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Monday, May 30, 2011

Emeryville To Become A City Without Public Library Services?

Emeryville's Library On Life Support

Below is a 5/25/2011 reprint from the East Bay Express.  While the article doesn't mention Emeryville specifically, readers should know that Emeryville residents officially use the Oakland public library Golden Gate branch.   For many years City Hall has paid the City of Oakland for library use, a fee for services since there is no public library in Emeryville.  In recent years however, Emeryville has cut back on the amount paid to Oakland*.  Emeryville's library, Golden Gate, is slated for closure according to the article.
*Note- correction added May 31: The City Clerk informs the Tattler that Emeryville has increased its payment for library services to Oakland by "almost 50% this year".  In Fiscal Year 09-10 the agreed to contribution was $85,000 and for FY 10-11 it is $120,000 but this is under negotiation dependent upon, among other things, Golden Gate library is kept open. 
The City Clerk did not acknowledge in her letter to the Tattler that in previous years, Emeryville cut back on the payments. 

Libraries on the Brink 

 Golden Gate Library-
Emeryille pays Oakland for its use.

One of Oakland's proposed budget scenarios would devastate its public library system.

What may seem inconceivable could soon become reality: If the City of Oakland can't close its $58 million budget gap by other means this summer, it will be forced to all but dismantle its public library system. Even in a best-case fiscal scenario — where homeowners agree to foot a new parcel tax and all city employees make substantial concessions — Oakland will have to cut eighty full-time positions. But the worse-case scenario, where neither of the above applies, would decimate city services, including the closure of fourteen of Oakland's eighteen public libraries. It's a move that could have devastating impacts on Oakland residents, especially young children and teens.
The library's current allotment from the city's general fund is $9.15 million.Measure Q funds of $14 million make up most of the rest of its budget, but can only be accessed if contributions from the general fund top $9.06 million. So if the city drops its contributions to a paltry $3.6 million, as proposed under the worst-case scenario, it forfeits at least three times as much in Measure Q funding. In all, the library's budget would be slashed by 85 percent.
But numbers don't tell the whole story. If the cuts go through, not only will the city close fourteen branches indefinitely — all but RockridgeDimond, the brand new 81st Avenue branch, and the Main Library downtown — and eliminate numerous jobs, but indispensable services for children, teens, and adults will be gutted. The city's neediest residents will no longer have free access to information in all its forms. Even following a temporary closure, hurdles to reopening would be significant, and innumerable young library-goers could be estranged in the process.
The library also could lose its book-buying budget, while technology services, including Internet access, would be curtailed at open branches. "It would be very limited, very minimal service," said Oakland Public Library DirectorCarmen Martinez. "What happens to the public when you do something like that is they stop coming. ... To pull that away from them is not fair, and it's an ugly picture."
If all fourteen branches were to close, Martinez anticipates that demand at the remaining four would quickly become unmanageable, especially considering that they'd be staffed at bare-bones levels below even today's reduced five-days-a-week service. The four branches would have to serve Oakland's 391,000 residents, a rate of 97,750 people per branch that compares dismally to Berkeley's 22,600 and San Francisco's 31,115. "We would be completely over capacity with people standing in line, waiting their turn," she said. "It's very dark, very depressing."

