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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Legacy of Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance: 79 Trees Cut, 2 Saved

Public Trees Get Cut Down While Private Profits Rise Up 

Emeryville's Sad Urban Forestry Ordinance

Law Meant to Save Our Trees Has Had No Effect

News Analysis
The recent clashes over public street trees abutting the incipient Sherwin Williams apartment project highlights a persistent and existential problem for Emeryville’s Urban Forestry Ordinance; the law, passed in 2003 with unanimous City Council support, isn’t actually saving our publicly owned street trees it was intended to.  A document recently obtained by the Tattler in a Public Records Request shows the ordinance, often referred to as the UFO, has failed to protect trees with only two out of 79 street trees having been saved, public trees falling to developer’s chainsaws as fast as before the UFO.
The original stated goal to the UFO was to impose fees so onerous on those seeking to cut the public trees, the net result would be the trees would usually get saved.  The real world results have been totally ineffective at that goal, developers simply writing off what fees the ordinance does impose as a cost of doing business.  As a consequence, our city has been transforming into a land of lollipop trees.  

City of Emeryville Public Street Tree Removal Permits by
Private Entities: Proposed Versus Approved
Since 2003
Developers/private concerns proposed 79 trees be cut and the 
Urban Forestry Ordinance saved two.
Note: PG&E originally proposed to remove 30 publicly owned trees and 
after Council member John Bauters intervened, the utility company
reduced their proposed number to nine.
Chart doesn't include 65th Street's 'Glashaus' project; 20 trees removed without permission but later forgiven and fines waived by the City.

Staff Batting .000
Since its inception, the UFO has been under constant assault by developers, as one can imagine but remarkably, it’s been the City staff, specifically the Planning Department that’s stood shoulder to shoulder with the developers in requesting public street trees be cut.  Of the 81 requests received by City Hall, the staff has taken up the interests of the developers with every request and recommended to the Council every last tree be cut, not even one time representing the resident’s interests.  

City Council Bats .025 
It could be assumed the staff, who generally don't live in Emeryville, has less interest in saving public trees than do those residents that serve on the City Council; the final arbiters for requests to remove trees.  However perhaps even more remarkable than the staff’s perfect record in facilitating the tree cutters is the fact that the City Council has moved to protect only two of the 81 trees requested for removal.
Developers save money by cutting trees fronting their projects and planting lollipops after the job is done. Regardless, the UFO as it is written would be perfectly capable of saving Emeryville’s street trees, even against developers seeking good returns for their shareholders and a City staff trying to help them but for its prescriptive deference paid to the City Council, a group of five individuals that has heretofore shown only 2% interest in representing the residents.
The Legacy of Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance
The idea was to make it so developers would tend to not
 cut the public street trees.  

Red=cut trees, green=saved trees.
The real world results of this ordinance are
a civic embarrassment.

It can be assumed an effective ordinance that purports to protect the citizen’s assets; assets that in this case the City itself says promote “community pride”, at least 51% of those assets would be protected.  However, the Emeryville Urban Forestry Ordinance was crafted to protect our street trees and it has an efficacy rate of only about 2%.  Clearly, if the people of Emeryville still desire to save their street trees like they did in 2003, the ordinance that is supposed to help in that endeavor needs to be rewritten, the absolute power of the City Council stripped out.  As it now stands, the UFO record reveals a series of elected officials that haven’t been totally honest with the voters when it comes to their urban forest.

Iconic/Ironic Trees
Bay Area Native
Golden-crowned sparrow
Against this backdrop, the City Council is currently weighing whether to allow the developer of the incipient Sherwin Williams project to cut 14 trees on Horton and Sherwin streets fronting that project.  Ironically, these same trees were the impetus for the writing of Emeryville’s Urban Forestry Ordinance after Sherwin Williams Paint company cut trees at this location some 18 years ago.  This location on Horton Street had a total canopy coverage over the street with trees from both sides creating a tunnel effect, the only such place in Emeryville. The paint company was ordered to clean up the site upon selling the property after more than 100 years dumping arsenic and lead in the soil as part of their manufacturing process and the mature existing street trees were cut down, the soil replaced with clean fill.  Sherwin Williams then planted lollipop saplings and called it a day.  Outraged residents, feeling taken, descended on City Hall and demanded a better deal and the UFO was the result.  It will indeed be ironic if the same trees that stirred the neighbors and forced the writing of the UFO were to now again be cut 18 years later and the ordinance waived as the staff is recommending.

