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Friday, October 7, 2016

Election 2016 Candidates Questionnaire: Louise Engel

Parks/Open Space &
Sherwin Williams Project:
Louise Engel

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 Louise Engel 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.

Tatter:  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?  
Louise Engel:  Parks and open space enhance every community by contributing to our overall well-being as we live within this hectic, urban world. Through intense urban redevelopment over the past 20 years, the City evolved from a heavy industry focus, with strip commercial alongside an older housing stock. Emeryville occupies only 1.2 square miles. About 20 percent of the land is roads, highways and other rights of way.  Interstate freeways 80, 880 and 580 bound and/or split the City neighborhoods. Our arterial streets experience heavy commute traffic. Major railroad lines run through the town to transport people, Amtrak, and cargo to points north and south. 
Emeryville’s small geographic size, its central location and the existing transportation systems – people and cargo movers - contribute to the challenge of adhering to optimum standards for park and open space. Our City Parks and Recreation Committee members actively pursue alternative recreation options. For example, at its March meeting this year, the committee discussed parklets: Temescal Creek Park and placing adult fitness equipment in Stanford Avenue Park.

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?
Louise Engel:  The public does play a key role in Emeryville’s ability to achieve a goal such as parks/open space. Registered voters elect our City Council which has three positions up for election this November 8th. Citizens participate on committees that study an issue along with the professional assistance of City staff. The decision making process involves interaction among competing interests. Stakeholders and influencers weigh in with their special interests that pertain to development and land changes that impact potential park/ open space. 
In addition State laws and regulations impose another layer of scrutiny on City actions. For example, in March 2016, the City Council approved an annual progress report on the General Plan. The report highlighted progress on updating the housing plan elements as well as the other plan elements which would include parks and open space. The City then submitted that report to the State, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the California Department of Housing and Community Development, as required by law. 

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.

Readers Note:  Louise Engel did not answer any questions on the Sherwin Williams section.  She did produce the following text as a response to all five questions:

Louise Engel:  An infill development proposal, reuse of land, challenges all of the ways in which our elected officials work through balancing the City’s regulatory framework with the interests of neighbors alongside those of the developer. The developer seeks to create a planned unit development that is economically viable.  There are no easy answers.
The proposal to develop the Sherwin Williams project site has undergone City review for more than 4 years. The Planning Commission and City Council held study sessions in fall of 2013. Earlier this year 2016, the Planning Commission held a public hearing. During the environmental review process the applicant worked with neighborhood groups and submitted a revised application for the project to the Planning Commission in July for its review. 
At the recent September meeting, the Emeryville City Council again considered extensive input from staff; public comment from businesses, neighborhood groups and individuals. Many of the issue areas, described in the five questions posed above, were among those raised in that public forum. Many concerned people have actively participated to shape, and to reshape the proposal, to achieve an outcome responsive to maintaining a quality of life here in Emeryville.
Working together as a collaborative committee, PARC, the nearby neighborhood stakeholder group, is achieving changes to the project that are directly meaningful to their daily lives. This citizen initiated committee provides an example of civic engagement that gives them a united voice coupled with leverage to effect their neighborhood for years to come. 

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?
Louise Engel:  Did not answer

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?
Louise Engel:  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?
Louise Engel:  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?
Louise Engel:  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?
Louise Engel:  Did not answer


  1. Is she a Republican? You can't tell by her answers but it's what I've heard.

    1. There is no rumour on this, Ms Engel calls herself a 'moderate Republican".