Most children's librarians would lose their jobs. Currenlty stationed in every branch, they organize countless activities, including weekly story times for preschoolers; after-school art programs; extensive community outreach efforts; and a summer reading program promoted through Oakland public schools, local organizations, and summer camps. Closing branches also will block kids' access to the libraries' collections of children's materials, and leave toddlers and parents with fewer places to play.One thing Martinez knows for sure is that many of the library's most popular services would no longer exist as we know them today.Children's Services, for which systemwide attendance last year exceeded 85,000, would be among the programs gutted. With a budget of $2.6 million and 24.6 full-time-equivalent employees, the division serves children throughout the city up to the age of fourteen, with a focus on elementary school students and kids under five.
The branch libraries that would close under the worst-case scenario are theAfrican American Museum and LibraryAsianBrookfieldChavez,EastmontElmhurst,    Golden GateLakeviewMartin Luther KingMelroseMontclairPiedmont AvenueTemescal, and West Oakland.
"It really is doomsday for the kids," said Children's Services supervising librarian Nina Lindsay, who represented fellow staff in making an impassioned case for Oakland's libraries at a city council budget workshop earlier this month. "If kids don't learn to read they don't graduate from high school. If they don't graduate from high school, we have more unemployment, more poverty, more crime. If the libraries close, that's what we've bought."
The library system's Teen Services program, targeting youth between the ages of thirteen and nineteen, would be decimated, too. It has a staff of 9.2 FTE and an annual budget of $1.1 million, and last year ran 315 events, including the Teen Summer Passport Program, an experiential education program that reaches more than 650 teens annually; and a teen job experience and volunteering program that serves 72 teens a month. Dozens of other after-school and weekend programs reach thousands more. All branches have teen collections, and seven branches host dedicated areas for teens. The main library's TeenZone alone sees 4,000 visitors a month.
An end to all this — or even the bulk of it — would leave thousands of Oakland teens without anywhere to go after school. But Teen Outreach librarianAmy Sonnie cautions against assuming that this would lead directly to loitering, drugs, or crime. The idea that kids stay out of trouble only when they're kept busy doesn't give them enough credit, she said. However, in the long run, as problems compound, the correlation could well bear itself out.
"Libraries are integral to a healthy city, and a comprehensive public safety strategy," Sonnie said. "I personally believe that safety begins with education, and libraries are a vital part of that. Funding libraries today ensures our success tomorrow. An entire generation of young people would be losing out on that. It's practically unfathomable the impact this would have on the city."
Located in the heart of Chinatown, the popular Asian Branch Library is open after school for kids Tuesday through Friday. It's even busy on Saturdays. On a recent Wednesday afternoon in a small upstairs rec room, about 25 young teens played cards, video games, and board games; made buttons and jewelry; or just sat and chatted.
Fourteen-year-old Mei Dam is among those who visit daily. She lives in East Oakland but attends school nearby and, like many of her friends, studies or plays at the library for the two hours between regular school in the day and Chinese school in the evening. She's heard the news that her community may lose this valuable resource. "I would have nowhere to go," she said. "I wouldn't be able to meet up with my friends, at least not in any place as safe."
Downstairs, where the library's collections are housed, a dozen more kids come and go in the corner of the library reserved for the teen collection. Teen librarian Vicky Chen works hard to stay up on what her branch's largely Asian-American kids are interested in, and the teen stacks reflect her success: Chinese and English-language manga comics, Chinese novels, Korean pop CDs, graphic design magazines, Wii video games, and popular DVDs.
Joining youth services on the chopping block is the library's Second Start Adult Literacy Program. Operating on a one-on-one basis, it serves far fewer people — perhaps 300 students and another 300 volunteers every year — but can have a particularly profound effect on adult lives. Geared toward English speakers who are unable to read, it requires at least a six-month commitment and entails twice-weekly meetings. Basic literacy achieved through the program can open doors to graduates, said project coordinator Amy Pretadel, by allowing them to take on new responsibilities at work, become more involved in their community, or simply read to their children for the first time.
Second Start was established in 1984 as one of the first adult literacy programs in the state, and thanks to considerable demand — according to a 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, at least one-fifth and as many as one-third of Oakland residents lack basic literacy skills — it continues to grow each year. "It's a very marginalized population that we serve," Pretadel said. "These programs fit a niche that is not being served by any other education venue in town."
At one point the Oakland Unified School District also offered a bevy of adult education classes, but its budget has already been slashed dramatically in the past few years, spelling an end to many of its ESL, GED, and vocational programs. For Oakland adults with low-level literacy, the Second Start program is their only option. And Pretadel is shocked that it might be going away — especially when it takes only $300,000 a year from the city to sustain it. "I can't tell you how horrified I am that all of this is on the table," she said.
The library would see such severe cuts only under Mayor Jean Quan's worst-case budget scenario, which to date remains a very real possibility. Her two alternate budget scenarios, however, wouldn't be nearly as disastrous. Scenario B, which hinges upon critical city employee givebacks, would result in no major changes to library operations, but would leave the system increasingly dependent on variable Measure Q funds. Scenario C, the best-case budget based on the passage of Quan's proposed $80 annual parcel tax, would provide the library system with a revenue cushion of nearly $600,000 over the next two years.
Director Martinez is hoping for the best — partly because it's too painful to imagine the worst. "I'm trying to be positive," she said. "I've been in libraries for 35 years, and I've never had to close a branch. I've never faced as dark a time economically in any municipality of government I've ever worked for."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bayer To Cut 540 Emeryville Jobs

Reprinted from the Contra Costa Times:

Bayer to cut 540 jobs in Emeryville

Updated: 05/26/2011 05:06:02 PM PDT
Bayer HealthCare announced late Wednesday that it will wind down its multiple sclerosis drug production in Emeryville, resulting in the loss of about 540 jobs starting next year and the vacating of more than 300,000 square feet of office space.
The move will result in the company's multiple sclerosis drug, Betaseron, being moved to Germany. It eventually will be produced entirely under contract by pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim, which currently makes the drug for overseas use. Bayer HealthCare's sales of the drug topped $1.6 billion last year.
No workers will be laid off in 2011, but all layoffs will be completed by 2013, said Joerg Heidrich, global head of biotech product supply for Bayer HealthCare. Employees who stay on until the transaction is complete will receive an undisclosed bonus, executives said.
"We are really proud of the employees here in Emeryville and what they've done," said Catherine Anderson, a spokeswoman for Bayer HealthCare. "It has nothing to do with site performance, but rather about Bayer trying to get greater flexibility in this marketplace."
Multiple sclerosis drugs are part of an extremely competitive market; players include Biogen, Pfizer, Merck, and Novartis.
"I'm not surprised at all, because at the end of the day, it's about being as efficient as possible for these companies," said John McCamant, editor of the Medical Technology Stockletter in Berkeley. "We see moves like this all the time
as companies try to stay competitive.   

