in a hostile "private to private" eminent domain action by the city in November 2008 (see Tattler story How They Voted, June 3).  The Redevelopment Agency then furnished Wareham $1,753,000 to develop the property, the amount Wareham claimed it needed.

The additional $500,000 is part of the capital improvement budget and will be discussed at tonight's council meeting at City Hall.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bad Faith: City Moves Against Horton Street Bike Blvd, Violates Agreement

Horton Street To Be Widened
City To Encourage More Cars On Horton Street;
Bike Safety Endangered

The City of Emeryville has earmarked $50,000 in the Capital Improvement Program to widen Horton Street to encourage more automobile use on the popular bike boulevard the Tattler learned.  The move to widen, rejected unanimously by the Bike/Pedestrian Committee, is also counter to the City's own declaration that any decisions or even discussions about the contentious bike boulevard must wait until the new Bike Plan is complete in late 2011.  It seems the City itself couldn't wait; the push to widen the street and encourage more cars to use Horton is detailed in a predated January 22 staff report for a public meeting on that date, regarding the new capital improvement budget through 2016.  

The Bike/Pedestrian Committee voted three years ago, also unanimously, to limit the number of cars on Horton Street to no more than 3000 a day; the same as Berkeley has done, to encourage safe regional bike transportation.  The City Council ignored the committee vote and widened Horton Street anyway during the Park Avenue street improvements last year.  Now, all that's needed is to stripe in the extra vehicle lane and that's what the $50,000 is earmarked to do.  

The staff report notes the street widening must be done for "public safety" and to improve the "quality of life".

The City has been reluctant to place more traffic on Hollis Street and has picked Horton to take up the slack regardless of clamoring from the bicycle community about safety concerns.  The staff report, written by City Manager Pat O'Keeffe, went on to note the widening is needed because of the "cumulative traffic from approved projects" such as the Transit Center near the Amtrak station.

Horton Street has been extremely contentious over the years with the bike community and the business community both vieing for increased accessibility in a limited space.  Bike advocates have noted that Horton Street remains the last viable quiet north/south corridor for bikes and they have openly postulated that Berkeley's Alta Planning and Design, the firm charged with writing the new Bike/Pedestrian Plan, will not be allowed to make objective findings owning to political pressure from the City to increase cars on the street.  This latest move to earmark $50,000 seems to be the pressure foretold.

The City has shown its desire to widen Horton Street for some time.  In anticipation of a future street widening, the staff overturned a Park Avenue Committee's vote to keep the sidewalks of Horton Street at least 12 feet wide several years ago.  Later, the City found it needed to narrow the sidewalks a bit more to proporly accomadate the future street widening and the developer was given the go ahead to do so during construcion time, done without notifiying the Park Avenue Committee.

The city council will take public comment at a special Saturday January 22 meeting and make the final vote May 17th.

Friday, January 14, 2011

School Academics: Is A New Building Very Effective?

Wake of $400 Million Measure J:
Why Couldn't Alternatives To Building A New School Have Been Investigated?

If you talk with educators from anywhere outside Emeryville about the steps needed to effectively improve student academic performance, topping the list will always be the same two items: smaller class size and attracting better teachers.   Way down the list will appear new school facilities.  This wisdom is universal, yet here in Emeryville were going to do the thing that's way down the list, not the things on the top of the list.
We're going to build a new school, and ironically that will stop us from improving academic acheivement by killing any chance of hiring more and better teachers.

The two most effective ways to improve schools can only be achieved by spending money on teachers and that can only be done by the citizens electing to tax themselves more.  A new parcel tax could provide the money needed to help hire more and better teachers but in the wake of the recently passed $400 million Measure J Emeryville bond initiative, it's highly unlikely that Emeryville citizens will be up for another tax for the schools anytime soon.  After the existing parcel tax voters approved a few years ago and then the Measure J mandated new school building, the public's good will has probably reached its limit.

