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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Emery School District Joins Dark New Nation-Wide Force: Corporate Data Mining of Children's Private Information

The Tattler revealed a disturbing new Emery School District policy Friday about how parents are being coerced by the District to surrender their children's personal private information to a private for-profit third party corporate 'edutech' corporation, Infosnap, ostensibly for purposes of registration.  In addition to that, we reported an unadvertised action revealed by School Board Trustee Christian Patz, wherein the Superintendent of the Schools, John Rubio himself gave Infosnap some private student information directly, without parent's approval or even knowledge as part of an Infosnap requested "pre-populating" of the coercively collected data. 

As America's kids become the latest target of online data miners, parents are starting to wake up to this troubling threat and assert their rightful parental agency as protectors to their children.  The Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Post-Gazette asks a cogent question we should be asking of our own Emery Unified School District: Assuming Superintendent Rubio is correct that Infosnap will forever be able to resist the temptation to sell this valuable information and that it assiduously and effectively protects its information from hackers, can Infosnap sell Emery children's dossiers in the event of a merger, sale or a bankruptcy?  As the article shows, children's information is a very valuable asset; in fact their information the only asset these for-profit edutech corporations have.

From the Pittsburg Post-Gazette:

Surveillance Society: Students easy targets for data miners

What kid wouldn’t want to be able to create an electronic science fair poster, with photos and embedded video, using their smartphone — all on the morning bus ride on the day it’s due?
Glogster EDU lets kids do that and, according to its website, it’s setting up “2,000 new teacher accounts daily,” each with, presumably, a classroom full of kids attached.
The data and what it shows about protection of student privacy
In March, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, citing the state Right to Know Act, asked 31 school systems to provide all agreements with vendors that receive student data, and all policies related to the use of websites, applications and other education technology tools.
The school systems we queried included the 10 largest districts in the state (among them, the Pittsburgh Public Schools); the next 20 largest in southwestern Pennsylvania; and the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, which, if it were a district, would be the state’s 11th largest.
We analyzed more than 750 documents and built spreadsheets showing the schools’ policies and practices, and those of the 143 ed tech vendors disclosed by the schools. We reached out to many districts and vendors to ensure that our understanding was as complete as possible.
Our key findings regarding school policies:
•20 of the 31 school systems disclosed no procedures under which a teacher would need approval for using an ed tech website or application before assigning it to students, meaning that their teachers may make decisions on deploying data-intensive tools without oversight
•6 of the school systems produced evidence that teachers were seeking approval before assigning ed tech tools to students, while 25 showed no such evidence
•8 of the systems produced documentation of privacy training provided to teachers
•17 of the systems disclosed some form of notification to parents of data practices.
Regarding ed tech vendors:
•10 of the 143 ed tech vendors pledged to tell school districts or students if their data was breached by a hacker or thief, with another four indicating they “may” report a breach -- while 121 did not even address the possibility of a breach
•82 vendors provided no public indication of the fate of student data if they were ever acquired or went bankrupt
•73 vendors disclosed no provision for deleting student data, either upon request or following the expiration of a contract.
According to its public statements, though, the Czech Republic-based firm may be assembling more than photos of vinegar-and-baking-soda volcanoes.
The company’s privacy policy said it may collect a user’s “name, address, email ... date of birth, gender, country,” as well as “interests, hobbies, lifestyle choices, groups with whom they are affiliated (schools, companies), videos and/or pictures, private messages, bulletins or personal statements.”
It may share information about users with “consumer products, telecom, financial, military, market research, entertainmen, and educational services companies,” according to its website.
“Even if it’s written in our policy, we don’t do this,” said Vojtech Stribrsky, Glogster’s head of sales and marketing. “You kind of remind me that we should revise” the privacy policy.
“That’s a ‘just trust me,’ ” said Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Like they have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.”
The growing education technology sector is selling the promise of improved student achievement through websites, apps and tools that analyze each child’s strengths and weaknesses. In doing so, though, ed tech companies are lapping up unprecedented amounts of information about students, while laws provide little protection and privacy policies vary wildly.
Some companies reveal what they learn about students and who sees that information. But a Post-Gazette study of 143 ed tech providers that serve Pennsylvania schools found that most don’t say how long they keep student data or whether it can change hands in a merger or bankruptcy, and the vast majority say nothing about how they’d handle a data breach.
“Parents are very nervous, and rightfully so, when third parties are empowered to build dossiers on their children,” said Joel Reidenberg, a Fordham Law School professor who wrote a 2013 study on data privacy in public schools. “Unless they have a means of learning what data is being collected, they have no way to independently assess the risks to their children, and whether this is a good product or a bad product.”
To India and back
Debbie Schwartzberg Levy, a parent of two Upper St. Clair students who consults for ed tech companies, said she trusts the judgment of most of the tech-savvy teachers she’s encountered. But she added that one son was instructed by a teacher to sign up for a website only to find that “his whole school email box was full of emails” from the company from then on.
“How do we know that these are legit apps, legit websites?” she asked.
That question is bedeviling parents, teachers and school administrators nationally, because the flow of student data collected by some ed tech products is loosely regulated and convoluted.
In a rare glimpse into the student data currents, Virginia-based cyber education firm K12 Inc. sued Socratic Learning Inc., of Texas, in 2009, saying the latter had shipped student data to India, only to see it leaked to an Arizona blogger.
