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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Transit Center: Zombie Redevelopment Rises In Emeryville

Undead Redevelopment Agency Roaming Emeryville
Wareham Continues To Feed At Public Trough Even After The Demise Of The Redevelopment Agency

When it comes to Wareham Development in
Emeryville, its funding source, the
Redevelopment Agency, just won't
stay dead.
Call it the government agency that can't be killed.  How else to explain how favored Emeryville developer Rich Robbins, CEO of Wareham Development, recently dealt with his corporate welfare funding problem?  That being; how can he continue to receive taxpayer money for his development proposals after his favorite milk cow, the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency was killed by Sacramento?  Answer:  If Redevelopment is dead, no matter... City Hall can be directly summonsed to fund his projects...use the Emeryville General Fund via tax increment financing, just like the long gone Redevelopment Agency.

Wareham has been moving forward with its Transit Center project, a contentious office and bio tech tower on Horton Street until the Redevelopment Agency died and so now, Mr Robbins has convinced three council members, a majority, to fund the project with tax increment financing out of Emeryville's General Fund (council members Jennifer West and Jac Asher voted NO).
The way it's going to work is that the General Fund will be tapped for 12 years, for the project's tax increments, to help fund the project.  Wareham puts the money up front but no taxes will be paid by Wareham for the Transit Center for the 12 year term; all those funds that normally would be paid to the city as every other business does will be shuttled back instead to Wareham.  This is an unprecedented move by City Hall that begs the question; why should Wareham receive this public gift?  And why not any other host of businesses in town?

Since Redevelopment Agencies have been shut down by the State, for exactly this sort of abuse, now the city council majority is getting creative in how it gives this favored developer public money.
The council obviously was listening recently when Wareham surrogate and Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Cantor recently encouraged them, "[Now that the Redevelopment Agency is gone] you have to get a little bold" in giving away public money to Wareham.
Wareham it should be noted, has been on the receiving end of many such agreements with City Hall, having received more than $4 million in taxpayer assistance over the years.  Additionally, Wareham received the entire amount of Federal grant money garnered by Emeryville for toxic waste clean-up, some $1 million, leaving other developers with toxic soils out of the loop.

"Toxic Soup Bubbling Up"
"Toxic Soup Bubbling Up"
Toxins are migrating at the
site according to Wareham...
State officials say BS
to that charge.
The council members were warned by Wareham at the November 6th council meeting that they must move quickly on this project because toxins in the soil under the proposed project are on the move.  "It's a toxic soup, bubbling up" said Geoff Sears, Wareham's point man for squeezing the council over the years. This alarmist claim goes against direct statements from the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), the agency who designed the entombment of the toxins leftover from the years when it was a Westinghouse manufacturing site.  Toxins were left but a containment system including 40 foot subterranean slurry walls and an "engineered cap" were built some years ago to permanently entomb the toxins and stop their movement.  DTSC officials have said the site is safe as long as it is not opened up.
Now Wareham says the containment system is no good and Emeryville must move to approve work on the site because toxins are bubbling up.  We'd like to see Wareham defend this fatuous claim and we challenge the council to question Wareham on this.  We think this was meant to cause alarm by rube council members to wring out a better deal from them.

Irony: Wareham Won't Clean-Up The Site
After all the hand wringing from the city council about how we need to clean-up the site, Wareham now informs us they won't even do that as part of the Transit Center project.  Previously when the Redevelopment Agency was alive, Wareham intended to remove all the toxic soil but now, as part of a redesign to save money, only the top 10 feet of soil will be removed leaving the rest to be entombed under the building. A new engineered cap with slurry walls will be installed to leave the problem to another generation.

This iteration of the Transit Center with it's City Hall give-a-way is but the newest version of Emeryville taxpayers paying a well connected developer for a project of dubious public benefit.  We've already given Wareham over $4 million dollars for other projects around town and for this project we've already changed our General Plan especially to accommodate this building by ignoring our building height mandates.  As the Tattler has noted, the 'transit" part of the Transit Center is a joke; it's really just an office building with four bus bays in the lower parking area.

Readers are invited to use the Tattler's search engine by typing in "Wareham" to peruse all the stories highlighting the give-a-ways this developer has been receiving from the City of Emeryville. We say NO to opening up and putting at risk our General Fund to help Wareham once again, regardless of the interpersonal relationships that have blossomed between Wareham's Rich Robbins and City Councilwoman Nora Davis and City Manager Pat O'Keeffe.  It's a terrible precedent and Wareham has already benefited more than enough at our expense.

California has killed the Redevelopment Agency.  Let's not bring it back to life just to continue to help this politically connected developer.  Let's turn the page and move on past this kind of moribund public policy and develop our town in a more bottom up fashion.


  1. If the citizens of Emeryville would stop putting the same people, YEAR AFTER YEAR, onto the City Council, this stuff wouldn't keep happening.
    Seems to me, the citizens of Emeryville WANT their money given to developers year after year. Why else would they keep voting the same people in? The citizens, as a group have spoken they are in favor of corporate welfare.

    1. Either that or perhaps there is ignorance about the whole thing. No newspaper = ill informed citizenry = bad public policy. It's a perfect environment for sharpies like Rich Robbins to benefit.