Search The Tattler

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Emeryville Closes Out Year With Lots of 100% Rental Development

More Than 1000 Residential Rental Units Coming
Change in Emeryville Demographics 

Where's the Public Debate?

The City of Emeryville is ending the year with a big push to add new residents.  Lots of residents, all in four 100% rental development projects.  These four projects will deliver 1045 new units and increase the population of our town by 15%.  In a city with only 10,000 residents, that represents a substantial increase.  After years of condo building in Emeryville, these all rental projects are a real change and will dramatically transform the demographics for our town.

The following new projects are either already approved or moving to approval and are 100% rental:

  • Sherwin Williams Project: 460 units
  • Avalon Bay project: 260 units
  • Marketplace phase one: 225 units
  • Maz project: 100 units
At 1045 rental units, some with more than one dweller, the increase in population will probably be over 1500.  Adding to this number are other rental units at new development projects either approved, recently finished or in the pipeline that are not 100% rental but contain some condos.

A new Emeryville resident

Rental residents tend to be different from homeowner residents.  They aren't as vested in their towns and they tend to be less civically minded.  Recent renters in Emeryville specifically have been primarily made up of San Francisco tech workers looking for cheaper rent than San Francisco offers.  These workers tend to be single and work long hours meaning they tend to drive in, "cocoon" and drive out.  The result is an under utilized commons, with a populace that generally feels little allegiance to the neighborhood or the town.   Also, renters tend to look less critically at civic projects involving raises in property taxes, increasing the opportunity for abuses by decision makers and developers that would stand to benefit.

Emeryville is experiencing this 100% rental building boom because the rental market in the Bay Area is extremely robust right now and developers are eager to cash in.  With its well earned reputation for accommodating developers, City Hall has stepped up to the plate and quickly moved these projects forward.  
The City Council is letting this wave wash over us.  They're letting the developers do what they want to do...and what they want to do now is build rental units.  What the Council is not allowing is a public debate about this.

Emeryville City Council members have historically never been fond of city planning.  They've never been known to defer to planning regulations, opting instead to let developers build our town as the real estate market there's no change here in that regard.  But what IS different, what HAS changed is that profit maximization in the market now dictates that 100% rental only projects be built, and that promises to change our town.  We need to be aware this resulting development will be here for generations to come.  Is this something we want?  Is it wise?  Is this something that will improve our town?  

There should be a public debate about this.


  1. Brian ~ I really get where you're going with this, but there IS a sizeable minority
    of "renters" in Emeryville (like US) who don't own because we don't have the
    means (down payment and showable income) to do so. We're "weird" because
    we look educated and rich, but are NOT. Whereas most of those other renters
    are low-income folks.
    But still, I "get it" ~ developing for short-term rentals (very profitable) is NOT the same as developing for sake-holding owners. Only, I'm VERY involved in our town, as are some of the very cool low-income RULE members (notably black) who can't "own." Just saying.
    And by the way, I LOVE the Tattler. So ballsy. And so "The Emporer's New Clothes." Berkeley

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Berkeley.
      Renters you and your cohorts may be but the copious civic engagement you and yours have displayed over the years makes you outliers, not the norm as it were. But still, we love outlier renters!

  2. You are wrong this time, Brian. I suggest you butt out. Rental housing that might eventually be converted, like Watergate was converted, is the future. Either way, it is the Tax Roll that benefits. And, correspondingly, so does the City of Emeryville. It is not your call.

    1. I should butt out and so should you...and everybody else in town! So says the City Council. We're supposed to just let them do what they do; debate is not helpful. After all, they're politicians and only have the public's interests at heart, right?

      OBW, the "tax roll" is not benefitted by residential construction; rental OR condo. Emeryville actually LOSES money on residential development. But still, we must remember, the Council knows best...right?

  3. Yawn. There's a city for NIMBYs, it's across the Bay. Good for the city council for having the guts to just plain ignore this noisy minority.

    1. Insofar as ignoring constituents is gutsy I'd have to say they're gutsy all right. In fact they're a lot gutsier than you're giving them credit for: they tend to ignore huge chunks of the population wholesale. The one constituency they don't seem to ignore is the one that doesn't even vote. That constituency tends to reside in Piedmont or Marin County or other wealthy Bay Area enclaves. Gutsy indeed.