Even though Bayer HealthCare is leaving Emeryville, it will continue to have a strong presence in the Bay Area.
Its largest footprint is in Berkeley, where it has about 1,200 employees on a 43-acre campus. In 2009, Bayer announced that it was putting more than $100 million to upgrade and improve its manufacturing capabilities there. This campus is where its hemophilia drug, Kogenate, is manufactured.
Bayer HealthCare also has about 70 employees at Mission Bay in San Francisco, where its hematology research program is based.
Besides cost cuts, the move coincides with the end of a six-year lease the company signed with multiple landlords, including biopharmaceutical company Novartis and EmeryStation East in Sept. 2007. Most of the six buildings, including the headquarters at 5650 Hollis St., will be returned to Novartis. According to a statement from Novartis, the company currently has no plans for the buildings.
Bayer is Emeryville's third-largest employer. Based on 2010 employment, Pixar is first with 1,200 employees; Novartis is second with 797.
"We think it's sad Bayer is closing and choosing to leave Emeryville because they've been really active here in the community," she said. "Hopefully as the economy recovers, it won't be to hard to fill the space."
In total, about 1.5 million square feet of space in Emeryville and Berkeley is devoted to life science use with about a 1 percent vacancy rate.
Contact David Morrill at 925-977-8534.

Friday, May 27, 2011

City Attorney: Councilman Bukowski's Letter To Emeryville Residents

Letter To The People Of Emeryville From Councilman Ken Bukowski

Council member Ken Bukowski is soliciting the following letter to the people of Emeryville, explaining his view of the November ballot initiative that would replace the existing city attorney with subcontracted attorneys on an "as needed" basis as most towns our size do.  Mr Bukowski notes that in addition to cost saving, our town would be better served legally by the new proposal. Councilman Bukowski is actively seeking out residents around town and he is disseminating this letter before asking them to sign a petition to place the issue on the ballot. There is a summation at the bottom of this letter outlining the eight reasons for the petition drive.   

*             *               *                *
November, 2011 Election
paid for by committee for city attorney measure    
by  Ken Bukowski

Emeryville  City  Attorney
Contract  Initiative  Measure

On April 26, 2011, a Notice of Intent to Circulate a petition to qualify a ballot measure known as the Emeryville City Attorney Contract Initiative Measure was filed with the City Clerk.

Your signature on this Ballot Petition will allow Emeryville Voters the opportunity to decide how the services of the City Attorney's office are provided in the upcoming November 2011 Election   Many years of unsuccessful attempts to reform the City Attorney's office has created the need to take the issue to the voters.

Many smaller cities have discovered the advantage of using sophisticated municipal law firms to handle legal matters Such law firms have more than 100 attorneys on Staff, with an expert in every field of municipal law. The collective resources of numerous cites make it possible to achieve lower legal costs, and at the same time, provide the best possible legal services available.

The Emeryville City Attorney hires outside legal counsel for every case. He does not do any legal work.
There are no specific tasks assigned to him, individually.  He assumes the role as the city's "Legal Agent."

Once an outside attorney is chosen for a case, our Legal Agent, obtains legal advice and develops a determined  strategy to handle the matter. Once the strategy is developed, he takes it to the City Council for "rubber stamp" approval. The Council does not participate in the discussion to develop the strategy. We don't even  see who is handling the cases.

The City Council should have direct dialogue with the attorneys who represent us.  We deserve the opportunity to influence the strategy of how legal cases are handled. Our Legal Agent does it all for us. He hires the attorneys, provides the instructions, and he pays the bills. The only role of the Council is to authorize his determined strategy to go forward.

A Legal Agent Denies Council Members Direct Access to the Attorney(s) We Hire  
For newer members of the council the lack of objective legal advice, and no prior history, makes it impossible to challenge determined strategy. As the City Attorney for many years, he knows what's best for the City Council, and he is determined to make that happen. Other alternatives to handle legal issues are not considered or explored.

Our Legal Agent also hires an Assistant City Attorney who handles the daily legal needs of the City Staff. The Assistant City Attorney, also handles almost all the Staff assignments. The City Attorney is Paid $263,236 annually.

He is the Single  Largest Unnecessary  Expense  in  the  City
He receives $8,044 annually in sick leave, which can be cashed out at 100%. He gets  (5) weeks paid vacation, and (2) weeks of paid administrative leave. In addition Council has agreed to pay him (9) month's severance pay. On May 3rd, when his contract was just ratified, he actually asked for another NINE month's severance pay, but the Council turned it down. The uncertain outcome of the ballot measure was the reason for the request. However, Nora Davis could not get the majority to give it to him ($197,427,00]

The City Attorney should not work directly for the City Council as a Staff employee.  The City Attorney should work under the City  Manager. We don't need a separate city department functioning under a separate leader. All city departments should have only one set of priorities. The City Manager should control the use of resources for every city department, including expenditures for legal services. The City Attorney should not have unfettered authority hire outside counsel, or unilaterally decide how much we will spend on every case. Legal  Expenses are very costly, and must be better controlled.

