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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Election 2016 Candidates Questionnaire: John Van Geffen

Parks/Open Space &
Sherwin Williams Project:
John Van Geffen

The Tattler presents the 2016 election candidates questionnaire.  Candidates for elected office will answer questions broken down into topical sections that effect Emeryville residents. Responses will be released section by section rotating through all the responding candidates representing the City Council and School Board hopefuls.  
The order of presentation was chosen randomly. Regular Tattler stories will be interspersed in the 2016 election questionnaire.  Readers wishing to peruse all the answers by an individual may use the search bar function by entering ”Election 2016 Candidates Questionnaire” with the name of the candidate and all of that candidate’s sections will be presented. Alternatively just typing in the name of the candidate will also work. 
There are six candidates running for three seats and all answered our questionnaire save candidate for City Council Brynnda Collins.  

Today, candidate for City Council John Van Geffen answers questions on parks/open space and the Sherwin Williams development proposal (please check the previously posted section 1 answers for this candidate's bio):

Section 2  Parks/Open Space
Our General Plan says Emeryville is dramatically underserved in parks.  The 26 acres we have now (includes “linear” parks, essentially glorified sidewalks) must be increased by  21-26 acres within twelve years if our General Plan is to be honored.  However something must change in Emeryville if this is to be achieved because with each passing year, we drift farther away from our goal.  Our park fees obtained from developers have not kept pace with our needs.

Tattler:  City planners use the metric of residents per acre of park land to measure how well a city’s residents are being served.  Oakland is well served with park/open space at approximately 67 residents per acre.  Emeryville currently has about 500 residents per acre.  After peaking in the late 1970’s, Emeryville’s ratio of residents per acre of park/open space has gone down every year since then, despite a few small parks having been built.  This disturbing downward trend has actually accelerated over the last 10 years. Increasing developers park fees is unlikely to help much moving forward owing to the limited amount of developable land left.  Acknowledging all this, what can be done to build the amount of park land we say we want?   

John Van Geffen:  This goes back to your earlier question about affordable housing. We as a city need to prioritize when considering new development and its affect on our city. If the majority of Emeryville's residents decided that the need for additional park space exceeded the need for affordable housing then we definitely have options available to us through the permitting process. But the idea that we can get everything we want from developers--e.g., more bike paths, park space, mixed use, BMR units, homeownership, shuttle service, etc., etc., and STILL be competitive with alternative sites in Berkeley or Oakland simply isn't realistic. As a candidate for City Council I want voters to consider me as practical and realistic, not someone who will over-promise and then under-deliver.    

Tattler: Our General Plan is very clear on parks/open space; we need more than we have, twice as much.  But the disconnect between what the people say they want and what they’re getting is extreme in Emeryville.  There seems to be no political will to follow the General Plan once politicians get in office.  Politicians routinely say they’re going to turn this around but they have not yet done so.  And yet the voters keep voting for these politicians.  Several council members have been re-elected over and over again. Does this tell you the people don’t really want parks, regardless of what they say?  Are you willing to consider amending our General Plan to delete parks if you can’t or won’t deliver on your promise to build more so at least our guiding document will accurately reflect reality and not be a pie-in-the-sky fantasy meant to elect dishonest politicians?  Considering all this, at what point should the General Plan be considered a failure?

John Van Geffen: There is nothing wrong with wanting more park space even though in reality, the possibility of doubling our existing park space is simply not feasible (unless the train tracks magically disappear or we change the definition of "park space"). 
Unfortunately, as Mark Twain's old adage goes, "Buy land, they're not making it anymore". I do not know of a way for Emeryville to substantially increase our city's park space and simultaneously increase our housing supply to meet demands.
To answer your specific question about the General Plan, I don't think we need to amend the General Plan just to "acknowledge failure" because that does not address the problem and, in my opinion, seems to be exactly the type of political theater your blog tends to lambast against. 

Section 3  Sherwin Williams Project
The Sherwin Williams development project is a mostly residential proposal earmarked for the last large piece of fallow land left in Emeryville.  This single project could easily increase Emeryville’s population by more than 10%.  At 540 all rental residential units planned as well as some office space and a small amount of retail, this project promises to be very consequential for our town for better or worse.