  4. These developments are being created as rentals, but in ten years, once the statute of limitations on construction defect litigation expires, they will be converted to condos. This is done by builders to avoid costly lawsuits, some frivolous, and allows builders to do repairs without a drawn out and costly legal battle.
    I spent 42 years of my life without owning property. That fact did not make me a criminal or less engaged politically.
    The problem with the council's philosophy of 'unrestrained growth' is the refusal to prepare transportation infrastructure to accommodate that growth. The foresight and wisdom of the push 15 years ago to construct a light rail line through Emeryville and over the New Bay Bridge (linking these new residents to Caltrain and the Transbay Terminal) will soon become evident.
    The same can be said for efforts 20 years ago to use the abandoned Spur Alley right-of-way as the basis for an off street bike path is also quite evident.
    Because Nora Davis and her council cronies are pathologically opposed to criticism, ideas, however good and prescient, presented by those perceived as political enemies are universally ridiculed and quashed.
    The council may worship the progress of its' 'Edifice Complex' with all the new construction, but in the human body, unrestrained growth is called cancer. Edifice Wrecks indeed.

  5. This huge increase in the housing stock will have a big a impact not only on Emeryville, but also on the East Bay generally. I’m really glad to see it covered here.

    However, I’d take exception with this statement:

    “Rental residents tend to be different from homeowner residents. They aren't as vested in their towns and they tend to be less civically minded.”

    I suspect it’s true that renters invest less money in their properties than home owners, but I don’t think they are necessarily less civic minded. For instance, around 65 percent of the population San Francisco rents and yet San Francisco has a fantastically vibrant civic culture.

    What type of city do we want? What is civic? I suspect that Emeryville’s city government cares primarily about generating revenue, but you can’t build a city around that. Right now Emeryville has as much identity as parking garage and that’s a true waste.

  6. I think you are too harsh on renters. Before I blunt in Oakland, ibrented for years. I cared very much about he neighborhood and spent the majority of my monthly outfkiw in the community(s) I lived in. Renters are not a bad thing. I'd be ecstatic to have these developments in upper west Oakland, and can't wait until emeryville is out of room and the development if forces southward.

  7. Have we lost this battle already? What is the percentage of occupant ownership vs. occupant renters today in Emeryville? What is the percentage of family renters vs. family ownership in Emeryville? How can we expect a meaningful debate IF the eligible voters don't care, are commuters. and are single generation commuter, transient renters? What do the most recent US Census data tell us about Emeryville residents?

    I am a long-time single occupant renter of 25+ years who does care and who feels part of neighborhood. However, there are other long-time resident renters in my neighborhood many with families.. who don't get involved... ? Why? Is the all-White City Council the problem? Frankly, I am frustrated and fearful that the straglehold of the pro-Developer City Council will have transformed Emeryville into the Town they want... faceless one-generation commuter renters... and not an Emeryville made up of healthy, family-oriented and school-oriented, local-serving neighborhoods, that I'd like to see. RENTERS are NOT the Problem.... The problem remains the Developers and the pro-Developer City Council majority.

    Is it too late?

    1. Thanks for this Richard (and everyone else)
      I'm getting lots of comments from renters like you that are politically active and community minded as you can see. To that I say...Bully! You're my kind of people! To be politically active and a community supporter is to be a full citizen. It's a feather in your cap and no one can take that from you.

      The point of the story is whereas before in Emeryville developers were interested in building loft condos, now they're only interested in building apartments. It's a change. Should we simply allow the whims of the market dictate how we develop our town or should we plan our development here? There is a difference, in the aggregate, between condos residents and apartment residents. We need a mix. But what's the proper mix? We don't know because we're not having that conversation. We're too busy reacting to the council reacting to the developers reacting to the market.

  8. It would be useful to get comments from the key staff and council members that make these decisions as well as Chair of Planning Commission. As a member of the "press", they should be willing to go on the record with the Tattler.

    Try to do this each time you write a developer story.

    1. They're a lot less forthcoming than you think. We don't do fluff pieces here. The Tattler is a nightmare for most of them. They generally can't countenance it and it's a "no comment".

    2. planners are typically told to refer all calls to the planning director, who typically refers calls to the city manager, who typically does not return calls.
      Dumbocracy inaction.

  9. Emeryville's elected officials have absolutely no power over the Planning Director here. He does and says anything with full immunity. It will be a great day for Emeryville when he leaves.