Search The Tattler

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Unhealthy" Trees Must Be Cut Says Staff: 'Trust Us' They Say

Council Members Medina and Martinez, the Staff is Lying to You,
What More Evidence Do You Need?

Do You Value Our Street Trees or the Staff?

An Open Letter to Council Members Medina and Martinez

As a City Council member, how would you know if your support staff, those paid to provide objective analysis to assist you in your public policy decisions, were subverting you?  Would you get a clue for instance if they told you street trees a developer wants to cut down are "unhealthy" if you can see with your own eyes said trees are bigger, fuller and leafier than trees across the street the staff says are healthy?   How about if you didn't want to trust your own lying eyes?  What if the City's own paid arborist confirmed the trees in question are in fact healthy?  Would you then begin to suspect the information the staff is providing isn't reliable?
Would you start to think perhaps the staff has a hidden agenda if, at a City Council meeting where they were urging you on behalf of the developer to vote to cut down the trees, they told you it's urgent and you had to decide about the trees that evening but then later after discussion when it became clear  to them the Council majority was going to vote to save the trees, then the staff changed their minds and said there's suddenly plenty of time and to postpone the issue for a later meeting?  Would that tend to make you think the staff aren't exactly straight shooters?
How about if you knew that every time a developer requested approval to cut down our street trees, every single time since 2003, some 81 trees in all, the staff recommended YES regardless of the Urban Forestry Ordinance?

Emeryville's City staff says these trees are "unhealthy"
Good only for a chainsaw.
The City's own arborist on the other hand
calls them "healthy".
Would any of that help you to realize these employees of yours, handpicked by a former Council majority that infamously worked primarily in the interest of developers, are hiding information from you that would tend to make you vote to save our trees?
At least two of your colleagues, Scott Donahue and Christian Patz appear to have gotten the message about the staff at the Planning Department (Mayor John Bauters is conflicted out and can't vote on this issue because he lives closer than 500 feet from the project).  We're wondering why you two haven't gotten it.  What more do you need?  The people of Emeryville are waiting for their interests to be taken up by you.

So who is it specifically, that can't ever see the value in our Urban Forestry Ordinance?  It's Emeryville's Planning Director Charlie Bryant, the left over from the days when Councilwoman Nora Davis helped usher in every proposed development project including all the suburban style low slung auto dependent shopping malls we're now saddled with.  He's the same guy that recommended approval of every developer requested demolition of all those single family homes in our General Plan identified Zones of Stability over the years.  You'll recall Mr Bryant wanted to tear them all down on behalf of all the developers but also he didn't want you to know the homes in question were even in the Zones of Stability and therefore to be saved (barring extenuating circumstances).  Charlie didn't want you to know, so he kept that information hidden from you for years as you voted to let developers bulldoze all those historic single family homes.  He only started informing you these homes are in the Zones of Stability after the Tattler exposed him, by the way.

All those years, he chose not to divulge that critical information that would tend to make you, the City Council, vote to save the homes.  Just like how he's now kept from you the arborist's report, commissioned to inform you on the health status of these Horton Street trees the developer of the Sherwin Williams project wants to cut down.  He thinks it's better if you're not informed and to just take him at his word these trees are unhealthy and should be cut down.

Also unmentioned at the April meeting was the fate of the Sherwin Street trees. a different set of trees abutting the Sherwin Williams project.  Those trees were voted to be cut by the Planning Commission on the recommendation of the staff.  The reasons offered by the staff on these trees have nothing to do with underground utilities like the Horton Street trees.  No, the Sherwin Street trees must be cut down because they don't fit the staff's vision of a "unified street scape", an aesthetic vision not supported by the Urban Forestry Ordinance it should be noted.  Breezily, the Planning Commission dutifully voted to kill those trees the arborist also deemed "healthy".  Incidentally, the City Council never got a chance to weigh in on the Sherwin Street trees.
But back at Horton Street, 'underground utilities' should by now be seen as a ruse.  The real staff plan is to do the developer's bidding and cut the Sherwin Williams trees down using any argument that seems plausible.  Underground wires, unseen and scary seem just the ticket.

These "unhealthy" trees seem to be
doing the job we expect trees to do.
The last time you, the City Council talked about these trees was April 17th at your Council meeting.  You'll recall the staff said you must decide right then and there and you should vote to cut the trees because there will be utilities under the street and sidewalk from the project that will most likely kill the trees anyway.  There is no time to waste the staff told you...the situation is urgent: the schedule won't permit you any time to reconsider this at a later meeting.  "Is there two weeks?" asked Councilwoman Ally Medina.  You all were told NO.  But then Councilman Christian Patz, feeling gratuitously pressured asked the staff, "Why didn't we foresee this as a problem when we did the Conditions of Approval?" at an earlier meeting, months before.  Clearly irritated at being given what he called a Hobson's choice and feeling unnecessarily backed into a corner, Councilman Patz wanted to know why the staff didn't do it's job and give the decision makers ample time to decide.  We want to know that as well.  We also want to know why you, Councilwomen Martinez and Medina, aren't also concerned enough about this.  Mr Patz's question incidentally, went unanswered at the April meeting.

