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Monday, July 20, 2015

Public Interest Not on Display in Market Place Development Agreement

To the Emeryville City Council:
Let's Welcome the Market Place Project But 
Only If It Doesn't Make Our Town Worse

The Tattler has much reported and opined on problems with the incipient Market Place residential development in anticipation (and dread) of the 456 unit all rental apartment project on Shellmound Street getting its approval.  That approval is scheduled for Tuesday night in the City Council chambers and there's much there in the developers' interests, but not a lot for the residents.   We hope the City Council will vote in the resident's interests and we only request they keep any pro-development bias out of the process.  We ask that they recognize this development will add a lot of traffic to our town and a lot of other negative impacts associated with high density projects like this one and we ask the developers not be allowed to degrade and erode what livability we have here now in Emeryville.

Public Interest: The Coin of the Realm
Development Agreements are arcane final planning documents that are supposed to forward projects that comport with the existing General Plan and are in the public interest exclusively.  The interests of developers are not supposed to be taken into account.  Historically, the staff at City Hall has played fast and loose with that basic idea.  The current Market Place Development Agreement the staff is presenting to the Council Tuesday makes no attempt to qualify or even mention much that the public would say is in their interest.
We say this Development Agreement is not in the public interest as it is currently written and we ask the following be quantified before we allow this project to move forward:
  1. We have a ratio of park land acreage per resident in Emeryville now and we ask these developers not make that ratio worse in the aggregate for Emeryville with their proposed project.
  2. We have a ratio of numbers of families per number of housing units in Emeryville now and we ask the developers not make that worse.
  3. We have a ratio of number of affordable units per resident in Emeryville now and we ask the developers not make that worse.
  4. We have a ratio of square footage of locally serving non formula retail per resident in Emeryville now and we ask these developers not make that worse.
Additionally, this agreement doesn't contain a labor agreement or specially allow for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA); two important public interest provisions.

A NO Vote is a YES for Renegotiation
The people of Emeryville voted in November for a change in how this town gets developed even if the staff didn't seem to get that memo.  A NO vote Tuesday, while historic, wouldn't really be a radical thing.  A NO vote on Tuesday is not a NO to the Market Place development.  It's a NO to this specific Development Agreement (a document more reflective of Emeryville's past values).  The four points above are eminently reasonable things.  It's entirely reasonable to demand developers not make our town demonstrably worse.  They don't even necessarily have to improve our town with this project (although that would be nice), we just don't want the developers for this and all future projects to be allowed to leave our town worse off after they collect their profits and bug out.
A NO vote Tuesday also sends a powerful message to all the other developers lining up, wanting to make a killing here: You're welcome here but you're not going to leave our town worse off after you're finished.
To the Council: Let's hold out for a better agreement, shall we?


  1. Respectfully DISAGREE ! In your misguided zeal to be noticed, and to create arguments that are somewhat bogus, your position is an obstacle to needed progress. What about the swarm of Single People who are not in a position to own,
    or just don't want to own? Have you ever noticed the gridlock on the freeways because people need to get to, and from, work? They need rental housing, here, and they are willing to pay for it. They represent dollars to our local economy, and the property represents a boost to Property Tax revenue. I just don't get it. What are you thinking? We could use the money. City Council should vote FOR it.

    1. I think Emeryville has already taken care very nicely over the last several years of the "swarm" of single people who want to rent. It's every other demographic that's not being represented.
      Oh, and regarding boosting our property tax revenue with newly built residential units, you're correct we do increase the revenue but you're (conveniently?) leaving out the other side of the ledger: the costs associated with providing services for new residents. Residential development projects are revenue neutral. Emeryville, or other cities for that matter, isn't in the business of making money off residents. It's neutral, and that's the way it ought to be. So the Market Place project doesn't help our coffers at City Hall. That means community benefits negotiated in exchange for this or any approved project proposal needs to be obvious and transparent...something the Market Place project isn't. The Market Place project as presented by the staff tonight is going to make our town worse...that's not my opinion, it's measurably factual.

  2. To your excellent list, I would add one more:
    Home ownership as a % of housing in the US is 64.9%.
    Home ownership as a % of housing in California is 55.9%
    Home ownership as a % of housing in Alameda County is 53.4%
    Howe ownership as a % of housing in Emeryville at the last census was 35.7%
    After currently proposed and already-underway projects in Emeryville are completed (100% rentals), our home ownership will fall below 30%.

    Emeryville is part of an alarming shift in the American housing market, as detailed here:

    The article's conclusion: " a conventional housing recovery in the US is now dead. " This is of course consistent with the widening wealth gap in the U.S.

    Home ownership was once the key to the American dream: a family stretched to buy that first house, but as prices rose, your monthly payments stayed fixed. And at a 4:1 debt:equity ratio, you soon had enough to equity in your house either to move to a larger one, or if you stayed put, you could retire comfortably in 15 to 30 years with no monthly housing payments.

    Rental housing turns that on its head: as property values go up, so do rents. 100% of the increase in value accrues to the property owner, not the resident, whose cost of living increases continuously. And retirement? Forget about it.

    It is the end of the American dream.

    100% of the new housing units in Emeryville now under construction or proposed for development are rental units. Which makes us leaders in that sorry shift. No amount of minimum wage increases will overcome this hollowing out of our civic life. Our poet laureate being forced to move because of rent increases is just the canary in our coalmine.

    I understand that the changed environment makes providing incentives for home ownership and dis-incentives for rental development more difficult that before.

    But no less crucial. Our City's leadership is needed now more than ever on this issue.

    Mike McConnell
    1500 Park Ave.

    1. Thank you Mike for this very informative and compelling comment. You are correct about the disconcerting total lack of ownership housing being built in Emeryville over the years (regardless of the comments from Mr Anonymous above). From what I understand however, municipalities are not permitted to require home ownership provisions from developers. The State gives developers a right to build 100% rental. But still, the City Council can let the developers know how disappointed they are with this problem and barring an extremely arrogant developer, that should have an effect. I hope you can find the time to appear before the City Council tonight and present your're argument is most persuasive.

  3. If we continue to vote down new housing, the State will soon come behind and overrule local control. it's coming real soon. The state just rediced the parking requirements for low-income units. There are three times as many jobs as there are available housing.manyn jurisdictions are not approving new housing. The state has to meet the need sand soon thdey will take over the approval process.
    Also, is it really fair to charge a developer an increase in fees, if a project is already approved..? the city was foolish to turn down the marketplace project..
    the family friendly idea is a failure, if the units aren't affordable. the chools are a mess, how can you attract families. the city is discriminating against single people .

    1. Yeah, that's the argument the Emeryville City Council has presented for 25 years (until last night). The argument posits Emeryville is no good, we've got a horrible location. We're not in a position to ask for anything good. We've got to stop planning here and just let developers take over. This thinking is how we've become a giant shopping mall with luxury drive-in drive-out apartments filled with tech workers instead of a real town. You've had it your way for 25 would appear your argument is now a spent force.
      Oh, and you've got to drop the word "continue" when talking about voting down's never happened in Emeryville before last night.