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Saturday, November 15, 2014

RULE: Resident Activist Group Supplants Chamber of Commerce as Premier Emeryville Power Base

RULE Sweeps Election
Historic Council Majority Shift
Residents In, 
Developers/Businesses Out

News Analysis/Opinion
As ballots are being finished counted in the Emeryville election just passed, one organization, the community activist group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE), has emerged as the clear representative of the resident's interests here having endorsed every winner: both winning Council seats, all three School Board seats, and the hotly contested Measures U&V.  RULE even endorsed a winning candidate only tangentially connected to Emeryville; new State Assemblyman elect Tony Thurman, giving RULE a perfect record of winning endorsements this year, a proverbial run on the table.  But even as the historic election clearly shows how RULE has been prescient, its finger on the pulse of Emeryville,  the organization has been under attack recently, derided as somehow nefarious; made up of "anti-developer ideologues" and a "foaming-at-the-mouth radical left wing organization", charges notable for how far removed they are from the reality of the election outcome.
2009 Rule Sponsored
Town Hall Meeting

More than 100 showed up for
a Community Benefits Agreement
at the Bay Street Mall expansion proposal.

The election results make it clear, what RULE wants the average Emeryville resident wants and that is to create a livable town for ourselves.  And that makes RULE about as center of the road as it gets.  Despite all the name calling, the charges of being too left wing, too radical, RULE as it turns out is only left when viewed from the perspective of the non-voting Chamber of Commerce and their developer/business proxies.  RULE, the election tells us, is left wing radical only insofar as average Emeryville residents are left wing radicals; only as left and radical as wanting a nice place for residents to live in is left and radical.

So why the uptick in all this anti-resident, anti-RULE hostility?  We think a little post election light shining on RULE and its relationship with its would be countervailing force of the Chamber of Commerce is in order.

RULE members themselves are clear about who RULE is and its role in the conflict between the two competing camps, "Emeryville has always been controlled by people who don't live here.  Developers, corporations, big business have run roughshod over the city for decades, with the blessing of the city's top planners and managers, who don't live here, the leaders of our Chamber of Commerce, who don't live here, and a City Council that puts business interests before everything else," said Lillian Schroth, RULE co-founder and editor of The Secret News.  "RULE is about changing all that.  RULE's goal is to put the power in the hands of the people, the residents, where it belongs."

Modern Emeryville has been shaped in a cauldron with these two competing adjunct powers: the exclusive Chamber of Commerce, representing business/developer interests versus the open to all and democratic RULE, representing the resident's interests.  The two groups interface with City Hall by helping elect City Council members of their liking and by lobbying for policy friendly to their interests.  This twin-pole power sharing relationship has been up until now, asymmetrical; the Chamber of Commerce has permanently elected and held the critical three vote majority of Council members and as a consequence has had far more clout in shaping our town, with RULE only serving to elect a stubborn minority of resident friendly Council members over the years.  This condition delivered us the town as it is and it's responsible for our reputation of being a developer and business friendly locus.

The asymmetry is manifest in both our built environment and in our municipal code.
RULE co-sponsored the
Woodfin Hotel boycott
A march stretched from the
hotel to City Hall, the largest protest
in Emeryville history.
Most of what you see when you look around Emeryville is the constructed expression of the will of the Chamber/developer nexus; the low slung suburban style shopping malls, the all rental studio and one bedroom drive-in drive-out apartment buildings and the lowest ratio of park and open space to residents of any city in the East Bay.   As of now, there is very little that can be identified as RULE delivered infrastructure; a park here, a locally serving worker owned bakery there, some funny purple signs and lines of paint on asphalt directing bicycles.

The power of the Chamber of Commerce is also manifest in Emeryville's municipal code with it's extreme deference to developers and businesses.  One only needs to look to our radically business friendly tax code to see this; business impact fees set so low that residents have to take up the slack in the form of City Hall subsidies, to ultra low business license tax rates, to our unprecedented and regressive business tax cap which allows Emeryville's biggest business to pay at an even lower rate (at the expense of our smaller businesses).

