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Saturday, February 2, 2013

From The Archives

The Tattler's 'From The Archives', brings back Tattler stories from the past that we deem to still be of interest.  From The Archives appears on an occasional basis.

The featured story is from 2011, an opinion piece focused on a double deal with regards to trees never planted at the East Bay Bridge Mall.  The story, while specific to the trees can serve as a stand-in for the greater disconnect between what is promised to the residents versus what is delivered by the city council and the staff at City Hall.  The final thought in the opinion piece challenges any city council member to come forward to press for the resident's interests but two years on, City Hall continues to think city planning is best left to business interests.  This tree problem was purposely left unresolved, the developer serving as the winner and the residents serving as the losers....a common outcome here in Emeryville, the little city that can't seem to do anything right.

Here then is our From The Archives offering for today:  


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 governance 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.

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