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Monday, July 30, 2012

Former Emeryville Strongman Now Throws Weight Around At State Level

Former Emeryville Mayor Redefines "Strongman"

After ruling Emeryville with an iron fist through much of the 80's and 90's, former council member and mayor Greg Harper still rules but now he's pumping iron.
Mr Harper won a State powerlifting competition in San Jose last spring with a series of lift catagories, setting a California State powerlifting record for his age group.  The former Mayor told the Tattler he started lifting weights to keep fit a few years ago and he entered the competition on a lark.  The US Powerlifting Association noted Mr Harper set the State record for the 90 kg weight class for the over 60 age group.

Powerlifting competitions combine three lifts for a total.  Mr Harper's lifts were:
Squat - 110 kg (242.5 lbs)
Bench -  70 kg (154 lbs)
Deadlift -  152.5 kg (336 lbs)
Total (record) - 332.5 kg (733 lbs)

Greg Harper, attorney-at-law, continues to live and work
in Emeryville.  He serves on the Emeryville Oversight Board for the former 

Redevelopment Agency and he also serves on the AC Transit Board of Directors.
He's not a guy to be trifled with.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Emeryville Planning Director Forced To Renounce Planning Canon

Pity Emeryville's Planning Director

He's Forced To Carry Water For Pro-Developer Philistines:  Fast Food Restaurants Are Now "Memorable" 

Like the Christians of ancient Rome, who had to renounce Jesus to the Emperor to stay alive, so too must Emeryville's Planning Director renounce universally accepted planning standards and precepts as his esteemed planning colleagues in the Bay Area look on, all to keep his job at City Hall.
Trying to fit the newly approved Panera Bakery building into compliance with Emeryville's new forward thinking General Plan has been no small feat for the Director, Charlie Bryant; and he's really earned his money, giving the decision makers in town all the cover they need to push the fast food establishment through to completion.

Emeryville's General Plan gets an award
from the American Planning Association.
Mr Bryant is second from the left.
But consider how badly Mr Bryant has had to prostrate himself before his council majority paymasters in so doing.  Mr Bryant has had to find Panera Bakery, a fast food restaurant with 1500 locations to be totally consistent with the directives of Emeryville's General Plan...a plan that no reasonable person could make claim to that kind of development, let alone a planning director.

The new General Plan received a 'Small Jurisdiction' award in 2010 from the American Planning Association.  That august and professional association noted Emeryville's General Plan will transform the town into a "vibrant, livable city".  The presenters of the award took into account the fact that 20% of the people of Emeryville participated directly in shaping the plan over a four year period, a remarkably democratic public vetting led in no small part by Mr Bryant himself.

Against this weighty backdrop, Planning Director Bryant has had to make some pretty outrageous claims to grease the skids for Panera, among them:

  • Panera 'employs Emeryville residents', but at $8 per hour without benefits, there's nobody working there that can afford to live in Emeryville

  • The archetypal fast food style building is of 'high aesthetic quality'...this makes us wonder what kind of development would be considered low aesthetic quality 

  • Panera is supporting a 'vibrant community' and 'contributing to the well being of the community'...and this makes us wonder how low the bar can be set

  • The restaurant and building is a 'memorable' place, even though it's only one of 1500 across the US and Canada

Loyalty is often considered a positive personal trait, especially for employees and we wonder if the Planning Director is acting the faithful employee for the city council and the City Manager.  To that we would remind Mr Bryant of his duty to his job to the people of Emeryville and to repaying in kind to us, his level of planning expertise that he is forsaking in the Panera case.
If there is some other reason why our General Plan should be so distorted to serve some foreign cause, we are ignorant but we would like to know.  We do know a general plan is not needed to bring fast food restaurants to a town.  In fact no planning is needed at all and we point to Anytown USA as proof.  Fast food is what you get in the absence of planning.
No, this is a corruption of what the people of Emeryville worked so hard for.  All those General Plan meetings the citizens participated in should not net more fast food restaurants for Emeryville.