But all this, as they say, is about to change (business taxes already have begun to change).
After this last election day, the long-standing paradigm of an entrenched and strong Chamber of Commerce business/developer advocacy and a marginal and weak RULE resident advocacy has been flipped.  With RULE having secured a 3-2 majority on the Council in the election, Emeryville will now be governed by progressives for the first time in its 118 year history.

RULE has never had the money to fund their candidates like the Chamber of Commerce has but RULE does have the advantage of representing what the residents actually want.  The Chamber always has a heavy lift convincing residents of their 'trickle down' theory of resident benefit; the idea that if we put developers in the drivers seat, let them have their way, somehow it'll all work out to our advantage.  It's the "win-win" argument so often promulgated by the developers.  Nice things, things the residents want "won't pencil out" they say but bear with us, it'll end up as a "win-win".  After the November 4th election, the lift to make that sound reasonable just got heavier for the Chamber of Commerce.
RULE endorsed
Councilwoman Jennifer West

Joined RULE members at
the Woodfin Hotel protest

First They Ignore You...
For years RULE operated at the margins, winning a Council seat here and there, hosting a town hall meeting, pushing for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with Bay Street mall developer Madison Marquette.  Slowly the group became emboldened as it chalked up victories.  This year, RULE finally shifted and employed the tactic used to great advantage virtually every election by the right wing; the slate of candidates.

The shift is not something those on the right have taken lightly. The blog the E'Ville Eye, normally content reporting on Emeryville boosterism, restaurants and posting crime statistics, took the opportunity during the election to discredit RULE, panning the idea of a slate, implying it's somehow nefarious and out-of-bounds.  RULE's shift to running a slate of candidates, what blog editor Rob Arias saw as an outrage, was enough for him to tell his readers to voluntarily give up one of their votes on election day.  Mr Arias suggested his readers "bullet vote" for non-RULE candidate John Bauters to counter the RULE slate of Dianne Martinez & Scott Donahue.  Readers were urged to give up their own agency by relinquishing their franchise in order to help Mr Bauters.

In his zeal to discredit RULE, Mr Arias went as far as to tacitly charge the group with fraud because he has determined RULE is not really a community activist group but rather a clandestine Political Action Committee (PAC), a money dispersing political organization that is required to register with the State.  Mr Arias' charge against RULE is baseless but it's interesting to note that the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce actually does operate a PAC known as EmPAC that bundles campaign contributions for City Council candidates favorable to developers and businesses.

The stories piled on from the E'Ville Eye before the election made RULE seem secretive, too anti-developer and too radical for Emeryville.  Mr Arias finally revealed his pro-developer stance when he warned his readers of anti-developer "ideologues" loose in Emeryville, something Mr Bauters, who calls himself a pragmatist, surely is not: "This election may represent the end of what I've referred to as 'The Developer Era' of Emeryville politics, an era divided by ideologues that contend our city has sold out to developers ...[versus] self described pragmatists that think it was a necessary measure to rebuild our city..." Mr Arias said.  That would be unrealistic and dogmatic ideologues with their heads in the clouds that want to build a livable city for the residents versus the common sense pragmatists who believe it's best to put the developers in the driver's seat and let the good tidings trickle down.  The use of the pejorative word "ideologues" by Mr Arias suggests the end of the" developer era" paradigm he describes would be represented by the election of the RULE slate of Martinez/Donahue he suggests, leaving Emeryville unable to rebuild, as it needs to do.  
It would appear Rob Arias is none too fond of RULE.  Indeed, one anonymous source told the Tattler, "Rob wishes RULE would just go away instead of [the retiring] Kurt Brinkman." The anonymous source acknowledges the distinction between RULE and Councilman Brinkman, who is on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce. 

Early in the election, RULE was a topic of discussion City Council candidate John Bauters had with the Tattler.  Asked why he hadn't sought out RULE, a community activist group that ostensibly would dovetail with his pro-community empowerment and progressive views, Mr Bauters said, "I was told by several people RULE is a foaming at the mouth radical leftist organization" and he explained that's why he has stayed clear of the organization.
RULE  Co-Founder
Judy Timmel
We represent the views 
of many residents.
RULE co-founder Judy Timmel isn't buying that assessment.  Speaking to the mainstream nature of RULE as revealed by the election, she told the Tattler, "Progressive values are the norm, not the exception in the East Bay.  It doesn't make sense that RULE would be portrayed as radical when we represent the views of so many Emeryville residents."