Unfortunately, the Emeryville power elite didn't allow differing ideas that might have averted this absurdity.  All the high minded talk from the city council and the school board about improving education and doing right by the children didn't leave room for this critical dissenting view: How about if we try the two ways at the top of the list that have been shown to most effectively improve student achievement?  Instead, the forces that wanted to build a shiny new edifice stopped any such debate and the city marched headlong into committing to build a new facility.  Those with dissenting views were literally not permitted to gain any position of decision making power, and groupthink replaced debate.

Educators Guide On How To Improve Academic Achievement:
  1. Smaller class size
  2. Hire quality teachers
  3. Something else
  4. Another thing
  5. Whatnot
  6. Flotsam
  7. Jetsam
  8. Incidental
  9. Immaterial
  10. Build a new school facility

It's easy to see how this happened.  The city council, with its ossified 25 year, ready for retirement majority, wanted a "legacy project", a grand edifice on which they can hang a prominent bronze plaque extolling their virtues.  Let's face it; building a beautiful new civic building is sexier than the quiet and humble work of hiring more and better teachers and let's face it; there's no way to hang a bronze plaque on the hiring of teachers.

All this is now water over the dam.  We've set our course and building a new school is what it's going to be.  The incessant Measure J campaign noted that the new school will help attract qualified teachers and there's no doubt some truth in that.  Many teachers will likely appreciate working in the new facility.  But it's not as effective an attractant as better pay is.  Not nearly so.  We may get some improved ability to attract better teachers but at a cost of $400 million to the Emeryville taxpayers, it's inefficient in the extreme.  It's a bad deal all around.

Be it in national politics or local, the public can always benefit by applying a healthy dose of scepticism whenever moneyed interests or the power hungry propose grand schemes, ostensibly set up for public benefit.  A sceptic might question if there are hidden agendas at play whenever large amounts of public money are flashing around.  With the entire power elite in the tank for Measure J,  Emeryville could have benefited by a little scepticism from the residents.

This unfortunately is all academic, so to speak, for there's no turning back now.  All we can do at this point is to hope against hope there will be a strong uptick in academic achievement for our sub par little school district.  Since we've torpedoed our best options, hope is all we now have.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jesus Christ Loses Woodfin Backwages Fight

Woodfin CEO & Christian Evangelical Laments:
In Emeryville It's 
Woodfin Workers: 1, Jesus: 0

Woodfin Hotels CEO Sam Hardage tries to do the Lord's work.  A self-professed Christian evangelical, he's a member of the Council for National Policy,  a right-wing group pushing what it terms Christian precepts on policy-makers.  It's also why Mr. Hardage fought so hard against Emeryville's 'Living Wage ordinance for Hotel Workers' and then refused to disburse unpaid wages, even after ordered to do so by a 'secular' court.  As a good Christian, Mr. Hardage was presumably following Christ's example. After all Jesus would certainly never have paid His workers what they earned if He had owned a hotel chain back in the day in the Bethlehem/Nazareth metropolitan region.  Mr. Hardage put up a good fight but in the end the Woodfin workers proved more than a match for Sam or Jesus.
Sam Hardage: Works
for Jesus and against
his employees.

The non-profit organization East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), recently announced that Woodfin workers finally received their back pay, some $125,000 in a negotiated agreement divided among 54 workers.  Woodfin for its part, hired a phalanx of attorneys and fought the workers and the City of Emeryville for four years in an effort to impose upon the employees the moral philosophy of Jesus Christ: that the wealthy dwell upon a mountain of riches and dispatch the less fortunate to penury and pestilence. Mr. Hardage and Woodfin spent an undisclosed sum on their losing cause, a figure likely exceeding what was owed to the hotel maids.  After their bruising loss, they have indicated they now intend on obeying Emeryville's laws.

Nora Davis:
Not too fond of
working families.
Measure C, the ordinance that mandates a living wage for hotel workers in Emeryville was passed by voters and implemented five years ago in December.  During that time, Measure C has delivered a cumulative 1.2 million increase in employee wages. The ordinance increased the pay-rates by up to $5 per hour (most received less), putting up to $5,000 a year into the wallets of working families, helping them make ends meet without relying on public assistance.