The lawsuit was settled. Since then, “K12 has reviewed its procedures for providing access to student information and has restricted access to a limited number of persons having a valid need for the information,” wrote K12 spokesman Frank Giancamilli, in an email response to questions.
K12 provides online courses to around 125,000 students, according to its website. The company powers 22 cyber schools in Pennsylvania alone, including some that it runs for conventional school districts.
In its policies, K12 says it “may collect information regarding you and your children ... [to] include: first and last name; billing address; the names and ages of your children; the services you request; registration and enrollment information about your children; and an e-mail address.”
K12 “may share your information with companies that are not affiliated with K12 but who are interested in sending you information about their products and services.“ You can tell K12 not to share your student’s information, but almost no one does that. Mr. Giancamilli wrote that in the past year, the number of the company’s registered students who opted out of having their information shared with other companies for marketing purposes was 12.
“What that really means is that maybe 20 people saw the [do-not-share] option, 14 people understood it and 12 people chose it,” surmised Bill Fitzgerald, who directs the privacy initiative at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit advocate for children, families and schools. He said that on most websites, opting out is done through “a checkbox which you often need to uncheck to opt out, buried at the bottom of a long page that most people never get to.”
Secret sharers
Most ed tech companies publicly reveal something about the data they collect, and who gets to see it. But the majority say little or nothing about data breaches, data deletion, or the fate of student information in the event of a merger or bankruptcy.
Of 143 ed tech vendors serving 31 Pennsylvania school systems included in a Post-Gazette analysis, just 10 pledged to notify districts if their students’ data was stolen. Another four indicated they “may” do that.
Fewer than half said anything about ever deleting the student data they collect — a key means of reducing the scope of any data theft.
“If you’re sitting on a data trove for years, it increases security risks, because it can be hacked or lost” or even sold, said Mr. Reidenberg. “The default [policy],” he said, “should be destruction.”
Fewer than half of the vendors addressed the likelihood that data could be passed to another company, with different privacy rules, in one of the many ed tech mergers or in bankruptcy.
Some companies, like Glogster, gave themselves license to do virtually anything with student data. Fox Chapel School District stopped using Glogster in part because of privacy concerns, even though students there were told to input only their names, according to Donna Beley, executive assistant to the assistant superintendent.
Other firms put no publicly available constraints on their use of student data, but still got district contracts
Should parents worry more about vendors that openly share student data, or those, like Access411 and Virginia-based Big Universe Inc., that keep their practices close to the vest?
“I would be equally worried,” said Mr. Reidenberg. “There’s no reason to assume it’s all innocuous.”
Data is power
Some companies claim that to guide schools, teachers and students, they need a lot of data.
Iowa-based nonprofit testing company ACT Inc., used locally by the Seneca Valley School District, can ask for a student’s “name, home address, email address, telephone number, Social Security number (optional), date of birth, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship status, year of high school graduation or equivalent, religious affiliation, whether you are right- or left-handed ... college plans, extracurricular plans ... photograph, disability, and biometric data,” according to its privacy policy.
An ACT spokesman, who refused to talk but responded to questions via email, wrote that “much of that information is optional,” and the questions are designed “to help students with their future plans and to help colleges identify individuals for recruitment and scholarships.”
If someone wants ACT to delete their profile, it “will seek to meet” that request, he wrote.
“It is disconcerting when you see that laundry list of data points,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. Companies shouldn’t use their privacy policies just to reserve their rights to collect information they don’t need, he said. “If you don’t collect it, don’t list it.”
Social studies
Ed tech and social media are beginning to converge, with potential implications for students’ future, as colleges, prospective employers and marketers increasingly judge people based on their data dossiers.
The San Francisco company NoRedInk Corp., which claims to help students with grammar and writing, indicates in its privacy policy that it “may collect” students’ login credentials for their Google accounts, adding that, “if you authorize us to connect with your Google account, we may access the information on your Google account that you give us permission to access.”
The firm, whose products have been used by the Norwin School District, will also share student information with Facebook and Twitter, “with your permission,” according to its policy.
NoRedInk did not respond to a request for an interview.
When an app allows a user to sign in through Google, Facebook or Twitter, it “will grab your identification information, but it will also often go a step further and grab your friends list, and then will often go a step further and grab their friends lists,” said Mr. Fitzgerald.
Insecure connections
Companies that sell communications or security products to school districts are expanding into areas that let them track kids’ offline movements.
York-based Access411 provides the Pittsburgh Public Schools with student ID cards they use to scan in every morning. Scott Gutowski, chief of information and technology for the district, said that the company doesn’t get any personal information about Pittsburgh students.
On its website, Access411 bills itself as “the one-stop shop for school safety products and services” including radio frequency ID cards, “weapons detection, biometrics,” and tracking of attendance, visitors, meals and discipline.
There was no privacy policy accessible on the company’s website or in documents provided by the district. Tia Gilbert, customer care manager at Access411, said the company has “a generic policy” but “each district has different policies about how the data is handled.” She did not respond to requests for an outline of the firm’s data practices.
Any company that doesn’t post a clear privacy policy “has no business being used in an educational setting,” said Mr. Fitzgerald. “A student or a parent should have the right to review how that information is handled.”
Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter @richelord. Megan Henney, a former Post-Gazette summer intern, is a senior at Penn State University.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

