Search The Tattler

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Emeryville Loses Two Game Changing Council Members; Our Worst and Best Ever

Nora Davis: Worst Council Member Ever

Jac Asher: Best Council Member Ever

News Analysis
December 6th, 2016, is a red letter date in Emeryville history.  On this date our town is presented with the final curtain call for two influential political personages; one with more than a generation in command, the other having logged a scant five years at the helm. Both however have been extremely consequential.  The retiring two represent near polar opposite views of governance; one from old Emeryville with its very limited vision of the role of government, a hands off pro-business approach, the other from our new way of imagining ourselves with a more active role for government expressing our values in the public arena.  On December 6th, we lose both these City Council members; Nora Davis, very likely the worst Council member we’ve ever had and Jac Asher, almost certainly the best we’ve ever had.  
120 Years:
Very likely Emeryville's
worse Council member ever-
Nora Davis
As they now take their leave and head for the exits, it is an auspicious moment to take stock in how these two have come to represent their conflicting views of the proper role of governance in our town and also to note that Ms Davis’ pro- developer/business philosophy, while long dominate, will likely have no role in Emeryville’s future.

120 Years:
Almost certainly Emeryville's
best Council member ever-
Jac Asher
Councilwoman Nora Davis, having served almost 30 years on the City Council, longer than any other in our 120 year history, used her prodigious political acumen to consolidate power and craft our town as developers have seen fit.  Ironically given her position of wielding near supreme power for decades and her wall-to-wall civic boosterism rhetoric, Councilwoman Davis always felt Emeryville was not worthy, not a real power center municipality.  This was reflected in her perennial and central philosophic position that the best Emeryville could ever hope for is that developers would pay attention to us.  
Ms Davis has always been fond of reminding citizens that when she started out on the Council, Emeryville was a blank slate; mostly abandoned factories and nineteenth century warehouses and such.  A blank slate and ripe for development it was and Councilwoman Davis was wont to give the town over to developers.
Of course as everyone knows, developers DID pay attention to us and the town that was built is the town that reflects Nora Davis’ philosophy.  It is not a town that was planned, regardless the copious planning documents ensconced in City Hall, rather it is a town built by developers chasing market ephemera seeking to maximize profits for their shareholders.  Ms Davis’ vision is to put developers in the driver’s seat and she has always maintained that is how we will get the best town possible.  Her vision has never wavered, even as it became increasingly clear that Emeryville is actually blessed with an envious geographical location and seeing developer’s interests as intrinsically sacrosanct, she never leveraged our strengths to drive a higher quality of development that would have served the resident’s interests. 

Ms Davis always placed business interests at the top of her agenda during her near 30 years in power but her biggest legacy is to be found in the built environment and her predilection to empower developers as her default position.  Along with her colleagues of like mind, the Councilwoman changed our town plenty over the years but not in ways that the residents would benefit with her ‘put developers first’ philosophy.  Quite the opposite actually.  Over her tenure, the primary things people claim to like in their neighborhoods have gotten measurably worse, like acreage of parks per resident, traffic and congestion, affordability, home ownership, locally serving retail and family friendliness.  The Emeryville Tattler will present documentary evidence of this slide and Ms Davis’ role in it with a series called The Emeryville Truth & Reconciliation Project coming soon.

Councilwoman Davis used her clout to green light a huge amount of development clearing out historical buildings, leaving our town with virtually no old buildings.  Market forces being what they are, this ‘new building condition' promises to lock our town into what we now have for the foreseeable future.  Like it or not, after the build out of the last few approved projects now in the pipeline, there’s not going to be any substantial change in Emeryville’s built environment.  As a result, our town, a town with tremendous potential 30 years ago is now substantially set owing to developer returns on investments.  The town we see is Nora Davis’ town, unerringly built by her developer friends according to the protean dictates of real estate market particularities over the past years.

Jac Asher, having served for five years at the dais on the other hand, has not been a pro-developer ideologue.  She inherited a town largely decided by her colleague Ms Davis. Instead of bringing development, Councilwoman Asher concentrated on two things; bringing fiscal health and stability as well as accountability to City Hall and reshaping our government to reflect Emeryville values.  
For all Nora Davis’ crowing about Emeryville’s budget, it has been Jac Asher that has actually delivered on that score.  Whereas Ms Davis produced austerity budgets with her lowest-in-the-Bay Area developer fees, Councilwoman Asher wasn’t blind to Emeryville’s real estate value and she worked to increase our developer fees and other revenue streams to reflect that value.  
Most consequential though was her work to change our town to a ‘charter city’, thereby bringing in literally millions of dollars every year to our General Fund.  Ms Asher fought the entrenched right wing in our town and the largest lobbying organization in Sacramento, the California Association of Realtors who pulled out all the stops to defeat the charter city ballot initiative.  Vastly outspent by these real estate special interests, she used her own money to inform Emeryville voters of the utility in becoming a charter city to enable us to tap into real estate transactions as other cities do.  Jac showed us she isn’t opposed to development but she worked to ensure developers paid their fair share for the benefit of the whole community.   
Before the charter city vote when Nora Davis ran the show, Emeryville collected 55 cents per 1000 square feet of building, now we collect $12 per 1000, still less than our neighboring cities but a vast improvement - bringing huge relief to our formally strapped budget now and into the future.