Ken Bukowski: He's poor so
why should workers make money?
The Measure was passed by Emeryville voters on November 8, 2005 and was endorsed by the Alameda Labor Council, UNITE HERE Local 2850, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock.  54% of Emeryville voters approved Measure C despite $115,000 spent by the Chamber of Commerce and the hotels to defeat it.  Local politicians who worked to defeat the living wage in Emeryville include Council members Nora Davis, Ken Bukowski and Dick Kassis.  Political operative and Chamber of Commerce political action committee (EMPAC) chairman John Gooding also joined in the fight against the living wage.  See Tattler story (May 18).

Another loser: John Gooding,
strangely he works for Barbara Lee
and against living wages.
Mr. Hardage, in addition to spreading Jesus' word, has sat on many conservative councils and public policy think-tanks including the Council for National Policy, an umbrella organization for social conservative activists described by the New York Times as a "little known group of the most powerful conservatives in the country".  Mr. Hardages' colleagues on the CNP board included Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.   Mr. Hardage also sits on the board at the Adam Smith Institute, an anti-government libertarian think tank that is among the most effective groups advocating for privatization of government functions in the United States.  Rounding out the list of powerful appointments is the Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger  appointed State Commission on Judicial Performance.
Mr. Hardage was the Republican nominee for Governor of Kansas in 1982 and was twice an elite 'Bush Pioneer,' the highest echelon of campaign donors that each bundled contributions of more than $100,000 for former President George W. Bush campaigns.

The impressive political work of Mr. Hardage was joined by our own Emeryville City Council members and Jesus in their fight against living wages for Emeryville workers.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Emeryville: Land Of Palm Trees

All Pedestrians See Are Bare Trunks
Why So Many Palm Trees?

Work crews are finally preparing to take down the power line poles from the new plaza near the railroad tracks at the foot of Park Avenue as part of the Park Avenue improvement plan.  The poles will be removed so that six large palm trees can be planted.   Strangely, those trees will be planted even though the citizen's committee charged with co-designing the plaza several years ago specifically said "no" to palm trees there.
It's not only the committee that objects to palm trees.  Councilwoman Ruth Atkin likes deciduous leafy trees and she has railed against the plethora of palm trees planted in Emeryville, calling them "ugly", yet we still seem to get palms planted everywhere here.
Why palm trees?   Because, as it turns out, some nameless, faceless bureaucrat from 100 years ago thought two palms would look nice in front of City Hall, so now Emeryville must  live with palm trees everywhere.

A healthy mature palm
At the Park Avenue plaza, the new palms will create a "unified and homogeneous street-scape"; at least that's what the city planners with masters degrees tell us.  City Hall, up the street has palm trees in front, so in order to tie Park Avenue together in a Big Lebowski oriental rug sort of way, we must also have palm trees in the plaza.

Indeed even the palm trees at City Hall are brought to us by the palm trees at City Hall.  Because of the now unknown designer in 1903 that planted the two large palms in front of the original building, the architect who designed the building's addition in 2000 insisted we must have more palms around the building to achieve proper "contextualization" (see Tattler story January 2nd).
The existence of the palms at city hall, iconic in their auspicious placement, have been used to justify palms all over town from Pixar across Park Avenue to the Public Market on Shellmound Street.

Our fate seems to be sealed because like it or not, a critical mass seems to have been reached and palm trees are now seen by architects and city planners as emblematic of Emeryville.  This vision is so strong for them that they over-turned a democratic vote by citizens on the Park Avenue Committee to not plant palms in the plaza.  The irony of the ugly bare power poles there being replaced by palms is probably lost on them.

So it looks like we're going to be seeing a lot of bare trunks and not a lot of leaves in Emeryville unless someone without a masters degree in city planning can shout loud enough that the emperor has no clothes.

The one on the right is healthier

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Profile: School Superintendent John Sugiyama

Superintendent Reflects On District's Course, 
Sees Challenges Ahead

As outgoing Superintendent of the Emery Unified School District, John Sugiyama prepares the district for his replacement, the retiring schools chief reflects on his tenure.  Dr Sugiyama sits down with the Tattler.