Like the Bike Plan’s putative protection of bicycling with its Bike Boulevards, the General Plan’s ‘Areas of Stability’ meant to save our single family homes and the designation ‘Architecturally Significant’  meant to save historic buildings in town, the UFO is not written to be effective. Like the other legislative edicts in our municipal code, the UFO gives the impression of Emeryville as a real city.  However, the reality is these obtuse laws on our books can only be seen as placeholders for a time when livability and democracy are taken more seriously by City Hall.  Perhaps the sound of chainsaws could be replaced by the chirping of birds in our town; a dream of Emeryville residents from 2003 that has been deferred. 
Earns One Smiling Nora Davis
Nora Davis smiles down on the record of
Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Letter to the Tattler: Traffic Diverters Needed; Former City Councilman John Fricke

Traffic Diverters in the Triangle Neighborhood Overdue

-by former Emeryville City Councilman John Fricke

Last night, an SUV driver, traveling at a high rate of speed down my residential street in the Triangle neighborhood, struck a traffic circle, lost control of the vehicle, and struck a utility pole and a parked car.  The parked car, in turn, struck another parked car behind it, which then struck a third car.  
I was not at home at the time, but my neighbor told me that the force of the collision shook his house.  The Emeryville Police Department responded.  The SUV driver struck the wooden utility pole with such force that PG&E was summoned to inspect the integrity of the pole.

This incident would not have occurred had the City of Emeryville permanently installed the traffic diverters that were tested over ten years ago.  The policymaking process was exemplary, up until my colleagues on the City Council made the snap decision to deviate from the orderly process:  
  •  A number of neighbors and I drew attention to the problem of a large volume of cut-through traffic on the east-west streets (41st, 43rd, 45th, and 47th).
  •  The City Council convened a series of widely-advertised community meetings to solicit input from Triangle neighbors.
  •  At these well-attended community meetings, we discussed various solutions, including speed bumps, traffic circles, and traffic diverters, ultimately reaching consensus on the need for traffic diverters.
  •  The City Council directed the city staff to install temporary traffic diverters for a six-month trial period, data would be collected before and during the trial period.
  •  The preliminary data showed that the traffic diverters were effective in reducing the volume and speed of vehicle traffic.
  •  At two city council meetings during the test period, a vocal minority of Triangle neighbors complained about the traffic diverters.
  • At a meeting in October, 2007, the vocal minority prevailed over the orderly process.  A City Council majority consisting of Ruth Atkin, Ken Bukowski, Nora Davis, and Dick Kassis, made a snap decision to halt the data collection, ordered the city staff to remove the diverters, and replace them with temporary traffic circles (a permanent version of one of these circles was struck by the speeding SUV last night).  
  •  I voted 'NO' to the snap decision to prematurely end the trial period.  
  •  Why was the original traffic diverter on 47th Street spared from the City Council majority’s impetuous decision?  Because none of the vocal minority complained about 47th Street.

This series of events took place before and after my election to the city council.  Indeed, it was one of the issues that I ran on, including advocating for traffic diverters during my campaign.  
The City Council majority’s decision to ignore the process that it established was a slap in the face of the numerous Triangle residents who attended the community meetings, who listened to the consultant describe alternatives, who listened to their fellow neighbors’ input regarding the possible solutions, and who ultimately reached consensus around traffic diverters.  Their fault lies in the fact that they had confidence that a majority of their elected representatives would engage in evidence-based policymaking, namely test a proposed solution by collecting and comparing baseline data against data collected during the test period.  They did not anticipate that the decision would be governed by a few loud voices.

The legacy of this process is failure.  The traffic circles have failed to solve the problem.  Over the years, I have observed an increase in the volume of cars.  The number of speeding cars remains high.  As I type this opinion piece on a Saturday afternoon from my home computer with a view of the traffic circle at 43rd and Salem streets, I have counted thirteen cars that have not slowed their speed at all as they drive through the stop sign.  This traffic circle is right next to the entrance of the playground of the elementary school, the gate to which is opened each weekend day for the neighborhood’s use (shout out to School Board member Barbara Inch for getting this done).  These residential streets should include traffic calming that places the safety of residents above the convenience of cut-through traffic.