Tattler:  The Sherwin Williams developers propose to add 2.08 acres of public park on the site.  Using the standard formula of 2 people per unit (more if the project attracts families as the developers say it will), the project will come in at about 520 residents per acre and help bring down Emeryville’s already deplorable residents/park acre average. Should negative skewing of our park/residents ratio like this be a disqualifying condition for this project?

John Van Geffen:  I attended the September 6th City Hall meetings with dozens of my fellow Emeryville residents and listened along with everyone else to the recent developments with the Sherwin Williams project. When the time came for comments from the public, there was a considerable number of opinions on how the City Council should manage the project--e.g., where the park(s) would be located, what the % of BMR units would be, whether the BMR units would be in a separate building, use existing buildings, use of commercial space, etc. 
But, while the residents of Emeryville have a plethora of views on how the project should move forward, the consensus was that the project should move forward. 
In answer to the remainder of your questions about the Sherwin Williams project, the people of Emeryville want, in some shape or form, for the development to move forward. So, instead of cultivating dissent, we should take a cue from the advocacy group PARC and concentrate on what our residents' priorities are and how to best achieve them.

Tattler:  The Sherwin Williams site is relatively cheap since it is fallow.  Because our General Plan requires us to build many more acres of parks within 12 years and because it’s cheaper for the City to buy fallow land than land with buildings already on it for this purpose, and because the City of Emeryville has the capacity to pass a park bond to raise revenue for this, is making the Sherwin Williams site a large park a rational choice?

John Van Geffen: Did not answer

Tattler:  With more than 500 parking spaces, this project can be fairly called another Emeryville ‘drive-in drive-out’ residential development.  Do you see adding this many cars to our streets as being offset by any benefits to existing residents by the project’s amenities?

John Van Geffen:  Did not answer

Tattler:  Is Emeryville right now not up to snuff, a less-than-desirable place to live that can only be improved by the Sherwin Williams project going in as proposed?  Do we ‘need’ the Sherwin Williams development? 

John Van Geffen: Did not answer

Tattler:  The project is hemmed in on the west by the rail road tracks and on the north by land slated for future development by Novartis, to the east is the Horton Street Bike Boulevard that our General Plan forbids adding more traffic to. How will the retail there be viable with these constraints let alone the office space and the residential units?

John Van Geffen:  Did not answer


  1. John T. Van Geffen - I should clarify that the reason I did not answer your last four questions, is because they're all the exact same "YOU AGREE WE SHOULDN'T DO THE SHERWIN WILLIAMS PROJECT, RIGHT?" question, just phrased differently.

    To reiterate, when Emeryville residents voiced their opinion at the City Council meeting, a majority clearly stated that they supported the project in one way, shape or form.

    If Emeryville citizens want something to move forward, the City Council should work towards finding a consensus on how best to proceed, not attempt to create dissent through pointless vitriol.

  2. Good for you, John. The City's leaders, and the neighborhood itself, have reached broad consensus on the Sherwin-Williams project. But since when should the will of the people living in the neighborhood take precedence over a Big Idea, albeit however impractical, but repeated ad nauseum? You got my vote.

    1. A "big" idea should be considered if it is shown to be what the people have said they want, is practical and is fiscally responsible. Good ideas that have those characteristics should always be considered by the government. A culture of group think should always be assiduously guarded against. Remember the 'big' and unpopular idea that posited that invading Iraq would be ill advised. Unfortunately a culture of group think had descended on our country and dissent was quashed leading to that disaster. Rational and cogent ideas should always be welcome in a democracy, even when the majority doesn't like it.

  3. He doesn't want to answer the questions. That's not good for a politician to reveal that. What's he going to say to someone he disagrees with if he gets on the council? I'm not listening? Sounds like Affeldt. Not good not good.

  4. Actually, I would say he was very clear about his answer, since all the remaining questions were more or less asking the same question six times. Can't we be better than this? Here's what he said: "In answer to the remainder of your questions about the Sherwin Williams project, the people of Emeryville want, in some shape or form, for the development to move forward. So, instead of cultivating dissent, we should take a cue from the advocacy group PARC and concentrate on what our residents' priorities are and how to best achieve them."

    There are so many issues facing our City; why not explore more than one?

    1. For the record, the questions asked by the Tattler of all the candidates are not repetitious. Many questions are designed to draw out his or her thinking on directions the City is taking that is conflicting with settled policy in various areas. The answers tell voters how the candidate sees the specific solution but also can reveal how he/she organizes a general governing philosophy.

      We disagree with your assessment.