If Mr Bryant is simply worried about his job security, we are empathetic.  We feel for Charlie Bryant; he knows it's a load of bollocks and no doubt he wishes his professional planning colleagues don't catch wind of his covering for Panera.  He can feel some consolation that his colleagues don't have to answer to the likes of the Emeryville city council majority, all his hyperbolic claims of fast food memorability and high aesthetic quality notwithstanding.

City Council Jettisons Red Light Cameras

Video from KTVU Channel 2 News:

Emeryville dumps red-light cameras after state redirects revenues from city.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

AC Transit Hydrogen Incident

From the Oakland Tribune:

Wrong valve cause of fire at AC Transit hydrogen station

Updated:   07/24/2012 08:57:26 PM PDT

EMERYVILLE -- The use of an incorrect valve caused a May 4 Emeryville fire that caused neighborhood 
evacuations and closed AC Transit's $10 million new hydrogen fueling station for buses, federal 
investigators have concluded.
In an apparent slip up, a pressure relief valve at the hydrogen fuel plant was made with a type of hard 
steel known to crack and fail when exposed to hydrogen, Sandia National Laboratories investigators 
said in a 33-page report released this week.
"Proper material selection would have prevented this incident," Sandia experts said in the report to be 
discussed Wednesday night by the AC Transit board. "The valve manufacturer already offers the same 
valve component using an appropriate material, therefore the correct selection (was) available."
It's unclear why the wrong valve was installed, officials said, but the result was dramatic.
Eight months after the plant opened as a model to boost hydrogen fuel cell buses, the valve failed, 
leaking hydrogen into the air that caught fire, boomed, and then burned for two hours.
No one was injured, but the fire rattled neighbors, spurred street closures and evacuation of two schools 
and several businesses, including Pixar Studios.
Meanwhile, AC Transit has temporarily suspended use of its 12 hydrogen cell fuel buses because it has 
no place to refuel them.
AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said Tuesday the transit agency still hasn't sorted out


whether the wrong valve was ordered, 
or the supplier provided a valve different 
from requested. "We're still not clear on 
that," he said.
AC Transit hopes to reopen the fuel station 
in September after making a series of 
recommended equipment and procedure 
changes, including replacing the valve that 
caused the fire.
"We're not going to reopen the plant until 
we're sure we have measures in place to 
prevent a recurrence," he said.
Johnson said the firm that designed and 
engineering the hydrogen fuel plant -- 
Linde North America -- will pay for the 
repairs and changes in accordance with its agreement with AC 
Transit. There is no cost estimate yet for fire damage and repairs.
In their report, Sandia safety experts said the intensity and duration of the fire could have been reduced 
if AC Transit and Linde employees had followed procedures to promptly communicate fire and plant 
operation information to Emeryville Fire Department.
"Both AC Transit and Linde communicated well internally, but failed to communicate with each other 
or the incident command (Emeryville Fire Department)," concluded the report by Sandia.
The safety investigators also said the fire lasted longer than necessary because the plant was not 
designed well to isolate the flow of hydrogen.
The fuel cells combine hydrogen with oxygen in the air to make electricity to run the buses without pollution.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Peet's Coffee Going Private

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Peet's Coffee & Tea going private for $977.6M