John Sugiyama remembers the day he got the phone call.  It was in September, 2008 and he was enjoying the 2nd year of what he hoped would be a long and fulfilling retirement after a 35 year distinguished career in education, the last ten years having served as the superintendent of schools at the Dublin Unified School District.  The call was from  Alameda County Schools Superintendent Sheila Jordan.  She was imploring him to pull out of his retirement and go back to work, only this time for the little district Emery.  "It was supposed to only be for nine months", Mr Sugiyama remembers.

Even though it is tiny, Emery Unified had earned quite a reputation among school administrators all around the Bay Area.  Test scores had plummeted and the scandals reverberating from the JL Handy administration had bankrupted the district and the State had moved in and taken over.   The State had stripped the school board of its authority and then, just as the district seemed to be crawling out from its morass, a new scandal broke forcing the district to accept Superintendent Steven Wesley's resignation after a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle reported gross misrepresentation in his resume.

At this crisis point, John Sugiyama was being asked to step in and right the situation temporarily until a replacement  could be found.   After he hung up the phone with Sheila Jordan, Mr Sugiyama's curiosity was piqued, " I did research on the district" he said, "and I found a lot of exciting things going on here, not the least of which was the Center of Community Life and the unique partnerships with various agencies and foundations".

"The primary goal" as Mr Sugiyama saw it upon assuming the temporary superintendent position "was to fix the district's financial situation", still reeling from the bankruptcy.  He took the job, hoping to effect some positive change during a short tenure but as luck would have it the economic situation in Sacramento soon tanked, "In November 2008, one month after I became superintendent, the bottom fell out of the State schools budget" owing to the gathering recession.  Mr Sugiyama had to make some painful decisions and ultimately some pretty drastic cuts were made at the district, "We had to cut expenditures 22%, about $1.2 million worth" he said after noting Emery had averted the worst of what other neighboring districts had to contend with.  He notes the school parcel tax passed by Emeryville voters and a lease agreement with Piedmont Unified School District at the defunct Emeryville middle school, the 'Ralph Hawley' site, as reasons why Emeryville has fared better than other districts.  The Ralph Hawley deal alone has netted the district  $600,000 so far.  
While he acknowledges there's much work yet to be done to return the district to optimum full fiscal health, Mr Sugiyama helped institute some systemic budgetary changes, "We're now in better shape to handle fiscal crisis" he said. "The system is now better able to track revenues and expenditures",  he added.

Mr Sugiyama complained that change sometimes has been difficult at the district, noting, "It's hard to make long term change when you're a short term superintendent" but as he looked back over his life's work, he said the work here has been rewarding albeit challenging, "My tenure at Emery has been the most rewarding in my career".  He added, "If I knew what Emery was about 10 years ago, I would have considered working in an urban district [instead of suburban Dublin].  Urban districts like Emery have limitless potential to grow and improve and students really need the best possible education we can provide versus districts where students come from privilege."

Mr Sugiyama expresses some regret looking back at his Emery tenure; "If I knew I was going to serve longer than the nine months originally agreed to, I would have concentrated more on curriculum and instruction matters and been more engaged in the community as a whole".  He said the district should "do a better job communicating about our schools to the broader community".

While he worked to help usher in the school rebuild that last November's voter approved Measure J mandates, the Superintendent warned Emeryville residents, "With the commitment to build new school facilities, it's more important than ever to develop affordable family friendly housing here to generate the future students needed for our district".

With his retirement looming, this time for real, he stated, "I'm looking forward to doing other things in my life but I'll continue looking at what Emery is doing."

As to his replacement, Mr Sugiyama gave some advice for what to look for; "The new superintendent should be able to manage the likelihood that we'll have another 2-3 years of State budget crisis.  Also, someone who has a track record for improving student achievement".  He spoke directly to his replacement: "Become involved in the community and remember, you are chief educational officer representing the entire community"; sage advice from a seasoned professional.

The School Board hopes to select a new schools superintendent by the end of March and Mr Sugiyama will depart in June.

