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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

City/Schools Committee: Recipe For Disaster

We're in a Set of Pincers

The Tattler has previously reported on the cruel irony that Emeryville taxpayers are being forced by the School District to pick up the tab for the major new school rebuild called the Center of 'Community' Life, a project that requires Emeryville to attract many new families with children for its success, while at the same time City Hall has for years been sabotaging any chance for that success by refusing to build housing for families.  It's cruel because of the hoodwinking and fleecing of the taxpayers and because of the short changing of the educational prospects of the children owing to the threatened viability of the schools.  The relationship between the two government agencies, Emeryville City Hall and Emery Unified School District, is dysfunctional yet symbiotic.

But while the Tattler has made much of this twisted relationship that virtually ensures failure of the new schools we're building, a greater overarching irony exists.  The much vaunted City/Schools Committee, a body made up of the City Council and the School Board members and set up by both elected bodies was specifically started with an eye towards avoiding problems like this from happening.  The idea of Emeryville's City/Schools Committee is to work collaboratively to avoid the sorts of problems that one would expect to arise when a complex project is undertaken jointly by two agencies traditionally separated by state law.

Most municipalities it should be noted don't have city/schools committees, mostly because of the state mandated firewall that is supposed to separate these two government agencies.  Emeryville is unusual in this regard.  Over the years elected officials here have made much of the close relationship between the Council and the School Board embodied by the Committee, touting its many supposed apparent virtues. The Tattler however has cautioned against the School Board cozying up to the Council by way of this Committee, pointing out a dangerous lack of independence for the School Board this relationship has brought.

But the problem here stems from the simple fact that the City Council majority is incapable of dropping its self imposed program to let developers call the shots in Emeryville, and as a direct result virtually no affordable family friendly housing has been built here in more than fifteen years.  Over those fifteen years, Emeryville's single and married without children population skyrocketed but the town actually lost families.  What we have built is a reputation for being friendly to developers, a quality proudly proclaimed by Emeryville's former City Manager Pat O'Keeffe, drawing criticism from city planners around the Bay Area.  In fact, city planners and even some council members themselves have called Emeryville's earlier decade of building nothing but lofts 'reckless' and 'irresponsible'.

Too Late
The legacy of using Emeryville's former Redevelopment Agency to partner with developers to build zero affordable family housing during the pre-recession housing building boom, a shocker ignored by the City /Schools Committee, now virtually guarantees failure of the Center of 'Community' Life.   And without the prodigious resources of the Redevelopment Agency, very little housing will be built going forward.  The little that is built will be done by the developers themselves, leaving City Hall pretty much out of the loop.  The time to have built affordable family friendly housing was when the Redevelopment Agency was extant.

How could the City/Schools Committee have gotten it so wrong?  It's a great irony, the city that proudly innovates and brings together two separate governmental agencies to work together for a common goal by forming the City/Schools Committee is the same city that has failed miserably at that goal.  For us, the residents, it's as if we were placed in a pincers of dysfunctional government; one side making us pay and the other ensuring failure.


  1. Excellent analysis. Right on the money. Taxpayers get screwed. Proponents are fighting the tide, and it can't be done. Where would they stand if they were playing this game with their own chips? The entire project, and Measure "J" were ill conceived. Our leaders are either Ego driven, or short sighted.
    Most taxpayers don't even know its happening.

  2. all of the above.

    according to the california league of women voters, measure j passed in november 2010 with 1,982 yes, 701 no.

  3. Well, consider that for the first 8 years of the project, you couldn't pay the citizens to get involved. There was no analysis, there was no criticisms. Meeting after meeting was held and NO ONE from the public showed up, it's only in the last 3 or 4 years that any one has said anything about it, so what do you expect?
    By the time people woke up and started paying attention so much work had been done already, no one wanted to hear it.

    1. Members of the public have paid attention to this project since its beginning, including me. From the beginning, I was skeptical of this project and I showed up at the meetings. The School Board has disregarded the citizens in the process. In fact more than 70 people signed a petition to be able to have public forums on the closure of the Elementary School but the School Board ignored the petition.
      Early on I didn't think it was wise to spend so much money on the project because I pointed out that even though Emeryville residents have shown they are willing to support the schools through higher taxes (two parcel tax plebiscites), their generosity is not infinate. My worry is that this K-12 school project will not only use up all of our credit (as it has) but it will also use up Emeryville resident's good will towards the schools, making it much less likely residents will now vote for another parcel tax when the current one expires. Yet we need the parcel tax money to pay for more teachers to shrink class sizes and to pay teachers more to attract the best and the brightest. The Center of "Community' Life makes this much less likely and I think a shiny new building is much less effective way to bring up the academics at the schools.

      The work has not "already been done" and we can make the kind of city we want to live won't be decided until September 3rd when the City Council makes its final decision on it.