School District Lacks Funds to Finish ECCL

Cost Overruns Leave District Exposed:

School District Scrambles to Buy 

Tables & Chairs

Rumblings of Selling More Bonds

News Analysis
Some have warned this date would come....
At its Wednesday August 26th School Board meeting, the Emery Unified School District wrung its hands with worry about how they would find the money to complete the District/City Hall joint project, the Emeryville Center for 'Community' Life (“ECCL”).

Imaginary Typical Chair
Cost to School District: $335
Nexus Partners fee per chair: $36.85
Nexus to District:
'Imagine a chair.
Now send us $36 because
that's all you have money for.'
With the costs to complete the work on the community swimming pool coming in significantly higher than estimated, Board Members expressed concern over whether they would even have enough money to purchase the furnishings, fixtures, and equipment (“FFE”) needed to make the ECCL usable for students and the community.  “FFE” is defined as “moveable furniture, fixtures or equipment that have no permanent connection to the structure of the building, landscape, or infrastructure.” Current estimates place the total FFE cost at about $2.7 million. Board President John Affeldt suggested that the City's $21 million contribution to the ECCL was inadequate and that instead now maybe, “Everyone [the District & the City] takes care of their own FFE.” and “We are not obligated to pay for the City's' FFE.” Mr Affeldt later elaborated on his view by explaining that the message to the City would be, “Hey, if you want chairs, you know, you guys, just letting you know, you need to figure that out.” 

How did the District end up in this situation?
While it would be convenient for the District to claim that no one could have anticipated cost overruns and to place the blame for this shortfall there, long-time readers of the Tattler may be able to fathom a different explanation.

Where did all the money go? (Partial List)
Amount Details
$8,717,265* Nexus Partners (fee based on 11% of total project cost, including FFE) for architectural/design services including “Full Service Community Task Force”
$1,750,000 Lease (and extend lease to) Santa Fe Elementary from Oakland Unified rather than use vacant Ralph Hawley site
$1,733,467 Clean up of toxic waste found in ECCL site soil. (Who could have guessed?)
$1,100,000 Swinerton Builders for construction project oversight after Roy Miller's resignation
$208,800 National Equity Project, Children's Aid Society, MIG, and Partners in School Innovation for “program development”
$20,607 iPads, iPad covers, and iPad software purchased in September 2011 and additional iPad software and iPad imaging cart purchased in June 2012. All iPads purchased have now been stolen, lost, or rendered obsolete.
$17,000 Davis & Associates for a Communications Plan, including a “rapid response team” for responding to the Tattler.
$Who knows? Potentially questionable bond fees paid to firms that other districts are suing for conflict of interest and breach of fiduciary duties.

*The architectural/design services fees item is included not because the District could have done without this entirely, but because, as the linked Tattler article explains, Nexus Partners were paid $168,650 in February 2013 to conduct a Full Service Community Task Force in which they led a few community meetings that were then abruptly canceled (did we get any refund for the canceled meetings?) and because Nexus sent us a bill for $479,151 in May 2013, simply because the total cost of the project had increased and their fee is percentage-based.  This means the District literally payed Nexus Partners 11% of the estimated cost of FFE that we now cannot afford to actually buy.  This method of invoicing is so fantastic it takes a degree in architecture to understand it.

School Board President John Affeldt
Ooops!  We're out of money...
we'll just hit up the City for more.

 They're our partners in this
& they've got deep pockets.
What are they gunna do?
Turn us down?
Nearly two years ago, on November 24, 2013, after a series of high-profile EUSD staff resignations, the Tattler asked, “Have staff (finally) looked at the financials and realized that there is neither enough money to build the Board's K-12 vision, nor to operate this Taj Majal complex within the realities of our available bond funds and general fund dollars?”
The Tattler has consistently ridiculed the District's outsized payouts to consultants and its over-spending when less costly alternatives were available. Were we just being miserly?  No.  It was in anticipation of this day.  The reason for Board of Trustees to spend taxpayer money in fiscally responsible ways is because otherwise you end up here....with a half-built project that we cannot afford to finish or furnish.  The above chart contains places where $2-3 million could easily have been saved and which the Tattler and concerned residents urged the District at the relevant times not to spend.

