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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Loan Scandal Elevates Mayor's, Councilwoman's Star

Profiles in Courage

Jac Asher & Jennifer West Emerge from Scandal as Heros

What kind of town is it where politicians need to be thanked simply for doing their job?   It's Emeryville; sadly, our kind of town.

So let's get to it.
We thank Mayor Jac Asher and Councilwoman Jennifer West for disregarding the advise of the staff and their colleagues on the Council when the two voted NO to giving a gift of $6 million in public funds to Mall developer Madison Marquette last year, a story of City Hall ineptitude that's recently been highlighted as egregious in a report by the independent Alameda County Grand Jury.
The courageous two councilwomen come out smelling like a rose in the report.  Their colleagues, the other three?  Not so much.  To be less obtuse, they came out smelling like something, just not roses.

"Vote for me and I'll look
 out for your interests"
So we did.  
And so she did.
Why was the vote courageous? Because the two council members risked scorn and repudiation for their vote.
We've seen it before, especially from Council members Nora Davis and Kurt Brinkman: 'Ms Asher and West are filled with hubris, acting as if they are more enlightened and knowledgeable then our professional staff.'  Stuff like that.  But guess what?  They ARE more enlightened and knowledgeable, and their vote against this deal, a deal the Grand Jury called a "failure" of the decision makers to "fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to the citizenry",  proves it so.
This Grand Jury report, read by people and institutions all over the East Bay is an embarrassment for the City of Emeryville.  It's a civic embarrassment Ms Asher and West heroically sought to avoid with their vote.  They should be thanked...but not by us; instead it should come from those now with egg on their faces at City Hall.  Something tells us it's not going to work out that way however.

A fan of democracy,
transparency and
effective government

There's been a twenty five year pro-developer juggernaut at Emeryville City Hall.  Notice how we say "developer" and not "development".  Because that's the ideological modus operandi that drives the council majority.  It's not that they simply want to facilitate development, it's more critically that they want to help developers...certain favored developers.  In this case Madison Marquette, the same developer they bent over backwards for to help secure free exclusive rights to the fallow land north of the Bay Street mall for almost ten years, a case wherein Emeryville residents ultimately lost everything after Madison got off the pot after not having shat.
In a rare moment of forthright brevity by a staff member, the E'Ville Eye blog recorded former City Manager Pat O'Keeffe admitting this specific general affection for developers he (and the Council majority) has; "pro developer" he called it.

Aside from a few such rare moments of cats being let out of bags at City Hall, the Grand Jury's dispassionate and apolitical take on this rotten deal, happily accommodated by the pro-developer 'council three', should serve as an irrefutable spotlight to those who still doubt the real nature of the culture here in Emeryville.  Plenty have long harped on this issue, including the Tattler, and it's validating and empowering to see such a venerable and respected outside group such as the Alameda Grand Jury agree with us.

The question now is what is to be done with this?  Having found malfeasance but no evidence of overt criminal activity in the case of the Madison Marquette Council vote, it's something the residents themselves will have to decide, possibly in the voting booth or before.

But in the meantime, again, thanks be to Jac Asher and Jennifer West.  They told us they would look out after our interests if we elected them to the City Council, and that's what they've done.  It may be a sad commentary on the state of Emeryville politics to have to say it but thanks for doing your job, you two.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Alameda County Grand Jury: City of Emeryville is Incompetent, Lacks Fiduciary Expertise

Scathing Report:
Nora Davis, Ruth Atkin and Kurt Brinkman Put Developer's Needs Ahead of Residents

City Attorney Mike Biddle is a Dilettante

The independent Alameda County Grand Jury released damning and condemnatory findings this week from a probe into a City of Emeryville scandal involving inappropriate financial dealings that put the needs of Bay Street Mall developer Madison Marquette ahead of Emeryville resident's needs.  At issue is the City Council majority's attempt to forgive $6 million of an $18 million loan to Madison Marquette by the former Redevelopment Agency at the behest of the City staff last year.
The Grand Jury's report excoriates the staff, particularly the City Attorney Mike Biddle and the recently retired Director of Finances Helen Bean for doing the bidding of the favored developer Madison at the expense of the people of Emeryville.  The scathing report also blamed City Council members Nora Davis, Ruth Atkin and Kurt Brinkman for voting to forgive the loan.

The Grand Jury said they were troubled by the fact that significant financial decisions were made with "insufficient research".  The report found the staff and the Council failed to conduct due diligence and that the staff lacks fiscal expertise.  The three City Council members and the staff were found to be incompetent and they failed to fulfill their fiduciary duty to the citizenry.

The Secret News has the whole story covered HERE.

