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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.


  1. The Target store being developed is completely in the City of Oakland. I don't believe the JPA for the East Bay Bridge Center gives the City of Emeryville any authority to require additional trees. Of course we don't know for sure because, as usual, you conveniently left out that pertinent information. Just because you label a story as "opinion" doesn't make it ethical to twist the facts to support your opinion. An educated opinion should be based on correct information. Your complaint would be appropriately directed at the City of Oakland.

  2. The above commenter is incorrect. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the entire East Bay Bridge mall is controlled jointly between Emeryville and Oakland. The project is 3/4ths in Emeryville and the Joint Planning Authority (JPA) reflects that. The city of Emeryville is free to revisit the Conditions of Approval for the project and properly reflect the environmental document either on its own or through the JPA. Of course it would require political will to do so.

    We are not locked into having fewer trees than the EIR requires for this project, except of course insofar as the government isn't interested in providing the proper number.

  3. I should take this opportunity to once again explain about the East Bay Bridge mall since every Tattler story on it draws comments from those who claim Emeryville's hands are tied because of the city limits boundry. The fact that the new Target store is entirely in the city boundary of Oakland makes no difference. The operative planning agreement is the JPA and that makes no distinction as to the Emeryville/Oakland border.

    Let me say again: for purposes of the East Bay Bridge mall, the location of the border between Emeryville and Oakland is immaterial; any claims to the contrary are not of consequence.

  4. i'd like to quote page 48 from the capital improvement program 2011 update: "the city has an inventory in excess of 3,500 street trees, most of which have been planted during the past several years to enhance and improve the city's appearance." i don't know if there are 3,000 trees or 150 trees left but i sure hope they aren't liquid amber which previous public works director hank van dyke was so fond of. the cost to plant each tree is $1,000. for fy 10/11 and 11/12 there is $50,000 respectively in existing funding.

  5. I don't think you correctly understand the JPA for East Bay Bridge. It does, in fact, give eachy City primary approval authority over the portions of the project that are in each city. The City of Emeryville only has design review authority over the Target store. I do not believe this includes approval of the number of trees. The City of Emeryville cannot unilaterally amend the conditions of approval for a project which is entirely in the City of Oakland. The JPA might dictate that the both cities have to amend the COA's, but it in no way allows Emeryville to do that without Oakland's approval.

  6. I don't think you correctly understand the JPA. It does not allow either city to unilaterally change the conditional of approval for part of the project that is entirely in the other city. It may allow both cities to jointly change the COAs, but Emeryville cannot do this on its own.

  7. Your wonkish interpretation of the limitations of JPA's is artificially small and doesn't acknowledge the expression of political power and how it works in the real world. There are a number of ways the City of Emeryville could extend its influence to honor the EIR if there were an interest at City Hall in doing so.

  8. I think it's great they made the whole issue so murky no one knows one way or the other whats right.
    That's good government!

  9. My further two cents on this opinion piece:
    Good government would work towards the goal spelled out in the apolitical Environmental Impact Report, the 25% canopy coverage, since public policy should be based on science, that what's actually quantifiable. Everything else is politically corruptible. The EIR tells us in no uncertain terms how the parked cars negatively impact us and precisely how to mitigate the impacts and the number is 25%, not less.

    We have been cheated out of our trees and the government should honor the EIR and work to correct this problem.

  10. Here is Councilmember West's responce:

  11. I encourage residents to view council member West's blog and read her take on this. It's unfortunate that Ms West is helping the staff forward their pro-business/anti-resident narrative on this issue. The staff and Ms West's blog would have you believe the proper way to interpret the East Bay Bridge mall's tree requirement is that the number of trees is what's important when the actual environmental document is very clear on this: 25% canopy coverage is what's required. The document cannot be ignored and it continues to vex the staff as an inconvenient truth. But the staff is looking for a spin on this issue and they're trying to distract from this very clear 25% requirement. Anything, it would seem to get residents to forget that the Environmental Impact Report for this project has been subverted and that the residents are the losers in all this.

    That Ms West is helping forward this staff attempt to deceive the residents is particularly galling given her very public insistence on government transparency and quality of life issues being front and center.

  12. Pray tell, Brian: if 25% canopy coverage is indeed a mitigation measure in the EIR, how does the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Plan monitor the implementation of this measure?

  13. I'm happy to see the staff reads the Tattler! However this argument is a ruse. The 25% canopy coverage was subverted after the developer asked the Planning Commissioners for relief from the constraints of the EIR. There is no implementation necessary since there is no agreement in the Conditions of Approval vis a vis trees.

    A new agreement that included the required 25% could have been written when Target applied for project approval last year but apparently the staff isn't interested in that.

  14. First of all, I am not a a member of the staff. I'm just an educated private citizen who implements the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for a living.

    Second, anything that is a required mitigation measure in an EIR would be documented in the corresponding Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Plan/Program (MMRP). The MMRP identifies the party responsible for monitoring implementation of each measure as well as the trigger for implementation of each measure.