More Bond Money?
Never fear; in addition to the crisis around these extra costs for the pool and the FFE revealed at Wednesday's School Board meeting, the Board heard a presentation from bond advisor (and top Measure J contributor), Caldwell Flores, about how the District could go out for even more expensive bonds (and pay more fees to Caldwell Flores) in a last-ditch effort to close the District's funding gap.  That's right.  Who will be picking up the tab for this District's spendy ways?  Emeryville guessed it.  Your bill is in the mail.

Friday, August 28, 2015

School District Gives Children's Private Information to For-Profit Private Corporation

Schools Superintendent Rubio Unilaterally Hands Over Sensitive Information on 
District Children

Online Corporation to Manage Emery Student Info 
Including Medical Records

Parents Uninformed

The week before the beginning of the new school year, Emery Unified School District has initiated new policies that require parents to divulge their children's private and personal information, including medical records, to a third party private for profit web based corporate vendor for purposes of registration the Tattler has learned.  In addition, the Superintendent of the Schools, John Rubio, acting as his own agent, divulged children's personal information to 'Infosnap'  the private corporation in question, in a so called "pre-populating" of the registration information without parental approval or even notification it was revealed by a School Board member at Wednesday's School Board meeting.

Not Coercive?
Large banner at school's front door inform parents
they "must" register their children online.
Emery Superintendent says parents actually can
'opt out' and the use of the word 'must'
 in this case really means 'could' or 'may'.
Under questioning by School Board member Christian Patz, Superintendent Rubio said parents have a right to "opt out"  of the online Infosnap registration and register directly with the District however in a letter signed by Mr Rubio and sent by mail to parents last week, he failed to mention that and instead he indicated parent's failure to surrender their children's private information to Infosnap Corporation would mean they (the parents) would not receive the school year schedule, a critical document parents of school bound children need.  Additionally, Superintendent Rubio ordered large banners printed by Infosnap be posted at school entrances informing parents they "must" register their children with Infosnap.

By way of legitimizing the new program, Mr Rubio announced to the Board Wednesday night he was pleased "more than 300 parents" had registered their children with the new "eco friendly" online system.  Only three parents had opted out of the online registration he indicated.  Nowhere did the District inform parents of their capacity to opt out it should be noted and Mr Rubio admitted as much under questioning.

Superintendent Rubio did not indicate how much of the children's private and personal information he gave to Infosnap in the 'pre populating' informational dossier transfer but a District official told the Tattler definitively it did not include medical records.
In a brief pre-School Board interview Wednesday, Mr Rubio noted that school districts sometimes trade student's private information with other governmental entities and he indicated he doesn't see a meaningful distinction between that and the giving away of that information to private for-profit corporate entities.

In a follow up email, Superintendent Rubio defended his action with the following entry dated today:

"The district uses different secure locations to store student information, including backing up data at the County Office of Education and temporarily with the school district online registration management company, Infosnap.  Using Infosnap is very similar to using Google Forms (or other online survey tools) to collect data.  Infosnap does not share any of its’ information and follows all California and federal privacy laws regarding student information.  As an added level of privacy protection, EUSD has elected to have all data at Infosnap erased after the district has completed its yearly collection of critical emergency and family information."  -John Rubio

Superintendent John Rubio
Here at Emery, parents understand when I say they must
do something, I don't really mean that.
The School District is paying Infosnap almost $15,000 for the registration service the Tattler learned, bringing the action just under the $15,000 cut-off point the Board allows the Superintendent to spend by executive fiat for an individual expense item.

Infosnap's online registration requests parents provide information such as their children's name, age, grade, address, contact info including alternate contacts, parental custody, medical records and parental income information.
A privately held Texas based corporation with '50-200' employees, Infosnap manages over 300 school districts across America including Alameda Unified School District and at least two others in the Bay Area in addition to their newest account at Emery Unified.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, Dead at 29

The Chamber of Commerce 1986-2015

Private Power Hegemon Lorded Public Policy
For 29 Years in Emeryville

News Analysis
Last month, the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, a private company, finally packed it in and closed up shop for good after a storied and controversial 29 year run representing business interests at City Hall out of their publicly funded Harlan Street storefront headquarters.  The end for the business lobbying group has been a long time coming and last month's closure of the organization's website was really just a formality, a final turning off of the lights and the shutting of the door for the once powerful and hegemonic private controller of City Hall.
Although it has been out of power for some time and it hasn't been in the news of late, back in the day, the Chamber ruled this city; its vision for Emeryville carried out to a 'T' by a compliant City Council majority it hand selected and funded via its own political action committee, EmPAC.  So complete was the Chamber's power in its hay day, virtually the entire cityscape as one sees it now is attributable in one way or another to this private organization, it's political power and its non-democratically elected Board of Directors directing the decision makers at City Hall to make the town as they saw fit.  The story of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, its rise and its fall from power over the last thirty years is synonymous with the story of Emeryville over the last thirty years.  For better or for worse, the Chamber's history is our history.