Five separate individuals cannot properly manage a city employee on a day-to-day basis. The City Council refuses to require hourly accounting of time spent. (common in the field of law) The potential negative impact of such a requirement may be too revealing. We pay this individual more than a Quarter-Million Dollars each year, and there is no ability to discover how he spends his time...?
The politics associated with the operation and cost of the City Attorney's Office is the reason why controversy exists. Imagine the frustration of only being able to hear the opinion of a Legal Agent on every single matter. ?  Efforts to bring accountability result in immediate character assassination attacks by Nora Davis.

If the City Council contracts for legal services with a large municipal law firm, it removes the ability for personal relationships with Council Members. Evaluation of legal services would become performance based. A career City Attorney is unnecessary, and more costly over time, earning more money and benefits with less productivity and more determination to have it his way. He knows what's best for us.

The City Attorney May Have Violated State Laws on Conflict of Interest
Government Code Section 87200 includes "City Attorney's" within  the definition of a "public official" who must comply with state laws governing conflict of interest.

Government Code Section 87100 provides,  "No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.
Section 87105. (a) A public official who holds an office specified in Section 87200 who has a financial interest in a decision within the meaning of Section 87100 shall, upon identifying a conflict of interest, or a potential conflict of interest, and immediately prior to the consideration of the matter, do all of the following:
 (1) Publicly identify the financial interest that gives rise to the conflict of interest, or potential conflict of interest, in detail, sufficient to be understood by the public.
(2) Recuse himself or herself from discussing, and voting, on the matter, or otherwise acting in violation of Section 87100.
(3) Leave the room until after the discussion, vote, and any other disposition of the matter is concluded, unless the matter has been placed on the portion of the agenda reserved for uncontested matters.

When the Notice of Intent to circulate the petition for this ballot measure was filed,  the City Attorney failed to comply with the provisions of the Government Code. Despite the obvious conflict, The City Attorney hired (with city funds) Manuela Albuquerque,  former Berkeley City Attorney, a long time friend, to investigate the validity of the proposed measure. Ms. Albuquerque promptly responded with a legal opinion "the measure is outside the scope of the initiative power of the electorate."  The Opinion was used as the basis of a written email request (below)  to withdraw the proposed ballot measure.

Dear Mr. Bukowski:
"Attached please find a cover letter and an opinion of outside counsel regarding the Emeryville Contract City Attorney Initiative Measure. As you will read for yourself, the opinion concludes that the Measure is outside the scope of the initiative power. Accordingly, I am requesting that you withdraw the Measure and provide me your decision no later than 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3, 2011. If you decide not to withdraw the Measure, then next Tuesday night as part of City Council Agenda item VIII.K., I will ask the City Council to authorize me to file a declaratory relief action to obtain a judicial declaration relieving me of my duty to prepare the ballot title and summary for the Measure. I ask that you give careful consideration of the opinion and withdraw the Measure so that the City can avoid the time, cost and expense of unnecessary and avoidable litigation."
Sincerely yours, Michael G. Biddle, City Attorney, City of Emeryville

Below is the response-
Mr. Biddle:  Thanks for your response.  You apparently think it is OK for you to hire outside counsel to have the ballot  measure declared to be invalid. I am not convinced the measure is invalid. My understanding is the test of validity doesn't happen unless it is approved by the voters....?  I don't believe the court is going to agree that a title and summary not be provided, even if the measure is invalid...
I don't think it is ethical, or proper, for you to handle any aspect of this ballot measure, since it affects you personally. If the court does not agree with you, and the measure goes forward, you have used city funds to provide an argument against approval of the measure. To me this is an act of gross misconduct.

*                         *                            *                          *
On May 3rd the City Attorney made a full (20) minute presentation to the Council, using Ms. Albuquqrque's legal opinion, to convince the City Council the ballot measure is illegal and should not be allowed go forward.

It became necessary for me to hire an attorney (Stuart Flashman) at my own expense, to provide another legal opinion to help overcome the City Attorney's determined effort to stop the proposed measure from going forward.. However, after Mr. Flashman addressed the City Council, The City Attorney's effort
was unsuccessful  Below is a partial transcript of  Mr. Flashman's comments made to the City Council, and the closing remarks of the City Council meeting on  May 3, 2011.

 Flashman said, "the courts really do not like pre-election challenges to ballot measures, because they say, hey, we put this in the constitution that people have a right to put something on the Ballot."  "We trust the people.., If the people want to put something on the ballot, let's see if they vote for it. If they do vote for it and it turns out it's illegal we can knock it off later, but why don't we trust the people, rather than having the court step in and take it off the ballot, or not let it get to the ballot..?"
"is this really a good use of taxpayer resources to try and file an action to get it knocked off, just to save the City Attorney the trouble of preparing a Ballot title and summary. To my mind that is not a good bargain"
"The other thing I have to say is I'm a little puzzled, and concerned, that the City Attorney is presenting this, and the City Attorney is involved in this, given that this Ballot Measure specifically involves the City Attorney. It seems like there's a conflict of interest there. if I was the City Attorney I would be stepping aside."