Updated 02:51 p.m., Monday, July 23, 2012
EMERYVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Peet's Coffee & Tea is being taken private by a German conglomerate for approximately $977.6 million.
Privately held Joh. A. Benckiser, which invests in consumer goods brands, will pay $73.50 per share, a 29 percent premium to Peet's closing stock price of $57.16 on Friday. The companies said Monday the deal was worth about $1 billion.
Shares of Peet's jumped $15.89, or 27.8 percent, to close at $73.05 Monday. Over the past year, the stock has traded in a range of $51.16 to $77.60.
Mitchell Pinheiro of Janney Capital Markets said in a client note that Peet's was a logical acquisition target because of its strong brand and growth potential. But the analyst was a bit surprised by the going-private deal.
"We thought Peet's would make more sense for a larger packaged food company that would have more marketing muscle, distribution power and cost synergies, as opposed to being part of a private equity portfolio," he wrote.
BDT Capital, a Chicago merchant bank, is a minority investor and adviser in the buyout.
Peet's was founded in 1966 in Berkeley, Calif., by Alfred Peet. The company gets more than half its revenue from its coffee shops and the rest from grocery sales, home delivery and sales to food service and offices.
Benckiser already holds a minority stake in D.E. Master Blenders 1753. The company was created when Sara Lee Corp. split into two businesses.
Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc. has about 13.3 million outstanding shares, according to FactSet. The current management and employees will remain with the company and its headquarters will stay in Emeryville, Calif.
The acquisition, which was unanimously approved by Peet's board, is expected to close in about three months. A majority of Peet's outstanding stock must be voted in favor of the deal at an upcoming special shareholders meeting.
Benckiser is the majority owner of Coty Inc., which is known for its celebrity fragrances and OPI nail polish. Coty announced last month that it is planning to go public and hopes to raise $700 million in an initial public offering. Bensckiser also owns Labelux, a luxury goods company with brands such as Jimmy Choo, Bally and Belstaff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

AC Transit Bus/Bike Collision

From the Oakland Tribune:

Emeryville: Bicyclist injured in collision with AC Transit bus

By sean Maher
Updated:   07/18/2012 07:49:55 AM PDT

EMERYVILLE -- A female bicyclist who collided with an AC Transit bus Tuesday night was hospitalized 
with severe head injuries, police said.
Officers responded to the crash just after 8 p.m. at the intersection of 45th Street and San Pablo Avenue, 
near the Emeryville Senior Center and the Pixar Animation Studios.
The 31-year-old woman, was rushed to a nearby hospital, police Sgt. Mike Allen said, but police did not 
release her condition or whether she'd been wearing a helmet. Allen said he believed she was stabilized.
Police were still investigating Wednesday morning how the collision happened, Allen said.
There were no passengers on the bus and the bus driver was not injured, police said. However, the driver 
"was pretty distraught" after the collision and another driver was brought in to take the bus back to a nearby 
AC Transit yard, Allen said.
Check back for updates to this story.
Contact Sean Maher at 925-943-8013. Follow him on Twitter at

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Emeryville's Vision For San Pablo Avenue: Civic Dysfunction

Berkeley Beats Emeryville

Opinion/News Analysis
Travel down San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville and look around.  It's not the kind of thing however, someone would want to do on foot; a car works much better here.  And that's not an accident - it's a result of a specific vision and suite of policy decisions authored by city council member Nora Davis and her council majority colleagues.  Fast food, baking parking lots, blank walls crowding the sidewalk, drive-in drive-out podium's the anti-pedestrian, feel bad street-scape made for high speed cars, it's San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville.

Council member Nora Davis is fond of telling citizens it used to be worse before her transformative 25 year reign changed it into...what?  It's been transformed alright but just not someplace where you'd want to linger.
San Pablo is a perfect street to put the Nora Davis city planning vision into stark perspective. The street traces it's trajectory through neighboring Berkeley as well as Emeryville and two different city planning philosophies are readily apparent as one crosses between the contrasting cities.

Twenty five years ago, San Pablo Avenue represented, from a pedestrian and neighbor perspective, failed urban planning in both Emeryville and Berkeley.  Both cities then began campaigns making the street friendlier, with government programs for pedestrian amenities and general beautification.  Raised medians were added with copious plantings and street trees were planted in both cities along with beautiful new street lighting.  But that's where the similarities stop.  After all the government spending on San Pablo, one town continues to be largely and arguably an urban wasteland while the other town has sparked a civic rebirth and the street has become an extremely vibrant community gathering place filled with street cafes, one-of-a-kind shops, an independent bookstore, art galleries, slow food restaurants and such.