The Salad Days
And what a history it's been; at its peak the Chamber got its agenda taken up at private closed door regularly scheduled weekly meetings with our City Manager.  The content of these meetings at the people's hall were never made public and the pubic was decidedly not allowed in.  The Chamber enjoyed a great deal of public largess showered upon it from the City Council including perpetual free rent in the City owned storefront on Harlan Street, and a $40,000 yearly stipend paid by the taxpayers to produce the the Chamber's glossy newsletter and pay office staff.  In addition to pushing the Chamber's agenda, the newsletter, sent to every Emeryville household, was used to elect the Chamber's Council members and push back against the odd Council member not toting the Chamber's line.  The Chamber years were the go-go years for developers in our town and the Chamber's philosophy of putting the developers in the driver's seat by directing the City Council to never say NO to any proposed development, brought us the built city we have today.

But now Emeryville moves forward, without a central organizing business advocate at the helm.  A different city with different values and a different built environment is likely to be the result.

With the demise of the Chamber of Commerce, the business community in Emeryville is not left unrepresented by lobbyists it should be noted.  As the Chamber's star began to fall, local businesses swapped out the Chamber for a host of other business lobbying firms around the region; notably the California Association of Realtors, the California Restaurant Association, the Bay Area Council and others.  Those who may worry that business won't get a fair hearing can rest at ease however because business lobbying continues, unabated in City Hall, with or without the Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber Is Born
The Emeryville Chamber of Commerce started when a local businessman, Ken Bukowski, found himself aced out of the sole business lobbying group in Emeryville at the time, the Emeryville Industries Association.  "The Industries Association was an old boys network for big business" Mr Bukowski told the Tattler.  "If they didn't like you, you were out, also I ran a small business, not something they were very interested in" added Mr Bukowski, who later went on to become a long time Emeryville City Councilman.  The powerful Industries Association was allied with then Police Chief John LaCoste, a corrupt patronage machine boss who ran Emeryville like Tammany Hall and the Association was not adverse to using their might to run over opposition Council candidates. Bukowski said he thought a business advocacy group shouldn't be so exclusive and shouldn't operate in such an overtly political manner and after the Industries Association ran a major hit piece against such an opposing Council member, Stuart Flashman in special election, Ken decided to start his own business advocacy group.  "They called Stuart a Berkeley radical leftist and they helped tip the scales for a LaCoste candidate Tom Fox, who ended up beating Flashman by 13 votes" Mr Bukowski said.

Ken's group, the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, let anyone join, the mirror opposite of the exclusive Emeryville Industries Association, "I imagined it to be for businesses large and small and also for Emeryville residents.  I saw it as an opportunity to bring the business community and the residents together" he said of the fledgling Chamber.  Ken himself won a City Council seat in 1987, after which he resigned from the Chamber Board.   In what must have been a moment of schadenfreude for Councilman Bukowski, the rise of the new and popular Chamber of Commerce meant the demise of the old Industries Association; they folded and were never heard from again.

Meet The New Boss
Local political consultant and power broker John Gooding took over at the Chamber with Councilman Bukowski's resignation and took action to change the group to something more resembling the Industries Association,  "The first thing Gooding did was re-write the Chamber's Mission Statement getting rid of the residents" Mr Bukowski said.  "He got the City to start supporting the Chamber and they lost all independence."  The City was running the powerful Redevelopment Agency and the Chamber was plugged into that, Mr Bukowski noted.  "They [the Chamber] pretty much stopped representing small businesses after that.  They started charging much higher fees at Chamber mixers, acing out Emeryville's small businesses" he said.

After the Chamber hitched its wagon to the City, the end was only a matter of time as it turned out.  First the Redevelopment Agency was taken down by a mandate from Governor Jerry Brown who said these RDA's across the State had moved beyond their initial useful role and had become huge boondoggles who's real purpose was to funnel money to connected developers.  The ending of the Emeryville RDA was a major blow to the Chamber.

Enter the Emeryville Tattler
The Chamber newsletter promoting candidates and Measures while tearing down others all on the public dime (rather $40,000) was a bridge too far for the Tattler.  We did several stories and editorials on this unethical corruption of the public interest.  The stories resonated with the public and the Council came under pressure to delete the newsletter funding which they finally did.  The City started its own electronic newsletter except they have omitted the overt politicking of the Chamber newsletter.  Chamber insiders have noted the demise of the newsletter quickened the demise of the Chamber.

After the loss of the Emeryville RDA and the funding of its newsletter, what followed was devastating for the Chamber; the election of a new progressive City Council majority and the rise of the citizen's activist group Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE).  Shortly after the November 2014 election, the new Council majority took action to end the Chamber's free money gravy train from City Hall.  The private business would have to sink or swim on its own.  Shortly after, Chamber CEO and president Bob Canter, a Martinez resident, folded his tent and decamped to Florida.