I believe that traffic diverters are the best solution.  I will send this column to each of our five elected representatives on the new City Council (John Bauters, Scott Donahue, Dianne Martinez, Ally Medina, and Christian Patz).  I will ask them to decide whether there is a problem that needs to be addressed, if so, to collect data, and then to implement an evidenced-based solution.  
Photos courtesy John Fricke 



During data (partial):


John Fricke moved to Emeryville in 1994 and was an Emeryville City Council member from 2005-2009. An attorney, he worked for the Alameda County public defenders office before setting up a private practice in Emeryville.  After having lived abroad and in San Francisco for several years following his Council stint, Mr Fricke calls Emeryville his home once again.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

School Board Calls Meeting About How to Select New Superintendent

The Emery School Board is announcing they will allow the public to weigh in on if the public should be allowed to help select the next School Superintendent by actually meeting the prospective candidates, one of whom will replace the vacating John Rubio.  The Board gave the minimum Brown Act dictated notice for the meeting to take place tomorrow evening.
If it is decided to not allow an advisory committee help in the search, then the current School Board will decide themselves.
This School Board has stood by Mr Rubio and renegotiated his contract and it could be fairly surmised anyone selected by them could have similar qualities as Mr Rubio.  Superintendent Rubio has been at the helm for four years during which time the District has faced a dramatic downturn in teacher retention and academic ranking and teachers en masse testified as to Mr Rubio's incompetence during his rancorous tenure.

If an advisory committee is not allowed, the community will not be permitted to meet the prospective candidates for Superintendent.

Special School Board Meeting:
Monday April 16th
6:00 pm
K-8 School Multi-Purpose Room
1125 53rd Street

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Tattler Presents the Document The City Doesn't Want You To See

To the Emeryville City Council:
Here's the Document Your Staff 
is Withholding From You

In a surprising turn of events, the Emeryville Planning Department has opted to withhold a critical document from the City Council as the Council decides whether to cut down publicly owned street trees on Horton Street, a move that is counter to the Department’s charge to provide pertinent and accurate information to the Council so they can make informed decisions. The document entitled Trees at Old Sherwin Williams Site, was written by SBCA Tree Consulting, the City’s official arborist and commissioned by the Council to determine the health of the street trees bordering the future Sherwin Williams apartment housing development. However the Planning Department feels the Council should not be able to see their own document as they decide the fate of the people’s street trees and so they have left it out of the packet slated for Tuesday’s Council meeting.  
Realizing the importance of transparency and objectivity in City Council decisions, especially those that impact the public’s assets so directly, the Tattler hereby presents to the City Council the document the Planning Department doesn’t want them to see.  

This valuable document will inform the Council the majority of the trees in question are found to be healthy, the opposite of what the staff told the Planning Commission at their March 15th meeting as reported by the Tattler on April 6th.

Even though they didn’t provide the document at the time, the Planning Department staff told the Planning Commission at the March 15th meeting, the health of the trees at the Sherwin site should be considered as that body weighed in on cutting them.  Another consideration brought to the Commission by the staff was whether there is room under the street to underground overhead utility wires or if they should put the wires under the sidewalk making saving the trees more expensive.  Regardless, the staff told the Planning Commissioners the health of the trees is not good and a majority of Commissioners used the poor health as the primary reason for their vote to cut the trees.  The staff never did inform the Planning Commission the arborist had found the trees to be healthy.  

The Planning Department staff has prepared their report for the City Council Tuesday advising them to cut all the trees but they once again have left out the document that proves the trees are healthy.  The newest arborist report the staff did include in the Council’s packet doesn’t report on the health of the trees but rather just gives their monetary value; money the developer normally would have to reimburse to the City as determined by Emeryville's Urban Forestry Ordinance but which the staff incidentally is recommending waiving.

