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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Re-negotiate Approved Lofts: Build Family Housing

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

  1. Nice article Brian. Good points.

    Lofts are definitely not kid friendly, especially with those open staircases (not just open to the sides, but also between the steps).

    We ended up moving into Andante Emeryville, where our experience has been mostly good, but the main problem we have encountered there is the poor building standards that allow way too much sound transmission from out unit to the unit under us (despite our use of thick carpeting and padding) - there isn't any transmission of radio or tv noise, but the kids steps go straight downstairs.

    If Emeryville wants to encourage families, it needs to look at its building code and adopt an overlay mandating better control of sound transmission through floors.

    Also, if Emeryville wants to be more family-friendly, it needs to learn how to coordinate housing with the school system and even with the day care center and after school programs (and library - we do have a public library, right?).

    It seems to me that there's got to be a market for "urban friendly" parents who can see the value in Emeryville's excellent location and good public safety record, provided the City can aim it's housing policy in the right direction and re-position the Emeryville Center for Community Life.

    I support the Emeryville Center for Community Life in so far as it promises to build us a library and refurbish the badly dilapidated Emery Secondary Campus. But I think moving Anna Yate, the crown jewel in the Emeryville school system, over the the same campus as the high school is a big mistake.

    Right now the popular East Bay wisdom is that Anna Yates is excellent, but then move out or put your kids in private school, not Emery Secondary.

    Once Emery Secondary is spruced up, gets a REAL library, and has adequate science and computer services, I think it has a shot at winning over reluctant families. However, moving Anna Yates over there isn't going to upgrade Emery Secondary, it's going to downgrade (in many parent's eyes) Anna Yates.

    A city is complicated, interrelated urban ecology. You can't have family friendly housing without good schools, you can't have good schools without families.

    The door is mostly (but not completely, as you point out) closed on reversing the "loft" mistake in Emeryville.

    But I think we should direct more of our efforts to the most immediately pressing problem, which is re-thinking the Emeryville Center of Community Life before we start looking back on it as yet another mistake ....