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Thursday, December 19, 2019

City/School District Put New Taxes on March Ballot

The City of Emeryville and Emery Unified School District are going to the voters for a pair of taxpayer funded ballot measures in March that would raise almost $4 million annually between them.  The City is seeking passage of Measure F, a quarter cent sales tax that would raise approximately $2 million per year and Emery Unified is seeking passage of a new parcel tax, Measure K, that would raise about $1.8 million per year.

Both measures purport to fund a laundry list of items mixed with a crowd pleasing teaser; teacher pay increases advertised by the school district's Measure K and increased funding for the Emery Child Development Center from the City's Measure F ballot language.  Neither measure however, guarantees funding for these specific issues, even though they figure prominently in the ballot language of the measures.
Measure F will fund personnel additions for the police department, the fire department as well as for code enforcement while Measure K is more nebulous, funding academic core programs as well as after school programs, sports, music and art programs.

Both Measures will require 66.7% of the electorate for passage.

The election will be on March 3rd.

Friday, December 13, 2019

New Traffic Count Report: Emeryville's Entire Bike Boulevard Network Unsafe

Mounting Traffic Puts Bicyclists in Danger

All Five Bike Boulevards Now in Violation 

A recently released report by the City of Emeryville shows an alarming rise in vehicle traffic that now exposes bicyclists to danger on every bike boulevard in town due to unsafe volumes of traffic.  The internal report, entitled Vehicle/Bicycle/Pedestrian Counts (Fall 2019), was generated as a result of a Bike Plan required bi-annual traffic count and shows a rapidly deteriorating environment for bicyclists in Emeryville as compared with the last traffic count conducted by the City.  All five bike boulevards in Emeryville are now unsafe for bicycling according to the City’s own metrics and one, the 45th Street Bike Boulevard, is saddled with vehicle traffic 96% in excess over the safe limit.

The City has been aware the increase of vehicles using the town’s bike boulevard network is putting bicyclists in harm's way for some time but up until this latest traffic count report, at least one bike boulevard has always been shown to be within safe parameters.  Now that the Doyle Street Bike Boulevard has gone over the limit, that can no longer be claimed.

From the New Traffic Count Report
Emeryville's High Average Daily Traffic Allowances: Not High Enough.
Palo Alto's bike boulevard network allows for a maximum of 750 ADT.

The bike boulevard network was created in 2009 as a response to Emeryville’s anticipated growth the new General Plan provided for.  It was determined at the time, some streets should be set aside as bike priority streets to allow for bicycling to remain a viable alternative to driving.  Emeryville spent $200,000 on consultants who recommended the City create a network of these streets, bike boulevards, based on how other cities have done it.  The business and developer community however, not wishing their driving clients/tenants be constrained, cried foul.  As the Bike Plan was being finalized, the City Council unilaterally increased the allowable traffic on the network (over any other city in the Bay Area) to mollify the business community's concerns, especially on the highly contested Horton Street where the allowable traffic loads were doubled.  Traffic however has risen apace since then and now, even that increased allowance for traffic on our bike boulevards is not enough.

Against this backdrop, the City Council has been unwilling to implement the traffic calming remedies spelled out in the Bike Plan to reduce the rising vehicle traffic to the safe-for-bicyclists minimum called out by the Plan.  Developers and businesses near the bike boulevards have repeatedly told the Council that the specified traffic calming remedies are unacceptable and these have been the voices the Council has listened to up until now.  The predictable unsafe traffic volumes now seen on the bike boulevard network is due to the Council’s inaction in this regard.

It’s Going To Get Worse
Already Approved: the BMR Project
2400 parking spaces netting 4800 driving
trips per day will be added to an already
overburdened Horton Street.
The recent leap in traffic is a portent for what is to come.  The General Plan targets Emeryville with a population of 16,600 residents by 2029, the Plan’s sunset.  Added to the increased driving population will be a dramatically increased business footprint.  These eventualities will likely add lots of traffic to our existing grid regardless of Council hopes for a wholesale turn in public sentiments towards public transit.   Additionally the City Council, entertaining overturning existing housing unit mix regulations to accommodate residential super towers such as the Onni project slated for Christie Avenue, has hinted the 16,600 mark is a number they intend to race past rather than target.

One looming non-residential project, the BMR life science 'Center of Innovation' slated for Horton and Hollis Streets, will include 2400 new parking spaces delivering a new glut of 4800 Average Daily Traffic (ADT) trips to Horton Street.  Adding to that number, the approved Sherwin Williams project with at least an extra 4000 ADT and an unspecified amount of traffic from the newly completed but not yet fully rented Transit Center, Horton Street, already 38% over the limit, will not be a street for conducive for biking regardless of the plethora of purple signage proclaiming its bike boulevard status.