During its day the Chamber operated much like the earlier Emeryville Industries Association; they used their publicly funded newsletter to try to take down Council members they didn't like (Greg Harper, John Fricke, Shilen Patel among them) and support Council members they liked (Nora Davis, Kurt Brinkman, Dick Kassis and Ruth Atkin among them).  They leveraged their City Council majority for support of favored developers and projects, they fought against City projects like Councilman Fricke's Adeline Street bike facilities (changing the street from four vehicle lanes to two lanes with bike lanes on the sides), they fought against Measure C (the Emeryville Living Wage for Hotel Workers).   They also fought against removing Emeryville's notorious business tax cap, a regressive taxation that provides for Emeryville's largest businesses to pay taxes at a much lower rate than small businesses.  They even used the taxpayer funded newsletter to urge passage of various California propositions, notably Proposition 16, a PG&E backed initiative that would have made it all but impossible for municipalities to fund their own power companies like neighboring Alameda Power and Light.

The Emeryville Chamber of Commerce may rise again someday, having sown the seeds of a rebirth.   Virtually none of the new housing the Chamber fought for over the years is for families, a demographic arguably not amenable to the Chamber's vision of Emeryville, rather much of the new housing that has been built is generally for a more libertarian set; tech workers, a demographic much more naturally allied with the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Emeryville Institution, Bucci's to Close

Emeryville's Premiere Restaurant 
Serves its Last Meal

"When you get to be our age and still in good health after working this hard in this business, it's time to move on to the next journey"- Amelia Bucci.

Amelia Bucci
The venerable Bucci's, an Emeryville family dining institution featuring "Italian soul food", will close it doors for good on September 30th, and the three partners who built the popular destination eatery will retire after 27 years they announced this week.  Diners expressed dismay; many of them brought their children and now grandchildren to the restaurant, especially the very popular annual Christmas tree lighting celebration which featured complimentary dinners and hands on pizza making for young people.

Partner and restaurant baker Paul Camardo, summed it up, "Bucci's was conceived as a place for a community of like minded people to share our passion for good food",  but he added, it's time to close..."Better the restaurant fail than we do".
Paul Camardo

Ms Bucci, who insists she be simply called Bucci, emphasized Emeryville's recently passed Minimum Wage Ordinance had nothing to do with the closure.  Heading off any untoward speculation, she noted "The new minimum wage law is not the reason we're closing " she said definitively adding Bucci's supports Emeryville's minimum wage.

Egged on by friends, the three partners, friends themselves, opened Bucci's in what's now the Public Market on Shellmound Street amidst a lot of construction as the food court there was being rebuilt in 1987...a rough start.  By the end of 1988, however they moved to the more upscale digs on Hollis Street after hiring lauded Emeryville based set designer, the late Jeremy Hamm, to build the iconic new facilities.
Les Julian

The partners, all Berkeley residents, will be selling the restaurant's assets and it is expected a new restaurant will open on the site but nothing has been determined yet.  "Rich is committed to keeping it as a restaurant" Bucci said, referring to landlord Rich Robbins of Wareham Development.

After closing, Bucci said she'd be taking a vacation to...where else? Italy.  But as to her next adventure, after a 27 year stint in the harried restaurant business, Bucci shot back, "Can I get two weeks off?"

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Tattler E'Ville Eye Hostile Comment Clearinghouse

The Tattler announces a new service; the E'Ville Eye negative comment clearinghouse.  Rob Arias, the editor of Emeryville's right wing blog the E'Ville Eye, has been telling his readers his arch nemesis and favorite obsession, the Emeryville Tattler refuses to post critical comments and that the Tattler engages in wholesale censoring of comments that would throw it into a bad light.  Other topics censored according to Rob are negative comments about Residents United for a Livable Emeryville, Tattler editor Brian Donahue and the progressive City Council majority.
Regular Tattler readers know this isn't true and these kinds of comments are routinely posted in the Tattler but Rob assures his readers the Tattler will not allow it.

The Tattler has always posted all comments except those that engage in personal attacks.  Personal attacks against the Tattler editor are allowed as the one exception.  Haters are always welcome here at the Tattler, in fact we like the haters, as regular readers will attest.

So as a service to E'Ville Eye readers that cannot countenance the Tattler, it's editor, RULE and the progressive City Council majority but are under the false impression their comments won't be allowed, below are a slew of 'em, lifted straight out of the E'Ville Eye.  

This service will continue for a while, until we get bored or enough to give reasonable people who might have believed Rob Arias' false charge, time to be convinced the Tattler in fact does post comments hostile to it and they have been mislead by Rob Arias.  These will build up over time so be sure to check back often for fun reading and lots of laughs.