Friday, January 7, 2011

They Said It

Josh Simon Said It-
"The Housing Committee Is Taking Care Of Family Housing"

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.

Josh Simon
School Board Member
Housing Committee member
At the final meeting of the now disbanded 'Partners Committee' to usher in the Center of Community Life and the new school rebuild,  the topic of discussion was whether the new state mandated 'Measure J Oversight Committee' should include family friendly housing in its purview.  "No", School Board member Josh Simon said.  "It's inappropriate, the Housing Committee is taking care of family housing".  He added that the Housing Committee is doing a fine job of it.

The real story of the Housing Committee as it pertains to bringing family housing is something quite different.  It has been an abysmal failure:
  • In 10 years less than 10 three bedroom housing units have been built in the entire town, according to councilwoman Ruth Atkin.  
  • Households in Emeryville with at least one child dropped by 2% from 1990 - 2000 (the last year calculated in the City's housing study).
  • The population of children in Emeryville dropped by 8% from 1990 - 2000 even while the total population increased by 20% during the same time.
  • Bringing family housing is not even among the seven goals for the Housing Committee through 2014.  The committee literally does not care about family housing.
Bearing in mind that School Board member Josh Simon also sits on the Housing Committee, one has to ask what is he talking about with his quote, "The Housing Committee is taking care of family housing "?

Public Asked To Comment On New Superintendent

Monday Night Residents Can Provide 
Testimony About New Schools Chief

It takes a town to select a school superintendent.  Or at least it should.  Since voters passed the nearly $400 million school rebuild Measure J last November, now it becomes imperative to do whatever is necessary to protect that investment.  One way to protect it is to make sure the School Board doesn't blow it again with the selection process for finding a new superintendent.

A good superintendent is very important for setting a tone in which real education can happen at a school district.  Now that current chief John Sugiyama is retiring, the search is on to find a permanent replacement.  After the School Board unilaterally muffed the selection process by picking Steven Wesley for superintendent a few years ago, this time the public is going to get a chance to have their say.  We have to make sure our investment in our schools is not shredded as it could be with a bad pick.  Remember, this is important for the whole community, not just parents; after all this investment will be borne by all.
Public comment will be taken at the Emery Theater at the High School on San Pablo Avenue.  Please enter through the parking lot just to the north of the administration building at 4727 San Pablo Avenue.  Follow the signs.

  • Emery Theater at the High School 
  • January 10th (this Monday night)
  • 5-6 PM

Thursday, January 6, 2011

City's 'No Bid' Contract Abuse

Chamber Enjoys Council's Gravy Train 
Cronyism In Emeryville: 
Chamber Nets 'No Bid' Contract

Consider the fortune of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce: they produce a newspaper that calls on voters to support certain city council members for re-election and those same council members then direct the City to hire the Chamber to provide a service contract without any competition in the form of a 'no bid' contract.  Its a pretty sweet deal for the Chamber of Commerce but its also a classic example of political cronyism.

The Tattler has reported much recently about how a clause in this service contract directs the Chamber to re-start its defunct partisan newspaper but unreported until now is the fact that the entire contract is 'no bid'; granted without bidding by any service providers other than the Chamber of Commerce.

The work enumerated in the contract includes:

  1. Assist with Emeryville's 'Enterprise Zone' implementation (use the Chamber's newsletter) 
  2. Support the implementation of the City's Climate Action Plan
  3. Assist Emeryville in business attraction, retention & workforce development 

For this work, the City is to pay the Chamber of Commerce $100 per hour, up to $25,000.

There are a host of business consultancy firms that could effectively complete this work, perhaps better than the Chamber for less money but we'll never know because the city council gave their friends at the Chamber of Commerce a no-bid contract.

Martinez resident &
Chamber President
"No Bid" Bob Canter
Chamber president Bob Canter has not hidden the fact that business is off and that the company has experienced financial stress recently.   He said he is "delighted" to receive this contract from what he calls his "friends" on the council: Nora Davis, Ken Bukowski and Kurt Brinkman.  Mr Canter expressed that council member Ruth Atkin would have voted also to grant the contract but she was absent from the December 21st council meeting. For the record, Ms Atkin also received a re-election endorsement from the Chamber of Commerce.

