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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sherwin Williams Developer Charts New Course; Skips City Hall

Developer Skittish About New City Council Majority, Bypasses City Hall

Telephone 'Push Poll' Suggests 
Ballot Initiative In The Works

'Supply and Demand' is the New Boss

News Analysis/Opinion
You know it's a new day in Emeryville when a couple of developers can't stroll into town and easily pull a favorable vote out of a compliant City Council, greasing the skids for a huge flawed housing project with practically no community benefits but lots of negative impacts for the residents.  A new day indeed...that kind of thing in the old days could be done with impunity, without the developer even breaking a sweat. But now after Emeryville citizens elected a new progressive Council majority...well, Joe Ernst and Bruce Dorfman, the developers of the Sherwin Williams project, the giant 100% rental residential proposal slated for the Park Avenue neighborhood, are charting a different course to get their project approved.  Starting with a city-wide telephone poll, it would appear they'll be taking their case directly to the people of Emeryville, ending in a voter's ballot initiative on the project, bypassing the newly resident friendly City Council majority and City Hall's pesky planning documents.

Ernst & Dorfman are starting with this...
If you have a telephone land line and you live in Emeryville, you've probably already gotten the call (or soon will); EMC Research, an Oakland based telephone polling and corporate PR company has lately been barraging our town with phone calls paid for by the Sherwin Williams developers.   They've probably called you around dinner time with their classic 'push poll' about housing, to see if you're aware of the law of supply and demand and how Emeryville hasn't built enough housing over the years and about how the low housing supply is why the rents are so high here.  Ostensibly the poll is asking us our opinion on the Sherwin Williams project but it's also pushing us toward the developer's position.  It's a terrible situation with the high rents in Emeryville they agree, but not to worry these pollsters tell us, help is on the way; the developers of the Sherwin Williams site are here to fix all that with their 100 unit per acre 100% rental project.  The Sherwin Williams project will drive down rents in Emeryville the law of supply and demand and the developers tell us in the push poll.

But like Washington's endless phony free trade deals touted to help average working Americans, we're left wondering; if they're right, why hasn't all the housing we've already gotten in Emeryville (and all the free trade deals in Washington) helped yet?  We keep building and the rents keep going up.  In fact, the more we build, the faster the rents rise.  What about the law of supply and demand the developers keep reminding us about?
And why are the developers of Sherwin Williams paying so much money to call Emeryville residents to poll us on this?

Emeryville Doubles RHNA
Supply and Demand
Build enough and eventually
the cost of housing will come down.
Emeryville has been on an apartment and condo building binge over the last 20 years.  We've built so much housing here, we've doubled what the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) recommended to keep pace with needs.  ABAG's calculations of how much housing is needed is compiled in an official assessment called the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA, pronounced reena).  The law of supply and demand would assert all this new housing should be lowering the price of housing in Emeryville but in fact the price has been going up...way up.  This is because developers, who want to maximize their profits, have been building only luxury rental apartments recently and that's had the effect of raising rents elsewhere in town....everywhere in town.  What the developers of Sherwin Williams are selling us is simply more of the same.
The strange correlation between building more housing and rising rents has been documented in a recent city funded nexus study on San Francisco housing.  That study shows how counter intuitively, when developers build luxury units, an exponentially rising number of affordable units are needed to keep the city's housing affordability numbers on target.  It has to do with an exponentially rising number of service people needed to cater to the demands of the wealthier people moving in.  The study shows how if the city demands say 15 percent affordable set-asides, then every market-rate building adds more demand for affordable housing than it supplies. That means every new building actually makes the housing crisis worse. 
The counter intuitive notion of more housing causing higher rents creates a space for developers to assert the intuitive but false canard of supply and demand.  
And yet the supply and demand adage keeps running up against reality; everyone now sees how we keep building more housing at a frenetic pace and the cost of housing goes up, also at a frenetic pace.  
Perhaps the developers will tell us Emeryville's double RHNA is the problem....what we really need to drive down rents is quadruple or quintuple RHNA.  A 50 story apartment tower on every parcel in town ought to do the trick.  Emeryville is to become a battle ground...a sacrifice zone in deference to a thick-headed meme put in the service of profit maximizing developers. 

Ballot Initiative on the Way?
...and they hope to get this...
Mr Ernst and Mr Dorfman's  problem was revealed to them in the City Council residential building moratorium vote last February.  While the developers won the fight against the moratorium because it required a super majority of four votes on the City Council, they're now left exposed; the Sherwin Williams project needs a simple majority to pass, three votes out of five.  The moratorium vote clearly showed them they won't get three votes for their flawed project.
We don't imagine Mr Ernst and Mr Dorfman are paying for the telephone poll to try to convince the progressive Council majority they must sacrifice Emeryville to the supply and demand god.   Clearly that's a non-starter.  Their only option is to call a special election (paid for by the taxpayers) to try to convince the citizens it's in their interests to bypass the City Council and overturn Emeryville's General Plan and go all in with their proposed Sherwin Williams housing project. order to overturn this...
The election will likely at least partially be about the abstract supply and demand idea since the Sherwin Williams project as proposed is so clearly not in Emeryville resident's interests.  Maybe our patriotism will be called into question: we've got to do it for the greater good.  But that's an argument the Republicans in Washington have been trying to make for the last six years...we've got to go with austerity because deficit spending is no good they've told us.  Social security must be cut, aid to poor families must be stopped in order to balance the budget.  Americans have rightfully rejected that lie from the Republican Party and we think Emeryville residents won't buy the patently false canard of supply and demand coming from Ernst and Dorfman or any other developers.  The developers have a right to force a special election if they can muster enough signatures, it's true.  But we'll have the right to say NO to turning Emeryville into a sacrifice zone.  We've already done our regional duty by building twice the recommended housing.  Ultra density comes with ultra problems and we're not thinking about abstract memes...we're thinking about our town and how to make it a livable place.
...ultimately getting them lots of this.


  1. I got the call! I wasn't sure who was paying but it did seem like an agenda was being pushed. Thanks to the Tattler! Keep on doing what you do. Keep them honest! More sparkling writing from the Tattler. I love it!

  2. I got the call from these guys but I didn't do the survey...don't trust them.