LA Times Highlights Emeryville's Minimum Wage Ordinance

From the Los Angeles Times:

Vic Gumper and a buddy opened their first pizzeria in Berkeley nearly 18 years ago, expanding to Oakland, Albany and this 1.1-square-mile city best known for Pixar Animation Studios, big-box retailers and a biotech cluster.
Over the years, die-hard patrons of his business have crafted personalized dolls of each Lanesplitter Pizza & Pub employee, which adorn the walls in glass cases, as does one customized Monopoly board. ("Too much Black Sabbath on the CD player. Pay $15.")
And, since April, along with newly printed menus, every table sports a laminated card explaining just what a "living wage pizza" means.
All workers now earn $15 to $25 an hour as part of an experimental business model that also did away with gratuities and raised prices, making meals at all five locations "sustainably served, really … no tips necessary."
Gumper took the plunge after Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco increased their minimum wages, and Emeryville's council members were poised to leapfrog the others with a massive boost to $14.44 per hour, the nation's highest.
Read the rest of the story HERE

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

City Hall Solicits Public Opinion in Hiring New Chief of Police: They're Going to Need It.

How to Hire a Chief of Police

By Tattler Editor Brian Donahue

After the recent retirement of long time Emeryville Chief of Police Ken James, the City Manager and the City Council are soliciting Emeryville residents to offer tips on the selection of a new chief (in a special e-mail account set up for citizens to drop comments  City Hall is right to seek out the people's opinions directly because this is going to prove a very daunting task for Emeryville.  It's going to be quite difficult to find a replacement as good as Chief James was for our city.  That's not a piece of post retirement laudatory fluff to honor the memory of Mr James.  That's a fact.  Ken James did an excellent job as Chief of Police for Emeryville.   How do we know that?  Well for one, the Emeryville Police Department enjoys an unprecedented level of support from the community.
The last time a survey was taken, a remarkable 85% of Emeryville residents gave their police department a favorable rating...that's practically a pure inverse of how neighboring Oakland residents feel about their police department; a telling statistic.

It's no secret I think Emeryville cops are good.  But being a property owning middle aged white male, someone from my demographic group thinking cops are good is to be expected.  I've done my own unscientific surveys on Emeryville Police over the years.  I've asked people outside the white middle class traditionally pro-cop demographic, "Have you ever been stopped by the Emeryville Police?  Did they behave in a professional and courteous manner during the stop?"  The answers have been consistent: Emeryville police are good.   Remarkably, even an alienated demographic normally highly suspicious of police, young African American males, have told me Emeryville cops are good.  Insofar as this sentiment I've found is fairly representative of African Americans and other people of color in our town, this is a testament to a specific talent Ken James brought to the job; the ability to hire good cops, non-sociopath cops to serve on the force here.
Regular Tattler readers will recall I have long sung the praises of EPD.  But I'm not pro-cop.  I recognize and acknowledge many police departments are highly dysfunctional and there are plenty of outright sociopaths in blue walking around our nation with guns and the right to arrest.  No, I don't love cops but I do like our police in Emeryville.  The reason for that is the 'good cop' culture here.  And Ken James is responsible for that.  Ken kept the 'badge heavy" cops out of EPD.

Chief James was good at hiring new officers.  He was good at sorting out the good ones from the bad ones.  He told me many times it's a hard task.  People will lie in their job interview.  That's how the badge heavy sociopaths make it through the hiring process at police departments.  But not in Emeryville.
I don't mean to be imprudent with this but if you look at who is attracted to police work, the level of sociopaths is higher there than in the general population.  The same is true for soldiering.  This is born out by academic studies and this is what Ken James acknowledged in his telling of his difficulty in hiring, though not explicitly.

So our problem comes into focus: Ken James was a better than average Chief of Police because he could recognize good recruits.  If we select a new Chief that is only average, and that's the most likely scenario by definition, then we could start seeing sociopathic cops on our force in Emeryville, polluting our good cop EPD culture and tipping us over into a bad cop culture like Oakland.  And that we must vigorously guard against.

We are unlikely to get a new Chief of Police that will be as good at hiring new cops because there are no clear qualitative pathways for us to get that.  Ken James never did a satisfactory job in explaining exactly how he hired cops if it even could be explained.  But we can make sure our new Chief understands and acknowledges the looming and existential problem of sociopathic badge heavy cops.  Our new Chief needs to admit entropy is the natural state and it's what happens without vigilance and intervention from the Chief and the public.  We need a new Chief that will assure us he/she will cull bad hires during the probation period while they're easily removed and before morale suffers.  We need the new Chief to understand we expect a high degree of professionalism in the rank and file.  We expect our Emeryville police to be courteous even.  We need a Chief that is amenable to setting up a citizen/police watch group with real power in case this whole thing doesn't work out.  We need a Chief that can gain the trust of the most alienated among us; our youth of color, the dispossessed and the homeless.
These are the kinds of questions we need to ask applicants seeking this most vital and consequential position in our fragile town.  If we lose the good cop culture here at EPD, our town is sunk.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Letter To The Tattler: Schools Superintendent John Rubio

Emery Schools Superintendent John Rubio sent the Tattler a copy for posting of the following letter to the Alameda County Grand Jury.  Mr Rubio's letter is meant to serve as the official (and required) response to the Grand Jury findings implicating Emeryville schools from earlier in the year.
A Tattler story on this subject with a link to the Grand Jury Report can be found HERE.