Berkeley's Funky Vibe
The most amazing thing about Berkeley's transformation of San Pablo Avenue is how the street continues to maintain its funky vibe in the face of this's not just yuppies and overpriced boutiques like Fourth Street.  Since the street has extremely varied retail opportunities offering shopping and a civic space conducive to sustain a neighborhood, middle class and working class people are well served and they continue to live and shop in the neighborhood.

Over the years there have been a few attempts to make San Pablo in Emeryville more pedestrian friendly, most notably former council member John Fricke's work to bring Arizmendi's Bakery to the Promenade development but mostly it's been the anti-pedestrian / anti-neighborhood vision of council member Davis that has been the dominant force.

Berkeley, famous for its hyper involved citizenry and disdain for suburban style malls and fast food restaurants has left its stamp on San Pablo.  Decisions, large and small, made by the Berkeley city council (with the threat of a citizen uprising at a moments notice) has wrought what we now see in that city on San Pablo Avenue. Tortuous as it is, the process has worked in Berkeley and the neighbors are the beneficiaries.

Emeryville's Deference To Developers
In Emeryville, Ms Davis and the rest of the council majority has long held that the best way to develop the city is to put the developers themselves in the drivers seat.  It's a sort of an anti-planning city planning philosophy. The idea is that rational market forces know best and market forces, left to their own devises will deliver a vibrant neighborhood filled with the kinds of development consumers want.
Not to put too much emphasis on the city council policy vision of developer deference, what some might call governmental neglect, it should be noted that Ms Davis has in fact directly intervened to impose a fast food centric program for San Pablo.  At least twice councilwoman Davis has actively worked on the behalf of specific fast food restaurants for the street.  In 2003, Ms Davis even started a citizen signature drive to assure that International House of Pancakes would get the premier Park Avenue corner spot reserved for the Promenade development.  Earlier, she intervened directly and led a council majority drive for a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.

We can see, some 20 years after the street beautification work, the results of the two cities aggregate visions; one market based that sees citizens as consumers and the other neighborhood based that values community.

Three Ingredients
San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley presents pedestrians and neighbors a whole different psychology of public space than in Emeryville.  The street has a democratic feeling to it.  But what are the ingredients in Berkeley that create this vibrant civic space?  It's really pretty simple:
  • Mature beautiful street trees
  • Reasonably interesting historic architecture
  • Lack of franchise chain retail and fast food
The architecture part is probably the least important ingredient.   While it's true Emeryville typically allows its historic buildings to be demolished for new development (in violation of the General Plan which calls for adaptive re-use), the historic architecture on San Pablo in Berkeley has been saved but that said it's not really very exciting.  It does however contribute to the funky vibe pedestrians find appealing.
The street trees make a larger contribution and Berkeley here too beats Emeryville.  While Emeryville has planted many trees along San Pablo, the species selected don't grow as large and spreading as Berkeley's and Emeryville has historically allowed developers to cut down the street trees and plant new saplings.  It seems we're forever watching juvenile trees struggle to become mature here.
But by far the biggest reason Berkeley has won this contest is the lack of franchise chain retail and fast food restaurants.  Though hard to quantify, there can be no mistake about the erosional nature against street vitality this kind of nation-wide ubiquitous development has had.  It's not hyperbolic to note that this kind of development kills pedestrians natural desire to want to linger in an otherwise grand public space.  And people lingering, not rushing is how community is created.

The paradigm of franchise chain retail and fast food is the result of a lazy city council at best and a council driven by pro-developer ideology at worst.  People here should expect the city council to put the public into public policy and work to value add to the commons as a way to build community as they have done in Berkeley.  The council keeps touting how they're going to build and sustain community on San Pablo by reliance on one project: the incipient Center of Community Life.  But to expect to have 20 years of this developer led policy directed from Nora Davis and her council majority colleagues be offset by one pie-in-the-sky project is a set up for failure.  The Emeryville city council needs to stop coddling developers on San Pablo Avenue and start doing what Berkeley has done; show some leadership in governing.