There are no doubt other examples of no-bid contracts extended to private companies by City Hall; perhaps some also nefarious in their scope, some probably are perfectly harmless, but its doubtful any display the appearance of abject largess as this contract granted to the Chamber of Commerce.
This is what cronyism looks like.
It's likely, if pressed, there will be strenuous denials of corruption from these council members but as in Washington with its corporate lobbing efforts netting favorable legislation, there's really no way to definitively prove any quid pro quo.

So what is reasonable for Emeryville residents to expect?
It's reasonable that the city council reverse this contract and put it out to bid to other providers, if for no other reason than to give the appearance that the game is not rigged.  When it comes to the public's money, there needs to be an extra level of expectancy addressed reasonably.  These council members ain't doing it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

In Print, 'Emeryville Connection' Dead & Gone Says Chamber

Chamber Claims It's OK To Receive Public Money: 
'Emeryville Connection' Print Version Gone, To Restart In Digital Form

In the topsy-turvy world of Emeryville politics, apparently it's A-OK for public money to be doled out to a private company for the production of an on-line newsletter nakedly assisting favored council members but a print version could be problematic.  The Emeryville Chamber of Commerce says public monies given to the organization for its newsletter to help promote certain City business does not constitute a "restart" of its formerly printed newspaper the 'Emeryville Connection'.

In response to inquiries from Councilwoman Jennifer West, The Chamber's president Bob Canter insists that the defunct Emeryville Connection, published on newsprint and "mailed monthly to every address in Emeryville", will not be restarted but instead a new on-line newsletter will be produced, maybe with a different name.  For purposes of receiving public money, that, apparently is a critical difference.

The response letter sent to Councilwoman West and forwarded to the Tattler appears to attempt to put to rest concerns that the Chamber will receive taxpayer money to further its partisan politicking displayed by the Emeryville Connection because it will not be printed in "hard copy format", Mr Canter noted.  He said that the Chamber intends on enhancing their digital communications and he stressed, "The fact is that the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce does not have, and never HAS had, any plans whatsoever to restart the Emeryville Connection in any form other than digitally".

A $25,000 contract between the Chamber of Commerce and the City stipulates that the Chamber help forward the business promotion scheme the City has started called an 'Enterprise Zone'.  The contract mandates the Chamber must, "assist with the Enterprise Zone implementation" and to  "Disseminate information about the Enterprise Zone to the business community through Chamber newsletter".

Mr Canter insists the Chamber "does not require any sort of up-front capital investment from any source" to produce the digital newsletter, however the City will, in fact pay the Chamber to do exactly that.  The arrangement provides that the Enterprise Zone promotion earmarked for the newsletter over a one year time span, combined with organizing a seminar, represents 30% of the paid contract work to be performed by the Chamber.

Apparently, president Bob Canter isn't the only one who thinks that the new digital format for the Chamber newsletter is somehow salient to the question of public money supporting a private organization's partisan politicking and influence peddling.  A city staff member who wished to remain anonymous stepped into the fray, "The contract does not include paying for the Connection", the staffer told Ms West in a letter to the councilwoman .  Mr Canter was more definitive, "NO restart of our old newspaper, period".

The Emeryville Tattler first reported the story of the public money going to finance the Chamber's newspaper in a December 27th edition.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Contextualization": That's Supposed To Be Good, Isn't It?

Planning In Emeryville: 
'Contextualization' Is The New 
Buzz Word

by Brian Donahue
Over the last decade or so there's been a quiet revolution going on in the arcane world of city planning and Emeryville has not been spared its effects. The form of this revolution is a new and codified way to develop cities dubbed 'contextualization'; seemingly innocuous yet profound in its effect on how cities look and feel, our city included.
Emeryville has embraced contextualization in the core planning law both in the new over-arching General Plan and in its local antecedents such as the Park Avenue Plan.  It has been recognized by the City as a best practice when considering building design.  