Regional Minimum Wage Proposal: Emeryville Mayor Jac Asher Joins East Bay Mayors

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

East Bay mayors looking to raise minimum wage together

Updated 5:45 am, Monday, June 23, 2014

East Bay mayors are moving forward with a plan to adopt a single minimum wage for the region in order to share the benefits and burdens of raising salaries for the lowest-paid workers.
The proposal, initiated by Berkeley MayorTom Bates, calls on Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda, Albany and El Cerrito to adopt a minimum wage of $12.82 per hour by 2017. Richmond already has adopted its own minimum wage, $12.30 by 2017.
"It makes so much more sense if we were all on the same page, for the same amount," Bates said. "This way we can share enforcement duties, and no city would be at an economic disadvantage."
Bates' plan is modeled on Oakland's proposal, which goes before voters on Nov. 4. The primary difference is that the wage would only jump 11.6 percent the first year, instead of 36.1 percent as proposed in Oakland. Bates' plan also does not include mandatory health benefits or sick leave, which he said should be handled individually.
The advantage of a regional plan is that cities with higher minimum wages would not lose business to neighboring towns with lower minimum wages, he said. They could also share paperwork and economic analyses, as well as enforcement duties.
Several mayors said they support the idea and plan to push for it with their city councils.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said a regional minimum wage, especially if it's lower than San Francisco's $15-per-hour proposal, would give the East Bay an economic advantage in attracting business but still help its lowest-paid workers.
"We're trying to get this coordinated," Quan said. "It shouldn't be more difficult for one city to raise its minimum wage. ... It'd be much easier for all of us if this was a coordinated effort."
One hitch is that each city has its own economic nuances, which might be better addressed on smaller scales. Oakland, for example, has mostly rebounded from the recession, but some sectors of the economy are still fragile and should get specialized attention, she said.
Nonprofits and summer youth employment programs should also have exemptions, she said.
Emeryville Mayor Jac Asher said the City Council plans to look at the idea in July.
"My feeling is that we need to raise workers' wages, and we need to do it immediately. People are really having a hard time," she said. "I absolutely understand what Mayor Bates wants to do, and if there's some way to get a regional minimum wage, I'd be very supportive."
Her colleagues on the council might not be as receptive, she said. Even with a regional minimum wage proposal, each city will still have to navigate difficult political waters with its own business and labor communities, she said.
"Even Berkeley has had a hard time with this," she said, noting the Berkeley City Council's revisions and delays to that city's minimum wage plan. "I think, no matter what, we'll all be fighting battles over this."

Monday, June 16, 2014

RULE Meeting: Emery School Board Candidates Interviews

Residents United For A Livable Emeryville

Come and meet your progressive neighbors and help your city function in a good way!
Next regular meeting:  Saturday, June 21
10:00 - 12:00
Doyle St. CoHousing, 5514 Doyle St., 1st floor common room


-School Board candidates invited to answer our questions for purposes of possible endorsement

-City Council member Ruth Atkin presents a plan to fund the Emery-Go-Round

-Reports of city committees

-How to recruit more members
*subject to additions and changes
Bring breakfast snacks...............................Coffee and tea provided

For more information contact Judy Timmel, 510-601-6521 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

RULE to Vet School Board Candidates

Emery School Board November Candidates: Take Heed

The citizen's activist group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE) has announced they will interview candidates with an eye towards endorsement for November's Emeryville School Board election.  Foraying into Emery School District Board Trustee elections will be a first for the group, long active in vetting and endorsing City Council candidates.
RULE will be conducting the interviews of School Board candidates on June 21st at 10:00 AM at the Doyle Street Co-Housing 1st floor common room, 5514 Doyle Street.  All interested people, candidates and the general public are encouraged to attend.  Depending on the number of candidates seeking endorsement, the following July RULE meeting (to be announced) may also be reserved for interviews.

Below are the questions to be asked of all School Board candidates:

1. What is your view of charter schools? How should the District respond
to any applications it might receive to create a charter school within
District boundaries?

2. What, in your view, is the primary mission of the District?

3. As an individual trustee, how would you want to interact with
teachers? Would you want to meet with teachers as a group, individually,
and if so, how frequently? Or would you primarily rely on the
superintendent or public Board meetings to communicate with teachers?

4. What is the appropriate role of standardized tests? How would you use
the scores? Should scores be used to evaluate the performance of
administrators or teachers?

5. In recent years the District has fired or reduced the hours of some
staff in favor of outsourcing school services such as the breakfast and
lunch programs. When is it appropriate to outsource an existing school
service? What factors should guide these decisions?

6. What role should a Trustee play in District fund-raising from
businesses, non-profits, and grant-making institutions?

7. The District controls three properties. How should it allocate
resources amongst these properties? Assuming the completion of the 
Emeryville Center of Community Life (ECCL) in 2016 and the use 
of the San Pablo Avenue site for K-12 instruction and administrative 
offices, what should the District do with the Anna Yates and 
Ralph Hawley sites?