Partial transcript of city council meeting on May 3, 2011
Nora Davis    |   Mr. Biddle, it looks like we are going to proceed ahead.. And how will we... who's going to be handling this...?
Michael Biddle    |    Well, I could have Manuela Albuquerque.... At this point there is no..... in the statute, no point in time where it specifically calls out that the City Attorney should not be involved. It's when you are preparing the impartial analysis. But the preparation of the title and summary, there's no restriction, but I think I'm going to have Manuela prepare it for us.
Nora Davis    |    I, for one, think we need to get some distance here, because of the allegations that have been made here about conflict of interest.
Michael Biddle    |    That's why I had Ms. Albuquerque look into the Measure.<<
Nora Davis    |    I understand that, but as we go down this path, let's have an outside attorney handling this particular matter.
Michael Biddle    |   I certainly will.

However, ( as stated above) Mr. Biddle directed Albuquerque to prepare the Title & Summary for the ballot measure. Can it be a surprise the result is aimed to confuse & discourage voter support. It says, "the current city attorney, and two individuals within the City Attorney's Office are employees of MESA, and not of the City of Emeryville.
Are we to believe the Emeryville City Attorney is not an employee of the City..?  Emeryville taxpayer money is used to pay his wages & generous benefits...?  Mr. Biddle has a contract with the City, not MESA. His benefits are tied to what is provided to other city employees.
Emeryville taxpayers are paying him..MESA was created as a tool for City Employees, including Mr. Biddle, to avoid paying social security taxes.
It seems the title & summary was prepared with false & misleading information. However, If the title and summary was challenged, the time necessary to resolve the issue would mean the measure could not qualify in time for the November election.

A Summation
This ballot measure will provide Emeryville with the same opportunity as many other small cities who contract out legal services with large law firms who specialize in municipal law.
The collective economic power of numerous cities contracting with large municipal law firms creates a cost savings. One individual city, acting on its own, hiring different law firms, cannot achieve the same level of benefit. Such law firms have over 100 attorney's on staff to handle every aspect of a city's complex legal needs.
Approval of the ballot measure will:
[1]  Save money on the cost of legal services.
[2]  Establish hourly reporting for the high cost of all legal services.
[3]   Establish the preparation of an estimated budget for every case.
[4]  Establish direct communication between the City Council and the attorneys who represent the City.
[5]  Remove the politics from the City Attorney's Office to prevent personal relationships with Council Members (the reason why supportive members of the City Council are willing to pay him so much money).
[6]  Provide City Manager oversight over the operation and control of expenditures by the City Attorney. This insures every City Department has the same priorities. The City Manager should participate in the choice and evaluation of legal services provided to the City.
[7] Eliminate the necessity to pay the substantial cost of city employee benefits in the City Attorney's Office.
[8]  Eliminate the personal involvement, and personal opinion, of the City Attorney with the handling of personnel matters in the City.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oaks Club To Pay Fines, Clean-up Operations

Re-printed from the San Mateo Mercury News:

Card clubs in San Bruno, Emeryville agree to pay fines and clean up operations

Updated: 05/25/2011 06:13:27 AM PDT
Two card rooms shut down on allegations of loan sharking and drug dealing have settled charges with state regulators by paying fines and agreeing to clean up their operations
Artichoke Joe's Casino in San Bruno and the Oaks Card Club in Emeryville paid $575,000 each in fines and investigation costs as well as agreeing to better oversee their card rooms, said Pamela Mares of the California Gambling Control Commission. If they violate any conditions of the settlement over the next two years, they could be ordered to pay another $275,000 each in fines under the terms of the May 9 agreement.
Federal and state authorities raided the casinos in March following a multiyear investigation that confirmed allegations that Asian gangs and some employees had been loaning money to broke players at exorbitant interest rates. They allegedly then threatened the debtors if they couldn't pay up. Law enforcement officials also said drugs were being dealt out of the casinos and arrested at least 15 people.
The clubs were allowed to reopen after the gambling commission, which regulates gaming in California, decided the owners of the clubs were not part of the loan sharking or drug dealing. They have been operating since without their Asian gaming tables, but the settlement allows them to resume those games.
Alan Titus, an attorney who represents the owners of Artichoke Joe's, said five employees with ties to the crimes have been fired. Up to eight more are still under investigation and could still lose their jobs.  He said the settlement calls for improved supervision of the Asian gaming tables -- which was the site of the loan sharking -- and eliminates certain troubled practices.
Players, for example, won't be able to use cellphones at the tables, a change that was provoked by calls to loan sharks. There will also be more managers keeping an eye on the Asian gaming tables.
Titus said the owners were unaware of the crimes, at least partly because they don't speak Chinese.
"This biggest problem was a language problem," he added.
Oaks owner John Tibbetts said the Asian games will reopen Thursday, but declined to make further comments.
"(The settlement) will be complied with," he said when reached by phone at the club. "I really can't say anymore."
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

City Calls For More Storefront Retail

Plethora of Pre-Existing Empty Storefronts Doesn't Faze City
City Hall: "We Need More Empty Storefront Retail"

Emeryville's Department of Economic Development has been very busy recently working in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce and are now calling for among other things, a City Hall facilitated plan of action to deliver more empty storefronts in "neighborhood centers" around town.  This plan, called the 'Economic Development Strategy', is to become policy at City Hall.  It would spend an unknown amount of taxpayer money to "expand retail" and other business promotion.
The plan makes no reference to the vast amount of existing empty and boarded up retail throughout the city nor does it offer any policy change by way of attracting retail tenants to the new storefronts.