Sherwin Street Trees Also
Informatively,  the Planning staff also recommended to allow the developer to cut down two existing trees on Sherwin Street, trees in no way impacted with under grounding of utility wires. At a December 14th 2017 Planning Commission meeting, the staff said the trees should be cut down regardless but in the case of these Sherwin Street trees, the reasons presented were: A more unified look could be had if all the new trees along the street were lollipops of the same size and species, better soil would be provided and that “significant sidewalk displacement” is presented by both trees (even though new sidewalks will be poured by the developer).  Working within a theme, the staff saw fit to leave out the fact that the official arborist report only noted “sidewalk uplift” with one tree, the other displaying “minor sidewalk uplift”.
Following staff's recommendation, in addition to the waiver of fees recommended for cutting the Horton Street trees, the Planning Commission also voted to cut down the trees on Sherwin Street and waive the fees that would normally be levied there as well.

It is hoped the City Council will make good use of their own arborist’s document meant to gauge the health of the trees the staff is recommending be cut down. 

From City Arborist Report 'Trees at the Old Sherwin Williams Site':
The staff says the decision makers should know about the health of the street trees but they told
them the trees are "unhealthy" regardless that 12 of the 14 in question are fair to good health.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

History of Bad Bike Policy Nets the City of Emeryville a Countdown Clock

The 53rd and 45th Street Bike Boulevards 
Countdown Clock

City Council: Be Warned

The policy makers at Emeryville City Hall have a way of forgetting about programs they don’t much care for and insofar as these programs are mandated by the General Plan and have a prescribed implementation timeline therein, the Tattler has always been there to gently remind them.  However, even our rigorous oversight has not been enough to coerce the decision makers to implement the Bike Plan, the part of the General Plan that City Hall historically has had the biggest aversion to.  
Owing to this intolerable situation, the Tattler now introduces the 53rd and 45th Street Bike Boulevards Countdown Clock.  The clock will be located at the bottom of the front page of the Tattler (phone users will have to load the web version to see it).  It will remain until the City places the traffic calming measures on these two streets the Bike Plan mandates.  Alternatively, the City Council could amend the Bike Plan to remove the traffic calming requirements for these two streets and then the Clock would be taken down.

Every Two Years
The 53rd and 45th Street Bike Boulevards Countdown Clock is set to run out to zero on September 14th, 2019 at 5:00 pm, the latest possible time the City has to implement the next required level of traffic calming measures placed on the two streets.  The clock began on September 14th, 2017 after the required official traffic count was completed when the City became aware that there is too much vehicle traffic on the two streets.  The City conducts the traffic counts on every Bike Boulevard every two years as the Plan stipulates and if an “overage” of traffic is found, the City is required to emplace traffic calming measures, after which a new countdown begins.

It is hoped the City Council will look to the Tattler 53rd and 45th Street Bike Boulevard Countdown Clock in place of their staff who has been negligent in reminding them of their duties regarding the Bike Plan.  Since the staff has opined that temporary traffic calming measures need to be emplaced for at least six months before a new traffic count can be considered reliable, the Council is reminded the clock only records the actual time when the measures need to be on the roadways and it doesn’t take into account any internal scheduling policies.  
The City needs to do its due diligence and make sure the clock doesn’t run out without the next traffic calming measures in place on 53rd and 45th Streets.  Additionally, the Clock will not be reset except insofar as duly prescribed Bike Plan traffic calming measures are implemented.  And warning to the elected officials: the Clock will help serve as the people’s accounting device at election time.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Planning Commission Votes to Kill Trees Without Critical Arborist Report

City Hall Staff Withholds Critical Document from Planning Commission 

Healthy Trees Called "Unhealthy" by Staff

Commission Voted to Cut Trees Without Knowledge of Arborist Report

Ten trees fair to good, Two fair to poor = "Unhealthy"

The Emeryville Planning Commission, siding with City Hall's Planning Department staff, PG&E and the developer of the Sherwin Williams project voted unanimously March 15th to overturn the City's Urban Forestry Ordinance and to kill every street tree on Horton Street fronting the incipient apartment project slated to break ground later this year.  The unanimous Planning Commission vote was based on staff recommendation the trees be removed, putatively to accommodate the under grounding of overhead utility wires based on a dubious claim from PG&E and owing to their unhealthy status, a finding counter to an earlier City sanctioned official arborist’s report.  The staff did not inform the Planning Commission before their vote about the document from the arborist that said the majority of the trees are healthy.
The vote prepared by the staff March 15th was to decide if the Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement earlier made should be amended in order to facilitate the cutting of the trees.  The Planning Commission vote overturns that earlier (unanimous) 2016 vote by the City Council directing the staff to save the trees on Horton Street when they approved the Sherwin Williams PUD. 