8. Should Emeryville schools receive contributions directly, or should they be 
managed by a third party?

This year's School Board election will contest three seats, those now occupied by current long time School Board members seeking re-election; John Affeldt* and Miguel Dwin and also a newcomer; the recently appointed member Christian Patz who was selected this spring to fill in for recently departed Josh Simon.

RULE says they hereby invite these three people to be interviewed and any other Emeryville residents  considering running for School Board Trustee this November.

*Note to readers: The seat now occupied by Board member Melodi Dice was inadvertently named as a contested seat in the original iteration of this story.  In fact the actual contested seat is the one now occupied by Board member John Affeldt.  The Tattler stands so corrected.  We apologize for the mistake.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Vergara Case: Emery Unified School District, Right Wing Victorious Against Teachers Unions

Emery Plays a Part in the Infamous 
Vergara Case
News Analysis
A Los Angeles judge ruled against California teachers and in support of a Silicon Valley billionaire today in the much watched Vergara Case, a lawsuit with major Emery Unified School District connections.  It's a case that has pitted school privatizers and anti-union right wing forces against teachers and public school supporters.  Emery Unified sent two strong anti-teacher's union supporters, former school superintendents Tony Smith and Debbra Lindo to argue in support of billionaire plaintiff David Welch (57).  The case will have repercussions far beyond California as the plaintiff vows to take the case nation-wide, a prospect that has drawn cheers from all manner of conservative pundits and right wing think tanks across the land.

Both Emery superintendents supplied the plaintiff with 'letters of declaration', using their Emery credentials to bolster their case that teachers are to blame for the poor state of education in Emeryville and in California.
Silicon Valley Tycoon David Welch
The Republican billionaire used
Emery School Superintendent's
help to argue that teachers unions
should be deep sixed. 

The plaintiff used Emery's superintendent's letters of declaration to argue that only the destruction of the teachers union and tying teacher pay with student test scores can save education, something that needs to be done "for the students".  The idea is that well qualified teachers will flock to school districts that offer no job security and pay poorly although neither Emery superintendent nor anyone representing the plaintiff has shown how this will work.  The Vergara plaintiff argued good teachers aren't interested in due process and instead clamor for their job and pay to be dependent upon the capricious whims of superintendents and other things beyond their control like student poverty and associated dysfunctional home life.

Emery Unified: Anti-Teacher Incubator 
Emery, being such a small school district, has played an over sized role in today's victory against teachers.  The district here has long taken an adversarial position against its teachers, most notably when the School Board resolved to support Superintendent Lindo over the teachers in the infamous Teachers Resolution fight.  Tony Smith and his program of shutting down schools, cutting teacher pay and turning over public schools to private charter corporations while he served as Oakland's superintendent is still revered by the School Board here at Emery.
Emery's role in the anti-teacher/ pro-privatization movement has come to be that of an incubator.  The district here collects those with disdain for teachers and elevates them to superintendent.  After attaining superintendent status, Emery sends them out into the world where they can help right wing causes and inflict damage to teachers statewide.
It's a recipe that has rankled teachers here at Emery.  Emery Teachers Association president Dawn Turner told the Tattler today, "We have the dubious distinction of having provided not one but two former superintendents as expert witnesses on the Vergara case.  They are using students to forward a right wing agenda".  Ms Turner echoed her colleagues vow, "We will fight this" she said.

In a tragicomic irony, the ruling in Los Angeles today comes right on the heels of last week's "Teacher Appreciation Week" here at Emery.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Emeryville City Council: Two Seats Open

November Open Ballot
After last autumn's announcement that Councilwoman Jennifer West will step down at the end of her term and now the announcement that Councilman Kurt Brinkman will also not seek re-election means Emeryville voters will have a selection of candidates to consider for two open City Council seats this November, an unparalleled event in modern Emeryville history.  The election could bring a change to business as usual at City Hall; in the first time in more than 35 years and possibly since Emeryville's founding, there is no incumbent on the ballot.
Look to the Tattler for election news, analysis and opinion as Emeryville voters venture into never seen before territory, that rarest of rare events: full throated democracy with a wide open Emeryville City Council ballot.