It's now June 10th, 54 days after the staff initially and breathlessly told you there's no time left to decide about cutting down the Sherwin Williams trees.  After your colleagues on the Council made it clear to the staff they would vote NO at the meeting, after the staff then quickly reconnoitered and said they'll bring the issue back with more information about the trees (maybe they can be saved?), now it's 54 days later and the staff still hasn't brought the issue back to you.  What are they waiting for?  What before was cast as burning now has turned into lackadaisical.  They seem totally unperturbed.  It looks like it wasn't so urgent after all.  The staff was yet again found to be working in the interests of a developer, sowing a frantic and hasty City Council vote.  This shouldn't surprise anyone paying attention over the years.

They'll come back at you presumably with some new reason to cut down the Sherwin Williams trees at a future City Council meeting.  At this point the staff should have zero credibility.  Nothing they tell you moving forward should be trusted.  Regarding these trees, you should seek outside counsel.

With such a terrible record of your staff hiding information from you, why do you, Ms Martinez and Ms Medina so willingly assume they're on the up and up every time?  We want to save our mature street trees here in Emeryville.  How can you know that?  Because of our democratically vetted Urban Forestry Ordinance.  We don't care about developers and their Emeryville City staff minions.  We want you to see the forest for the trees.  We care about our public commons including our trees and we want you to as well.
This City Council is progressive like the people of Emeryville are.  The staff sure isn't.  Why can't we seem to get past this anachronistic pro-developer staff and usher in a new staff that reflects the desires of the people of Emeryville?  We're not paying you to be nice and to go along to get along...we're paying you to work on our behalf.


  1. Good job, Tattler! What’s up with the city paying for an arborist’s report and then ignoring it without comment?

  2. I'm waiting for the attacks from the Rob Arias Cult against this story and against you personally Brian for writing it. What they're all about is authoritarianism and they can't stand somebody like you.

  3. I moved to Emeryville three and a half years ago and I quickly found the Tattler. I dipped back into the archives to read many past stories and I try to read every new story. This news site is invaluable I think but I will say I also appreciate the E’Ville Eye. The two sites are very different but they both offer valuable content for Emeryville residents. It’s true the E.Ville Eye is more business oriented but that’s good for us to read about the latest eating and shopping opportunities. A lot of Tattler readers look down their noses at that but I do find Rob Arias’s site helpful.
    But the Tattler is in a class of its own. At first I didn’t know what to think of this site. The editor seemed strange like I couldn’t figure him out. What drives him? We know what drives Rob Arias, but what about Brian Donahue? I’ve come to realize although he is uncommon, Mr Donahue is the real deal.

    This news source is extremely important and Brian Donahue has run many insightful and valuable stories exposing problems at the city and the school district. His stories exposing the business community are usually classic and insightful. I agree with what Brian said that the elite would be very happy if the Tattler went away. That’s a sign he is very effective. Here’s to you Tattler for being so gutsy, bold and in the face of those who rule us. I for one am very grateful you do what you do. I would donate if you asked. Long live the Tattler!

    1. You're gushing and we're blushing. We don't take donations but we appreciate the thought. Early on we chose to say NO to donations or advertising. They have a way of affecting our independence as I'm sure you can appreciate. Even the impression of influence on the Tattler that would naturally arise from accepting donations is detrimental to what we do. Others have offered but we've never succumbed. But I do again thank you for your kind thoughts and comments.

  4. You're not progressive, you're a nimby. You want trees instead of housing that will lower the price for rentals across Emeryville. Rob is right, he's working to build more housing to bring down rents and you're worried about a few trees. Rob is the real progressive.

    1. I do happen to like trees, it's true...but I like democracy even more. So if we collectively want to save our street trees and it's Constitutionally legal to do that, then that's what should happen. Emeryville residents do like trees. We know because of the Urban Forestry Ordinance. Unelected and non-resident developers and City staff don't get to decide unilaterally and the Tattler will report when they attempt to either by deception or openly. If we decide together, the majority of Emeryville residents, that we don't value our trees anymore, then we'll dismantle our UFO...with transparency.

      The rest of your argument is too silly for me to respond to.

  5. Kudos to the Tattler. There is a long and well documented history of Planning Director Charlie Bryant deceiving the City Council in favor of developers, usually by withholding information. I agree with the Brian. When is the City Council going to acknowledge that all too often Mr. Bryant’s advice and information cannot be trusted; that he is working in the best interest of developers and not the city? Here is a particularly egregious case in point:
    In that instance, Mr. Bryant instructed a developer to delete two key sections of an arborist’s report before sending it to the City Council. The report addressed the proposed cutting of 33 mature trees along Stanford Avenue between Hollis and Doyle streets. Ironically, the Parkside developer had requested the trees be cut to make way for a park. This deliberate deception by Mr. Bryant was revealed by Adrian McGilly (husband of then-Mayor Jennifer West) in an open letter to the City Council published in The Secret News on Oct. 1, 2012. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
    “I find it very disturbing that the city’s planning department would instruct a private developer to change their report in a way that draws attention away from tree preservation measures before sending that report to City Council. I find it disturbing for these reasons:
    1) It shows a blatant disregard for transparency.
    2) It shows a complete disregard for the City Council’s right to make final decisions based on complete information.
    3) Given that working around the trees is surely more expensive for Archstone than cutting them all down, it raises disturbing questions as to why the city staff would do such a thing.”