Councilwoman Asher wasn’t interested in collecting money from developers and businesses, leveraging our real value, just to do it.  She has had a goal in mind; to steer City Hall to provide amenities for residents and to use the largess of government to help the least fortunate and most vulnerable among us.  From her single handed saving of the Emeryville Child Development Center (Nora Davis fought that) to dramatically increasing funding for the Community Services Department, Councilwoman Asher used her turn in power to turn our city’s direction 180 degrees to a place that reflects our values.  
In addition to the help she has brought to residents, she has also used City Hall to offset Nora Davis' legacy and atone for the decades of chain store formula regional shopping mall development in our town and all the non-livable minimum wage jobs produced as a result.  With Emeryville’s landmark Minimum Wage Ordinance Councilwoman Asher was instrumental in passing, Emeryville now has moved from a locus of suffering and oppression to a place that treats the lowest paid among us with dignity, with a living wage (alas, we’re still an auto-centric place filled with suburban style shopping malls).  Again, in contrast to Ms Davis, Ms Asher saw our town as having value that can be leveraged to bring something positive for the whole community.

During their respective eras, the two Councilwoman concluded opposite findings about our town that propelled their competing visions.  Nora Davis saw an Emeryville of little value while  Councilwoman Jac Asher saw Emeryville as having great value.  One was essentially negative, the other positive. One used public policy to enrich the wealthiest among us, the other used it to enrich the whole community.  
It is Jac Asher’s vision for our town that has been shown to have resonance with Emeryville’s values; she wasn’t a push-over for developers and business interests and she kept a community perspective on the proper role of government. And that makes Jac Asher the best City Council member this city has ever had.  Ms Davis in contrast can fairly be put at the bottom of the heap, at least in modern Emeryville history.  
Regarding the 30 year tenure of Nora Davis versus the five years for Jac Asher; that’s been a disturbing pattern reflected in other City Council members over the years here in Emeryville.  It’s been our reoccurring bad fortune based on the lack of a community newspaper that the best Council members tend to be short lived here while the bad ones tend to go on and on.  And on and on and on in Nora Davis’s case.

And so they leave us now, these two game changers for Emeryville; one who over a generation squandered a never again to be seen opportunity in service of a select corporate elite only to open a path for the other who clawed back at least a way forward from that cynicism to reveal a polity that works for the whole community.


  1. Jac Asher has been a really good councilwoman but Nora has been good too. You never focused on the good she did.

  2. This reader respectfully disagrees. I think it is exactly the

    1. To Mr Anonymous (and Mr Anonymous above him)-
      Interesting that neither one of you pointed to something Nora Davis did for the benefit of Emeryville residents let alone the vulnerable and less fortunate among us. Please quantify your conclusion...Fill in the following: 'As a Council member, Nora Davis helped people when she _______________'.
      The lower Mr Anonymous may then fill in the following: 'As a Council member, Jac Asher was bad because _______________'.

  3. I agree with this news analysis you did. I think Jac has been great for E'ville and Nora always takes the side of business no matter if its not good for the residents. Its a good time to reflect. Good analysis and good writing too Tattler!

  4. Hello? Are you there? She got re-elected over and over. I think the problem you have is democracy. We like Nora Davis.That's why we kept voting for her.

    1. People like Donald Trump too. They voted for him. That doesn't mean it's off limits to tell the truth about him. In fact it's patriotic to tell the truth.

  5. Jac Asher "was instrumental" in raising the minimum wage. That's enough right there to make the worst council member ever.

  6. Obviously, Anonymous at 7:16 AM has figured how to live on less than $10.00 an hour, pay rent, care for a family, purchase food, gas, clothing and health insurance....WOW, how does that work? I hope he or she isn't a council member.

    1. No need to worry about Anonymous at 7:16 being a Council member Waughie, all five of them support our Minimum Wage Ordinance (and that includes the three new members).