Contextualization:  What It Is
In a nutshell, city planning contextualization simply means new buildings should "fit in" with surrounding existing buildings.  To 'fit in' is taken to mean the new building should architecturally acknowledge the surrounding pastiche of buildings and be reflective of the existing built environment.  New buildings are to be site specific.

The idea of course, is to avoid the odd "sore thumb" architecture that tends to happen in the absence of planning.  There is an acknowledgement that visual harmony is desirable and inappropriate and clashing architectural styles are antithetical to it.  While this may seem to be common sense, this idea is relatively new in city planning parlance, at least in municipal law.

All this is for the good and it is refreshing to see law reflective of the collective accommodation of visual aesthetics in the public realm like this.  There is a danger however; when the law is applied in a brutish manner, the original good intent is subverted and there is a degradation of the resultant public space.  This, unfortunately is what is happening in Emeryville.

It's Failing In Emeryville
In Emeryville, contextualization has been interpreted in a very obvious and literal way.  Hence, new buildings are made to blindly copy the existing neighboring buildings.  So where there are brick buildings, the new building will be brick and where there is stucco, there will be stucco, and so forth.  This is a stultifying and inelegant response that creates a kitch simulacrum of place like the Bay Street mall.  The goal should always be to create an authentic sense of place.
The ubiquitous brick in Emeryville is especially problematic.  Old brick buildings help create a sense of place not only because of the palpable sense of history they embody but more importantly, there is an inherent logic that's viscerally accessible; the brick carries the weight of the roof in a structural way that conveys presence.  These buildings feel substantial and authentic.  Standing next to them, one can feel their weight and permanence.  The new simulations, with their non load bearing "lick and stick brick", have none of these essential qualities and their slavish obedience to a brutish idea of contextualization makes a mockery of the real thing.

A Quick Primer
A better interpretation of contextualization would use the idea of the 'compliment', that is a juxtaposition of a building's essential qualities.  Compliments can come in the form of color, texture, material, and so forth and they can be thought of as an opposite.  In the field of color, compliments occur on opposite sides of the color wheel.  So for instance green is the compliment of red and yellow is the compliment of violet.  This works when the color saturation is equal and there is equality in value (relative lightness or darkness).  Color theorists have noted that complimentary colors are pleasing to the human eye and this is universal across all cultures.  Similarly, texture and other qualities have their compliments as well.
The color wheel:
opposite sides are complimentary
Beautiful compliments:
The orange of the leaf against
the blue background

Rough brick texture
has a compliment

Glassy smooth texture

A Better Way
We could start to make a more sophisticated and elegant city simply by paying closer attention to aesthetics.  Perhaps future Emeryville planners could see the value in using complimentary colors and textures instead of thuggishly trying to make bad copies of what already exists.  Maybe we could see a short and squat old red brick building (if we stop tearing them down) next to a new tall and slender building with glossy blue/green panels and stainless steel accents creating an exciting and visually activated public space.  Ironically, City Hall itself is an example of the idea of the compliment with the new addition adjoining the old part of the building.  Here, a less elegant approach would have been an attempt to copy the old portion with the new.

Emeryville planners need to be more cognizant of these most basic lessons every artist knows if we are to craft a nice place to live.  We should stop the dumbing down of visual aesthetics.  It is shameful that 'experts' have license in all fields of endeavor except for the expertise that artists might bring.  Experts are deferred to elsewhere except where the professional talent of an artist is needed.  Up until now it's been city planning experts on the staff and business people on the Planning Commission absurdly making visual aesthetic decisions for how a new building in our town should look.
Additionally, buildings in an urban environment create a psychology of space, either for the good or the bad, in their collective massing.  Of course visual aesthetics such as the use of compliments, also contribute to the psychology of the space created and this should not be treated so lightly as it has been in Emeryville.   City Hall should take up this challenge since this is such a cheap and easy way to incrementally increase livability in our town.  All it takes is a little more sensitivity and an admission that aesthetics are at least as important as other qualities they have heretofore acknowledged.  We should stop the brutish way in which contextualization has been taken up and we should demand a more enlightened approach.