The City Council effectively took Horton Street out of contention as a possible street for bike transit when they issued a 'Statement of Overriding Considerations' in the run up to the approval for the Sherwin Williams project in 2016.  The SOC stated that the project will overturn the Horton Street Bike Boulevard but the community benefits of the project outweigh bike concerns.
More recently, the Council decided to not implement the Bike Plan  traffic calming treatments for the 45th & 53rd street bike boulevards, choosing instead to let the clock run out for the two streets.  The remaining boulevards on the network, Doyle Street and 59th Street don't seem likely candidates for traffic calming given the City Council's lack of concern for the Bike Plan combined with an aggressive view towards growth the Council has exhibited over and beyond what the General Plan provides for and traffic, accordingly, will likely overrun these two streets as well.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Emeryville By The Numbers

Introducing a new Tattler feature; 'Emeryville By The Numbers'
We'll highlight from time to time, what makes our town unique as compared with our neighbors.

Public Libraries in the Bay Area By The Numbers

Emeryville is the largest city in the Bay Area without a library-

Emeryville: 2018 estimated population 12,104 (u.s. census)

-Ranking of Largest Bay Area Cities Without Libraries: 1
-Total Municipalities in the Nine County Region: 101
-Towns Without a Public Library: 7
-Towns With a Public Library: 94
-Smallest Town With a Library: 2,982
-Average Population of the Six Towns Other Than Emeryville Without a Library: 5,752
-Average Population of the 14 Towns Smaller Than Emeryville With a Library: 6,410
- Number of Months since Emeryville Residents Voted YES on Measure J, the $95 Million School, Community Center and Public Library Bond: 109

Literacy and the social cohesion it creates is a cultural hallmark of the San Francisco Bay Area as reflected in its impressive system of public municipal libraries.  The Bay Area as it turns out, is crazy over public libraries. The vast majority of cities, towns and even hamlets in the nine counties that comprise the Bay Area has at least one library, even Napa County’s tiny Yountville at 2,982 souls has got a downtown public library.  In fact, there are only seven towns in the entire Bay Area that don't have a public library.
Emeryville however has the dubious distinction of being the largest town in the nine counties without a public library.  Of the 101 total municipalities in the 6,966 square mile nine county region, 20 are smaller than Emeryville and of that group, 14 have their own libraries.  The bedroom community of Piedmont in Alameda County, with a population of 11,238, is the second largest town without a library.

With a population of 1510, Colma can be forgiven not having a public library.
What's Emeryville's excuse?

Small Towns With Big Community Values
Tiny Yountville leads the pack; showing the Bay Area how to foster a vibrant
and connected community.  Are you listening, Emeryville?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Mayor Ally Medina Finishes a Lackluster Term

Q: How Did Mayor Medina Do on 
Her Pet Issues of Bikes and Parks?

A: Zilch

And so ends the downbeat tenure of Emeryville mayor Ally Medina.  Tuesday night Ms Medina hands over the mayoralty to Council member Christian Patz, ending the Medina era of …..what exactly?  Well, it’s not bike transportation or parks, the two issues that were central to her election campaign as she ran for City Council in 2016.  On those issues, she was a dud.  A non-starter.  Anything else?  What did Mayor Medina do for Emeryville during her term as mayor?  The readers will be forgiven if they struggle with this.
The answer is: very little.

Mayor Ally Medina Posing With A Bike
Irony alert!
Use agitprop to turn your
liability into an asset.
Truth be told, one could make an argument we’re being generous when we say Mayor Medina did nothing of consequence during her year long term.  On her two pet issues, conspicuously proclaimed on the campaign trail ("I am personally committed to taking the lead" she said at the time), she's actually taken us backward.
Regarding bikes, Mayor Medina has made it clear she doesn’t like our bike boulevard system.  It’s a stance we wish she had made clear before she made all her promises as a Council candidate.  Ten years ago, Emeryville spent $200,000 and countless hours of volunteer citizen effort formulating our Bike Plan, the central tenet of which is our bike boulevard network.  It would have been nice to know at the time that a candidate running for Council held it in such contempt.