Video courtesy of the Emeryville Property Owners Association

Saturday, June 7, 2014

City Attorney Relents on Council's Charter City Directive

City Now Has Proposed Charter 

At the June 3rd City Council meeting, Mike Biddle, the city attorney, finally relented and produced a "short and focused" charter for the City of Emeryville as he had been expressly directed to do on three separate occasions by the Council, a growing source of friction publicly played out in dramatic fashion at City Hall and covered by the Tattler.  The two page document presented Tuesday by Mr Biddle spells out a new municipal governance model, a 'charter city', that will be voted on by the Council and then taken to Emeryville voters in November for their consideration.
Mr Biddle had previously resisted doing the two page work tasked to him by the Council repeatedly since April, insisting that only a 12 page document would suffice despite evidence of numerous other California city's one and two page charters.
The City Attorney had come under increasing fire from the Council for his obstinacy on the issue, eventually alienating all five members  even Councilwoman Nora Davis, his biggest supporter at City Hall.
The City Council had explained that a lengthy charter, filled with legalese, would only serve to confuse voters, leading to an unnecessary defeat for the proposal in November.

The Council has collectively expressed desire to include in the charter provisions to levy a real estate transfer tax as neighboring cities have done in order to make up for lost revenue after the demise of the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency.  Emeryville's current governing model, 'general law', a model orchestrated by Sacramento, does not permit such a tax to be implemented.  The legal provisions of charter cities, sometimes referred to as 'home rule' or 'local control' cities however, allow for local voters to decide such things.

The City Attorney in Emeryville serves at the pleasure of the City Council.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Councilwoman West: "Blackmailer"

Councilman Kurt Brinkman Accuses Colleague of Blackmail

Blackmailer?  Or...
Oh Jennifer West, how could you?  We are so very shocked and disappointed!   After more than four years on the City Council, we thought we had come to know you as a decent and reasonable person.  Now we come to find out you're nothing but an unethical blackmailer.
Either that or your colleague, Councilman Kurt Brinkman is a retrograde buffoon making capricious accusations.

It's getting bad on the Emeryville City Council.
We haven't seen collegiality dip this low on the Council since the days of Councilman Ken Bukowski.

We report, you decide.
Tuesday, Mr Brinkman accused Ms West of blackmail from the Council dais after she said she would have a hard time voting to hand over $21 million of City money to the School District to build the Center of 'Community' Life (ECCL) on San Pablo Avenue without assurances that a General Plan mandated bike/pedestrian path along the western edge of that project be built.   The Council voted in 2013 to order the School District to build the required path, and the District responded with a plan to build the path in 'phase two' of the ECCL project, a construction phase that even the School District itself admits may never happen.  Mr Brinkman who had voted with the minority in 2013 to amend Emeryville's General Plan to permanently eliminate the path, saw Ms West's attempts Tuesday to fund the path with Capital Improvement Fund money sooner rather than later (or ever) as unethical, "blackmail" he called it, a charge Councilwoman Nora Davis agreed with.
For her part, Ms West seemed baffled by the accusation from her colleague.  Afterwards she told the Tattler, "I'm trying to improve ECCL so we can be proud of it and to show how much we support bikes and pedestrians."
Where Kurt Brinkman levels the charge blackmail, some more reasonable people might call Ms West's action with regard to the ECCL bike/ped path as an entirely proper negotiation with her colleagues to fund something she finds valuable.

"The Tattler is Fox News.  The Tattler lied
when it reported I have voted to tear
down buildings in Emeryville" 
Councilman Brinkman it seems is going off the rails of late.  He's getting rather testy.  With his resignation at the end of his term in November announced last week,  Kurt granted an interview with the blog  E'Ville Eye wherein the accusations flowed freely.
He took pains to explain he never reads the Tattler but when he happened to read the May 22nd story condemning him for being part of the City Council majority responsible for demolishing old buildings in town, he was outraged.  He told the E'Ville Eye he hasn't ever voted to tear down any old buildings in Emeryville.  He held up his own home built in 1910 as proof; instead of tearing it down, "I restored it" he said.
Left unmentioned was his 2011 vote to tear down the City Hall defined "architecturally significant" turn of the century brick Golden Gate Key Building on San Pablo Avenue.  Or another early twentieth century brick building deemed architecturally and historically significant by City Hall at 3900 Adeline Street, now slated for demolition after Kurt voted to move forward with the wrecking ball last year.

3706 San Pablo Avenue
The site of the "architecturally significant"
former Golden Gate Key Building, circa 1915
"Well. don't like to tear down...
um...what I mean to say"- Kurt Brinkman
Councilman Brinkman told the E'Ville Eye that criticism of his policy prescriptions is something he accepts even though it amounts to "verbal diarrhea".  He saved the most venom for the most frequent critic of his policies; the Emeryville Tattler and its editor, reserving the epithet "the Rush Limbaugh of Emeryville" although he couldn't think of an instance where the Tattler had posted something untruthful.

But after Tuesday's performance and after Mr Brinkman deviously shut down a democratic citizen's grass roots ballot initiative meant to allow Emeryville voters to decide for themselves about removing the City's infamous Business Tax Cap in 2011, and reported by the Tattler, we have to ask, who's the real Rush Limbaugh here?