Emeryville's Appointed Planning Commission
A majority found the "unhealthy" state of the trees
on Horton Street to be reason to cut them down. 
The staff never told the Commissioners
about the arborist's report that found

a majority of the trees to be healthy.
The final decision about the trees and the integrity of the Urban Forestry Ordinance (UFO) will be decided by the City Council on April 17th when they consider allegations made by the staff at the March 15th meeting that the trees in question are “unhealthy” as well as dubious and not proven claims that PG&E will "not allow" the overhead wires to be placed under the street, necessitating the cutting of the trees according to the staff. 

The PG&E claim is especially questionable owing to the fact that the staff told the Planning Commission that the utility company “does not allow joint trench boxes [wires] in the roadway and it needs to be routed to the sidewalk”, an eventuality synonymous with cutting the trees they said while at the same meeting they also said that it is “likely” that some of the trees will need to be cut.  
Further, PG&E has already been caught lying to the City of Emeryville about cutting our street trees in the past when Councilman John Bauters found the company making false claims in furtherance of the utility company's zealous efforts to cut 30 trees in our town as part of a program to keep roots away from underground utilities last year.  Mr Bauter’s diligence ended up saving 21 of the trees and net an apology from PG&E for their misrepresentations to the City.

From the Official Arborist's Report on the
Sherwin Williams Trees on Horton Street
7 fair-good to good with 2 fair-poor to poor
and 3  fair equals "unhealthy trees" 
status according to the City of Emeryville.
The Planning Commission never saw 
this report before their vote.

Perhaps most damaging for City Hall in this escapade is their insistence that the Planning Commission see the trees as “unhealthy”, a direct contradiction of the professional arborist retained by City Hall who characterized the trees as being in good health and the fact they kept the tree report from the decision makers. The report prepared for the City Council by SBCA Tree Consulting on December 29th 2014 found of the 14 trees along Horton Street four are ‘good’, two are ‘fair-good’ , four are ‘fair’, one is ‘fair-poor’ and one ‘poor’.  Predictably, the Planning Commission seized on the claim of the trees being unhealthy and a majority of Commissioners cited that as a reason for their vote to cut them down. 
The 2014 tree report was conducted to inform the City Council as they voted on the approval of the Sherwin Williams project's PUD and the healthy state of the existing trees as shown by the report was instrumental in the subsequent unanimous Council vote to save the trees. 

The staff also recommended to the Commission the 
fees normally paid to the City by a developer seeking and receiving permission to cut our street trees be waived based on two non-sequiturs: the fact the replacement trees will get "better soil" and inexplicably because the trees on the other side of the street will not be cut.  The Planning Commission found nothing untoward or unreasonable about those two findings.

Regardless of the staff reporting as a fact there's no room under the street, an Emeryville Tattler Public Records Request revealed the City of Emeryville in fact has no documents that would confirm their claims that PG&E says the underground wires cannot be placed in the Horton Street roadway.  Even if the utility company told the staff this, the company's credibility has been damaged due to their previous false claims.  A map of Horton Street showing pipes obtained by the Tattler Public Records Request suggests there may be plenty of room to place the underground utility wires in the roadway but is ultimately inconclusive. 

A group of residents living near the Sherwin Williams site Park Avenue Residents Committee (PARC) also encouraged the Planning Commission to vote to cut the trees because of their "unhealthy" status. 

The Planning Commission, cited in addition to the "unhealthy" status of the trees, their opinion the trees should be cut because the existing sidewalk isn't safe (also cited by PARC) and that replacing them with 24" box lollipop trees would make for a "more uniform street". 

The City Council takes up the issue on April 17th however Mayor Bauters must recuse himself, his residence being in close proximity to the project.
The arborist sees the tree on the left
but the staff sees the tree on the right.