The right wing in Emeryville has long trashed RULE, albeit with greater intensity recently.  We know why they do it.  They do it because they're afraid of RULE.  They do it because RULE works for Emeryville resident's interests, not developers or businesses.  RULE serves as a vexing counterpoint to the right wing 'trickle down' meme.  Like the right wing elite everywhere, they want to keep the charade of the illegitimacy of people power going as long as they can because it's so profitable for them to do it.  They had a very good run in Emeryville.  But now it's developers/businesses out & residents in- sorry guys.
The results of the last election has increased the legitimacy of the resident part of the Emeryville political calculus and put all claims of RULE's illegitimacy to rest. 


  1. It's tacky for you to pick on John Bauters after he lost the election. It makes you look like a sore winner.

    1. I'm not picking on Mr Bauters. He reported he heard RULE was a radical organization, I didn't say he agreed with that. I did say Mr Bauters decided to have no contact with RULE because of what he had heard because that's what he said and because that is newsworthy.
      Emeryville voters have a right to know the politics of whom candidates seeking elected office here associate with and align with. Equally important is with whom they specifically reject association and alignment.

    2. I don't think it was "tacky" for Brian to report this. I think he showed a lot of restraint. Notice how he waited until after the election to tell us about what Bauters said? I think Brian showed too much restraint actually. I think he should have told us about this before the election.

    3. I didn't strategically wait until after the election to report this. This story about RULE became a story BECAUSE of the election.

  2. Name-calling is part of the noise that accompanies politics. if Mr. Bauters believed those who called RULE "a foaming at the mouth radical leftist organization," that puts him way behind the voters, who laughed off this smear.

    I too was puzzled by the anti-"ideologue" stance of the E'ville Eye, which seemed at least as ideologically driven as what it was reacting to.

    1. I think John Bauters did himself a disservice by not finding out about RULE for himself. Post election, it's now pretty obvious he was given bad advice by the unidentified people that sought to warn him about RULE. Given Mr Bauters stated governance philosophy, it's probably safe to say the individuals giving the advice were not close friends with Mr Bauters.

  3. It’s probably not worth picking apart all the flaws in this article but it’s at least consistent with the voice that has further eroded any credibility that The Tattler ever had (Specifically your paranoid references to a “Right Wing” that simply does not exist in this town).
    My takeaway is this: Clearly "The School Board Enquirer” AKA The Tattler is threatened by how irrelevant they have become now that there is a progressive but rational voice for all residents … and not just the bitter, lunatic fringe. Sour grapes?

    1. Rob, you shouldn't hide behind an anonymous comment.... You're a journalist, remember?
      RE: No right wing- so we have a left but no right, right? How does that work exactly? Everybody is exactly the same, right? In the developer/resident contest, there's no contest, right? We're all on the same page, right?

      RE: sour grapes- How's that work? Winners have sour grapes? English is a pretty flexible language I guess. A lot more flexible than anyone other than you realized. Red means green and vice versa, right? I'm not sure how we're going to communicate, but that's the way it's gotta be, right? Because ....why exactly?

    2. It's clear that America voiced its interests loudly on election day against Obama and his radical Kenya policies. John Bauters has proven he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and will protect all gun owner rights in Emeryville and California.

  4. I'm 70 years old, on medicare, a member of r.u.l.e. since its inception and hardly consider myself a "foaming at the mouth" radical.

    1. Sorry, Shirley, you've got to accept your fate. Keep your pockets stocked with plenty of Kleenex. Until you accept that these development projects won't pencil out like the Chamber of Commerce and the E'Ville Eye tells us, you're going to need to constantly wipe away the foam.
      I hope CVS keeps a handle on the inventory becuase we're going to need a lot of Kleenex in this town.