The strategy plan as an aside, also calls for putting more cars on our streets and encouraging auto use by improving vehicular traffic efficiency, presumably something good for business.

This is what high rent brings.
It should not be necessary here to chronicle all the cascading negative effects of boarded up storefronts in a town.  Suffice it to say the perception of this kind of blight tends to affirm and multiply it.
Emeryville, it should be noted, has long had an excess of empty storefronts, pre-dating the current recession due to our particular brand of land use public policy. City Hall has by myopic and rigid thinking, pursued a land use philosophy that just about guarantees we will see block after block of empty stores.

"Blight" Irony
The Redevelopment Agency in Emeryville is tasked with what it calls its mandate to eliminate blight.  It is the city council, through the Redevelopment Agency and their narrow, some would say surreptitious agenda that has gotten us to the place where we now find ourselves: awash in empty storefronts.  Perhaps they're incapable of seeing the irony of a government agency, dogged in its fight against blight, instead being the chief agent of blight proliferation.

General Plan Ignored
San Pablo Ave in Berkeley: This is
what cheap rent will get you.
Our $2 million General Plan calls for a policy that would help avoid empty storefronts.  The current general plan and the previous general plan both call for rehabilitating existing buildings, especially historic or architecturally significant buildings but unfortunately in Emeryville, the General Plan always takes a back seat to the whims of developers who are looking to maximize their profits.
Saving old buildings is more than just recognizing the value of the vernacular architecture of the past; leaving some existing buildings as the General Plan dictates, would keep retail rents low since new construction costs usually are added to the financing.  
What retail that CAN afford the high rents tend to be national franchise fast food and mattress stores and the like, something we the people have collectively said is not desirable.
Berkeley Model Superior
One only needs to look as far as San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley and its retail renaissance to see the benefits of keeping older, cheaper buildings around.  Berkeley, it seems has figured this out and they've left Emeryville in the dust.  
It should be said that Berkeley's much higher business tax has not served as an impediment to this flowering of resident and pedestrian friendly development.  On top of this, Berkeley is seeing this revitalization of San Pablo Avenue at the height of the recession; further evidence of the wrong-headed thinking in Emeryville.

Since Emeryville seems incapable of saving old commercial buildings regardless of the mandate from the General Plan, a fait accompli really, some other model must be introduced to stop empty storefronts from proliferating as they have been.  Other than simply not building anymore retail, a choice not embraced by the people and made clear in many public General Plan scoping meetings, a new idea needs to rise up.

A New Idea
A different approach would need to see a culture change at City Hall.  This can likely only be accomplished by  changing the ossified old guard city council.  A different council could see how Emeryville has been selling itself short to developers for many years.  A necessary change would involve the council being proactive in pursuing development and they would have to learn how to occasionally be able to say NO to a developer.
Future developers could be welcomed to make proposals for our town but when it comes to providing the street level retail that commonly accompanies the development, the developers must be told we expect the storefronts to be rented, and rented to an approved list of retail types as the General Plan dictates.  Rent could be controlled to make sure our goals are achieved; retail rent would slide down over time as the storefronts remain empty until a tenant steps up.  This rent sliding regime could be initiated in a number of ways to achieve our goals.  Skittish developers can be shown the door.

We need a culture at City Hall where this kind of dissent is not summarily attacked or ignored.  A debate should be allowed, even encouraged.

With the November elections looming, a change-up along these lines could be forthcoming, dependent upon who is elected of course.  Candidates for office should be told in no uncertain terms that new thinking is needed to stop the downward spiral of boarded up storefronts in our town.  Clearly what City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce is offering with the new Economic Development Strategy, is not rational and will only exacerbate this problem that only Emeryville seems to be flummoxed by.  Our neighbors have figured out how to deal with this, why can't we?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Secret News Is Back

Emeryville's 'The Secret News' Relaunched

The Secret News is back baby!
The much loved Emeryville-centric news blog The Secret News is back after a long hiatus and just in time for the important fall elections.  The blog has moved to a new location and has been totally redesigned for a  bigger and better look and reader friendly architecture.

Readers will be happy to know the former editor-in-chief Emeryville resident Tracy Schroth will continue on as the editor of the revamped Secret News.

The new Secret News will focus on Emeryville politics as before but also will feature revamped sections on arts/culture, business/economy, education, events and human interest stories.

The Secret News built its reputation on taking on the unreported but critical news of Emeryville politics; exposing the cozy relationship between City Hall and the large corporations in town and shining a strong spot light on the sometimes unsavory doings of the council members, planning commissioners, or any other government official.  Never popular with City Hall and not well liked by most Emeryville politicians, the Secret News built a strong readership during its former tenure and was much linked and quoted by the mass media, including the New York Times.  