Here is Superintendent Rubio's letter:

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Internal Document at City Hall Reveals Clandestine Attempt to Overturn Emeryville Bike Plan

Public Works Department Subverts Bike Plan 

Smoking Gun Document Shows a Department Bent On Torpedoing Settled Bike Policy

A damning internal City Hall document obtained by the Tattler Thursday reveals a rogue Public Works Department attempting to misdirect the newly hired Emeryville City Manager in order to subvert and ratchet back Emeryville's Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan.  The document, a letter from a Public Works employee to City Manager Carolyn Lehr, was sent in response to a public request to conduct a traffic count on 45th Street, a street designated as a bike boulevard, and was meant to assure Ms Lehr no such traffic count is prescribed by the Bike Plan, a patently false claim.

In the letter obtained by a Public Records Request, the employee falsely tells Ms Lehr other than in case of "significant community concern", the only circumstance when the City should conduct traffic counts on 45th Street or any other bike boulevard in Emeryville is when, "significant development occurs on or near that boulevard."  In fact the Bike Plan actually says unequivocally, "[Traffic] counts should be conducted every two years."

Noteworthy is that the Bike Plan prescribes a course of traffic calming action, as is the case for all seven bike boulevards in Emeryville that are found to have an excess amount of traffic, for the 45th Street Bike Boulevard that being a maximum of 1500 vehicle trips per day.  If the street were to be found to have more than this volume of traffic, a regime of traffic calming measures would be automatically initiated as called for by the Bike Plan.  The letter would remove Emeryville's capacity to determine when traffic calming is called for, leaving bicyclists in danger on bike boulevards with gross excess vehicular traffic.

The Bike Plan provides for up to five levels of traffic calming on bike boulevards meant to keep traffic volumes below the maximum allowable for each boulevard.  Traffic calming starts with simple signage and progresses up to level five traffic diverters.  The idea is that on bike boulevards bikes are preferred although cars are allowed so long as the maximum number of cars per day is not reached. Up to two years between each level are called for to study the effects on traffic.
The main north/south bike boulevard in Emeryville, the Horton/Overland Bike Boulevard has been in violation due to excess car traffic for at least ten years and has been a source of friction between the Bike Committee and bike interests versus the Public Works Department.  Decision makers at City Hall have not been able to move Horton Street past level three traffic calming even though the Bike Plan clearly calls for it.  The Horton Street recalcitrance has cast a pall on bicycling as a viable mode of transportation in Emeryville.

Public Works Dept: Increasing Traffic Not Possible
Besides misleading the City Manager about the need for a traffic count on the 45th Street Bike boulevard, the Public Works Department, by falsely presenting the requirement for development on or near bike boulevards to trigger a traffic count, a bizarre and unfounded finding of fact is presented that it is inconceivable that traffic might increase over time in the absence of a development project on or near the street in question.  This premise has been shown to be patently false in the Bay Area over the years.  What has been indicated is an increasing number of vehicles using city streets as the aggregate population in municipalities and the region increases.

Maurice Kaufman, Emeryville's Director of Public Works and the ultimate progenitor of the letter to Ms Lehr it should be noted, has expressed concern over bike boulevards in the past.  He has indicated to the Tattler his job is to make traffic in Emeryville flow more efficiently and he's noted although bikes are not a problem, traffic calming over level three would begin to severely impede the flow of vehicles, something he has said he is duty bound to prevent.
Mr Kaufman is on vacation and unavailable for comment for this story.

The letter to the City Manager omits the Bike Plan's direction for traffic counts every two years on Emeryville's bike boulevards and instead jumps to a section that adds on to that a further requirement to conduct traffic counts when development has occurred.  From the letter dated July 17th:
"...The plan says that the City should collect traffic data when significant development occurs on/near that boulevard or when substantial community concern is brought to the City.  Our last traffic counts on 45th Street were in 2008, and volume did not exceed the goal of 1,500 average daily vehicle trips.  There has been no significant development in the area that would suggest traffic has changed substantially."
From the actual Pedestrian/Bicycle Plan:
As noted in Chapter 4, Section 4.4.3, the City should regularly monitor traffic volumes, and speeds on its bicycle boulevards to determine if they are meeting the goals listed above or not. Counts should be conducted every two years. If a bicycle boulevard goal is not met, the City should consider treatments that will allow the bicycle boulevard to meet goals. If additional treatments are not possible, or if treatments are unlikely to result in conditions that meet the above goals, the City should consider a different type of bicycle facility. Emeryville should collect this data and evaluate each bicycle boulevard in the case of any of the following:
  • Development occurs that is projected to increase motor vehicle volumes on the bicycle boulevard 
  • The Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan is updated 
  • Substantial community concern is brought to the City