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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Housing in Emeryville Faces Big Change

New 'Housing Element' 
+ New Council Majority
=  Big Change

News Analysis/Opinion
A funny thing has been happening in Emeryville over the last 20 years; as the city has experienced tremendous residential growth, virtually none of it has been anything like what everybody in town says they want.  Strangely, even the City Council members themselves, the ones charged with approving residential housing development, even they say they don't want the kind of housing that keeps getting built here.
Without getting into the obvious political dysfunction if not outright prevarication regarding what the Council members say they want (loudest at re-election time), the backwards universe described above now appears to be ready to crumble.
Two vital game-changers have entered the scene in Emeryville: a new 'Housing Element' and a new progressive City Council majority.  Working in tandem, these two forces are going to mean Emeryville residents will likely get the kind of housing they really want finally.  The old days of developers having a free hand, regardless of whatever some pesky official documents at City Hall say, are likely over.  What we say we want and what we get are likely to be a closer match from now on.

The Housing Element
Bound for a dusty shelf
until the November 4th
City Council election.
The new Emeryville Housing Element, certified by the City Council on November 18th, is compiled by a professional urban housing firm, the Housing Committee and the Planning Commission that takes account of the existing housing conditions and establishes housing goals and implementation actions.  The new Housing Element is part of Emeryville's General Plan and it's the final word on housing in Emeryville until 2023.

The document doesn't mince words as pertains to the housing need side of the equation.  Central to that is a goal of more affordable family friendly housing for Emeryville.  Developers have been building too much market rate housing for singles in Emeryville the Housing Element says and our town hasn't been well served by a City Council majority that has been unwilling to effectively plan for the future.  The new Housing Element isn't alone in this assessment, Homayra Yusufi at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy authored a study, scathing in it's recounting of the baleful history of Emeryville housing highlighted by the Tattler in 2011: Building a Community: Affordable Family-Friendly Housing in Emeryville.   After the publicly embarrassing Goldman Study, the Council has moved forward a little on affordable housing, albeit in fits and starts,  but the Housing Element notes the need for affordable family friendly housing remains huge.

Here's some of the findings made by the Housing Element-

Existing Housing:

  • 82%  of new housing is comprised of studios or one-bedroom units (52% increase 2010-13)
  • 65% of occupied units are rental (47% increase 2010-13)
Housing Goals:
  • Improve 'housing tenure' specifically for affordable family-friendly housing 
  • Increase owner occupancy
Community Outreach:
The Housing Element uses data from a community workshop, a community 'roundtable' and an online community survey conducted in spring 2014.  The community reports the following needs-
  • Emeryville needs more affordable housing for families with children
  • Greater home occupancy rate (target 50%)
  • Larger households
  • More for-sale units and less rental units
  • Retail associated with housing should be locally serving, locally owned, non-chain, non-'formula'
There's lots of expensive plans commissioned by the City Council gathering dust at City Hall.  The General Plan, the Pedestrian/Bike Plan, the Climate Action Plan and a plethora of neighborhood design guideline plans among them.  Some of Emeryville's plans have received awards.  Some of these plans have been done in order to satisfy State requirements.  Some were probably conducted with an eye towards imparting an aura of legitimacy for Emeryville, more to give the impression this town is as good as other towns with similar plans. The problem has been when there's a contest between a City Plan and a developer's desires.  The plans we have are no match against a developer with profit maximizing as his goal.  Then the plans remain on their respective shelves or they get amended to accommodate the developer (the Tattler has reported on this for the entirely of its near 5 year run).
Now something has changed.  In the wake of the recent City Council election, we think the Housing Element is going to be actually considered, as development proposals like the Sherwin Williams Project winds its way through the approval process.

The Sherwin Williams Project Can't be Built as Proposed
Sherwin Williams developer SRM Ernst wants to build a mostly residential project in the Park Avenue neighborhood with almost 500 all rental apartment units, all market rate with no guarantees about locally owned locally serving retail uses.  The vast majority of the apartment units are proposed to be studios and one bedrooms.
The Sherwin Williams Project as it is being proposed, will not be able to be built if the new City Council takes the Housing Element seriously.  Housing projects in Emeryville in the future not only need to be compliant on their own with the Housing Element, but they also further, need to help the whole city bring its averages towards the goals it postulates.   The Sherwin Williams project does neither.
CEO Joe Ernst
of SRM Ernst

Tell your friends
Joe, Emeryville
has changed.

It's easy to see how the Sherwin Williams developer could have gotten the project he wants if Emeryville hadn't had an election wherein we elected two new progressive Council members added to an existing one.   Without an election like what we had on November 4th, SRM Ernst would simply be given blanket approval for what ever they want, regardless of the new Housing Element.   Now, we're not so sure.  We think there's been a change in Emeryville.  CEO Joe Ernst of SRM Ernst is about to find this out.  Let's hope he tells his friends.  We want to attract a new type of developer to our town.  We want to see developers that aren't expecting carte blanche City Hall subservience from now on. The last few parcels of fallow land in Emeryville are going to be developed with a different operating system: a system with the residents in mind.  Sorry, Joe (and the rest of you).


  1. The Housing Element was prepared by a bunch of foaming at the mouth radical leftists.

  2. unless anonymous is writing with tongue in cheek, I urge you not to print comments like this unless the commentor is identified. reminds me of the ku klux klan hiding behind their white sheets. has anonymous even read the housing element? if not, why didn't you run for city council so you could vote against it?

    1. All comments are posted unless they're engaging in personal accosts or if they're commercial.

  3. In looking at many of the preliminary studies for upcoming projects here in Emeryville, the overall heights of many of these proposed building massing add to the strain of permanently block views. Planning might be correctly adopted FAR and many other similar considerations but its allowing developers to indiscriminately cut views, create wind tunnels, increase unwanted shade, add to strained parking issues and increase density. This density adds to urban trash, increased crime, promoting scary tall canyons of buildings, noise, and other serious attributes. There is no advantages, other than lining pockets of certain developers and use our town as a means to turn a huge profit, in leaving this city and its residences another example of bad urban planning. The above callus statement saying that the Housing Element was prepared by a "bunch of mount radical leftists" simply shows the absolute ignorance of how some people (dare not calling them right winged) and their awareness of what can happen. I would ask this person to Google Earth examples of spoiled urban planning found worldwide. Start with Seoul, Korea then go to places like what is happening in San Francisco.

  4. Thank you for posting this... and to Mr. Anonymous stating "bunch of radical leftists".. go FUCK yourself then to help with snarled traffic, please leave Emeryville and never return.