There will be much sharing between the Tattler and the new Secret News since both blogs share a common goal of keeping Emeryville residents informed about their town and do not shy away from reporting on the things City Hall would rather not be made public.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pixar Warns Council: Don't Let The Rabble Take Over

Business Tax To Be Decided By Emeryville Voters
Pixar Invokes Specter Of Rancor With Business Tax Ballot Initiative

Last night, the Emeryville city council ignored the pleadings of Pixar and instructed the city attorney to begin preparations for a November ballot initiative so that voters may decide if business taxes should be raised.  In a stunning 5-0 vote that featured two reversals, the council moved forward two issues for voter's consideration: a raising of the business tax rate and a removal of the infamous business tax cap, a tax scheme designed to protect the largest corporation's upper gross receipts from taxation.

City Council: Unintelligent & Irresponsible
Before the council vote, Pixar corporate attorney Anna Shimko told the assembled throng that chaos would result if the people were so empowered.  Ms Shimko warned of a coming season of "rancor" from the business community as the election draws close.  She reminded the council of their duty to not let Emeryville descend in a baleful and chaotic state where the rabble would decide such important public policy as business taxes, "I know you to be a responsible and intelligent council" she intoned.

The Pixar Attorney offered the council a way out in the form of a delayed vote until the next council meeting so that the business community could give the council additional information and properly apprise the citizens of the disastrous results of a business tax hike in the interim.  The opportunity was seized upon by Mayor Nora Davis and Councilman Kurt Brinkman, "I think we could have one more meeting" Ms Davis said.  Council members Jennifer West and Ruth Atkin rebuffed however, "This has been in the works for over a year" Ms West said.

The council decided to take up the issue of a tax waiver for the smallest businesses under $100,000 gross receipts at a later council meeting.  Ms West noted that tax lowering can be done by a direct council vote and a plebiscite is not needed.

The people of Emeryville will be asked in November if the business tax cap, unprecedented in the Bay Area and extant for 18 years should be lifted.  On the ballot also will be a provision for voters to decide if the business tax rate should be raised from .08% to .1%, a rate still lower than our neighbors Berkeley or Oakland.  Council member West held out for a tax rate the same as Oakland, at .12%, noting four other taxes imposed on businesses there would still keep Emeryville the lowest in the area but her motion died for lack of a second.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Back Rooms, Pixar Warns City; Residents However Must Operate In The Open

Back Room Finagling Happening Right Now At City Hall
City Will Face Resident's Wrath If Business Tax Cap Remains

Faced with the biggest budget shortfall in modern Emeryville history, the city council recently turned to investigating increasing taxes after having massively cut government services.  Once their gaze was directed to the revenue side of the ledger, it didn't take long to see the glaring 800 pound gorilla residing in the business tax code: the business tax cap.  Not only does Emeryville have the lowest regular business tax rate (.08% of gross receipts) in the region, it's also the only city in the entire Bay Area with a business tax cap.

The tax cap is a huge tax break for the biggest businesses that the smaller businesses don't get; it renders all gross receipts over $146 million tax free, meaning these large corporations never pay any more than $114,000 per year, leaving billions of dollars untouchable.  The net effect of all this give-a-way to the billion dollar corporations is that the smaller businesses, the businesses that the residents find useful and neighborhood serving, pay a much higher rate than their well connected billion dollar corporate counterparts do.

Paul Ryan has a plan for America
and Pixar has a plan for Emeryville.
Both involve the rich not paying their share.
Emeryville has the unfortunate distinction of having the most regressive taxation in the entire Bay Area.  It's enough to make Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and the Republican Party blush.

After the council floated the idea on May 3rd that perhaps the tax cap could be lifted by a November ballot initiative vote of the people of Emeryville, Pixar/Disney went apoplectic and they brought in their hot shot corporate lawyers and laid down a barrage of intimidation on our little city council.   Pixar it would seem, likes the tax cap.  The council withered and agreed to have city staff meet with the lawyers in private meetings to reach some kind of accord.  These back room meetings are finishing up and on Tuesday, the council will reveal how much the Emeryville residents will be allowed to vote on in November.

Given the state of our budget crisis with all its cutting of services and shelving of public amenity plans, the tax cap sticks out like a sore thumb; a government give-a-way plum to the richest among us.  The cap goes beyond way the rhetoric of trying to attract and retain business to help Emeryville's bottom line, the low .08% tax rate does that more than enough.
Will the city council feel
Pixar's pain?
The cap is much more than that; it smells of a regime of pro-big business ideology from an era when our backs weren't against the wall as they are now.  Emeryville's business tax cap is just unfair by any metric and its time has passed.

Woe be to any politician that bends to the will of Pixar and stands in the way of the people's will.  Tuesday will tell.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Dissenting Vision On Turning Around Our Schools

Emeryville's Road Not Taken

To The Readers-
The following reprint from the New York Times is a reasoned treatise on how to turn around the abysmal state of public education nation-wide by paying teachers more.  Normally the Tattler is reticent about re-printing articles from other periodicals that aren't specifically about Emeryville, however this particular piece is both compelling and directly applicable to the Emery School District.

It is noteworthy that here in Emeryville, the public school teachers are paid LESS than the regional average.  Instead of working to pay teachers more, the school district here has sought  to build a new school.  After spending nearly $400 million, it is very possible the voters good will toward the schools is exhausted, rendering any program to pay teachers more an unlikely scenario.  So as far as Emeryville is concerned, the content below represents the road not taken.

The ideas contain herein are not considered acceptable by the school board, the school administration nor the city council insofar as they seriously question the wisdom of improving academic performance by building a new school.  The ideas presented by Mr Eggers below constitute a compelling albeit dissenting narrative about how to more effectively support public education.

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries
Published: April 30, 2011
WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.
Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.
We have a rare chance now, with many teachers near retirement, to prove we’re serious about education. The first step is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. This will take some doing.
At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.
So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and Décor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?
We’ve been working with public school teachers for 10 years; every spring, we see many of the best teachers leave the profession. They’re mowed down by the long hours, low pay, the lack of support and respect.
Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating.
But we can reverse course. In the next 10 years, over half of the nation’s nearly 3.2 million public school teachers will become eligible for retirement. Who will replace them? How do we attract and keep the best minds in the profession?
People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.
Can we do better? Can we generate “A Plan”? Of course.
The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.
Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.
And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.
McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.
For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.
Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari are founders of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary “American Teacher.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Triangle Residents Appeal Bilingual School

Private School Slated For San Pablo Ave Appealed By Neighbors 

A small but determined group of Triangle neighborhood residents have petitioned the city council to appeal a March 27th Planning Commission decision to locate an expansion campus of Oakland's Escuela Bilingue Internacional, a private K-8 bilingual school, on San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville.
The neighbors say the school, slated to accommodate 400 children plus staff, will generate myriad negative impacts to the Triangle neighborhood such as traffic, noise and parking and these are primary reasons cited for the appeal but the greatest agitation seems to be from the project's lack of a neighborhood impact study.  The lack of a proper study will leave the decision makers and the neighbors in the dark as to possible looming problems associated with the project the appellants say.

Triangle resident and appellant Eric Gascoyne complained that the project has been rushed without a proper vetting by the neighbors, "The city pretty much rammed this through" he lamented.  Further, he says that since tuition starts at $17,000, the school is too expensive for Emeryville resident's children, "They're not really serving the's a business".

The school's existing
Alcatraz Avenue campus
will remain for the time being
In a letter to the city council, the Triangle resident appellants posit that a plan submitted to the city by the school meant to ameliorate some neighbor concerns does not go far enough and they draw attention to a problem with public safety regarding a 300 foot public pathway easement between the proposed school and the residential neighborhood.
One Triangle neighbor who wished to remain anonymous, described the path as "a place waiting for somebody to get mugged.  The path has 90 degree turns with blind spots so the cops can't see down the length of it".

Mr Gascoyne noted the city's San Pablo Avenue plan mandates that the street is supposed to be for locally serving retail.  After injecting that the school is really just a non locally serving business he told the Tattler, "Any other business would be required to respect the neighbors, but you can't say anything against a school."

The school is proposed for 4550 San Pablo Avenue near 47th Street.

The council will hear the appeal of the Escuela Bilingue Internacional school at a special public hearing slated for May 19th at 6:00 at City Hall.

The Triangle residents plan a community meeting about this school on Saturday May 14th at 12:30 at the Senior Center located at 4321 Salem Street.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Emeryville Selected As 1 Of 6 Sites For Prestigeous Lab

Re-printed from the San Francisco Business Times:

New site

Lawrence Berkeley Lab picks six finalists for second campus

Date: Monday, May 9, 2011, 1:40pm 
    Blanca TorresReporter
    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has identified six finalists in cities including Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, Albany and Richmond for its potential second campus site.
    The selection comes after the lab reviewed 21 submissions responding to a request for proposals due in March.
    “The large number of visionary responses created by so many communities in the East Bay is an impressive reminder of the value that our region places on science in service of society,” said Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos, in a statement. “And now that we have identified our top candidates, we look forward to working with them as we move closer to selecting a preferred site.”
    The finalists include:
    • Alameda Point, a former Navy base, in Alameda, proposed by the City of Alameda
    • Berkeley Aquatic Park West in west Berkeley, proposed by a team led by Michael and Steve Goldin.
    • Brooklyn Basin in Oakland, proposed by the Oakland Harbor Partners, developers of the Oak to Ninth project including Signature Properties.
    • Emeryville/Berkeley, proposed by TMG Partners and Wareham Development.
    • Golden Gate Fields, spanning the cities of Berkeley and Albany, proposed by MI Development.
    • Richmond Field Station, a site currently owned by the University of California in Richmond.
    The lab wants a second campus within 20 to 25 minutes of the original campus in the Berkeley that has enough land capacity to accommodate future growth and has easy access to public transportation and other amenities.
    The RFP called for a site that can accommodate up to 2 million square feet of lab, office and research and development space including a 3,000-foot-long building.
    Officials from the lab had hoped to release their short list in April, but the selection took longer than they originally expected. The lab has altered its timeline and now expects to make a final decision by November, instead of this summer, and move into the second campus in mid-2016.
    The request for proposals drew interest developers and city leaders from sites over the Oakland Hills in Walnut Creek and Dublin as well the cities adjacent to Berkeley.
    The second campus has been a highly sought after opportunity because of its potential to bring hundreds of jobs as well as spin-off companies and other economic benefits.

    Email Blanca Torrres at