Candidate Medina said she would implement our Bike Plan but Mayor Medina now says protected bike lanes are better.  So she set about ignoring the clear and mounting problems of excess traffic on the 45th and 53rd street bike boulevards, putting bikers in harm’s way.  The Bike Plan has a prescription for how to make boulevards safe for bikers….and a timeline.  There are too many cars and trucks on those two bike priority streets according to a traffic count conducted by the City more than two years ago.  As soon as that information was gathered, the City had two years to implement a regime of traffic calming as delineated by the Bike Plan.  Then the clock ran out for Mayor Medina to install the required traffic calming.  But it's not as if she didn't have enough time.  She simply let it languish during her entire term as mayor.  Inexplicably, she refused to even let the Bike Committee discuss the issue as she steadfastly refused to explain the inaction that has effectively taken the safety of bicyclists out of the purview of the City of Emeryville, at least on those two streets.

Mayor Medina’s experiment with protected bike lanes, her unilateral answer to our bike boulevard network, has been a disaster.  Horton Street, a street with a huge amount of traffic but still listed in the books as a bike boulevard (despite a final ruling against it by Council members Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in 2016), has drawn her in.  Mayor Medina, who serves as the Council liaison to the Bike/Ped Advisory Committee, instructed Public Works to install plastic bollards near the Amtrak Station meant to separate bikes and vehicles instead of implementing the Bike Plan's traffic calming regimen.  Horton, like 45th and 53rd streets is a street with too much vehicle traffic to be safe for bikers, and the bollards have caused commercial vehicles to park on the sidewalks and in the bike lanes, trapping the cyclists and causing them to veer sharply out into moving traffic.  It’s an issue that a local TV news station highlighted as complaints poured into City Hall.
If Ms Medina and the City had simply followed the Bike Plan and installed its traffic calming measures, Horton Street would be safe for bicycling with plenty of parking spaces for cars and yellow curbs for commercial trucks.  But bike boulevards are an issue the Mayor and the City can’t seem to countenance, never mind all the crowing at election time. 

Regarding parks, another self proclaimed favorite topic of our mayor, Emeryville is epic: as in epically bad.  Our city is the worst in the entire East Bay as far as parks go.  Parks and open space service is measured in residents per acre and at some 500 people per acre of park, a number that keeps rising as we keep increasing our population, residents here are green space starved.
Meanwhile, our General Plan is very clear about this issue: parks are essential and it’s resolved: all new large residential projects are supposed to offset the degradation in the parks-to-residents ratio by providing no less than three acres per thousand new residents.  Unfortunately, Emeryville has failed utterly on this issue and Mayor Medina, who sanctimoniously said we could trust her on parks, has done nothing during her term as mayor to address the issue all while the condition continues to get worse.

The Sherwin Williams Tree Debacle
Council Member Medina sees what
the developer tells her to see: dead and
dying trees.
Everybody else sees healthy shade
giving trees, doing what trees are
supposed to do.
And then there's the issue of the Sherwin Williams street trees.  Ms Medina went down in flames with the City Hall staff and the developer of that impending construction project who wanted to kill every public street tree fronting it.  Without providing evidence, the developer told us they couldn't save the trees due to underground electrical cables they needed to install.  Besides, the trees in question are dead and dying they told us, over the objections from the City's own arborist.  The developer's performance was enough to convince the staff and Councilwoman Medina.
Ally's colleagues however could see the tree cutting scheme for the con job that it was; a plan to bolster the developer's profit margin at the resident's expense.  Only Council members Martinez and Medina were duped.  The others on the Council saw right through the obvious profit maximizing ploy being foisted by the developer.  Almost two years after calling their bluff, the City Council majority saw the developer and the staff, hats in hands, finally admit the trees could be saved after all.  And a chasented Ally Medina apologizing for her naivety.

While Mayor Medina has certainly been a disappointment, in her defense, it was her misfortune to follow John Bauters.  Mayor Bauters, whom we had our disagreements with during his term, nonetheless used his prodigious if artless political skills to escort Measure C, a $50 million affordable housing bond through to voters.  That plus other consequential policies he enacted made Mayor Bauters a tough act to follow to be sure.  But that doesn’t absolve Mayor Medina who, like them all, is charged with moving Emeryville forward during their terms as mayor.  We would have thought, at least on the issues she claims to champion, Mayor Medina would have made some progress.  We never would have imagined her to shut down the cause of government transparency and accountability as she has done on the issue of the 45th and 53rd street bicycle boulevards.

It gives us no pleasure to say Ally Medina has been a bust as mayor of Emeryville.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Onni Project: RULE Meeting to Presage City Sponsored Town Hall

The citizen advocacy group Residents for a Livable Emeryville is holding a meeting this coming Saturday about the proposed 54 story Onni project on Christie Avenue.  The meeting is intended to gather and disseminate community information in the run up to a City of Emeryville sponsored Town Hall meeting RULE has proposed.   RULE meetings are open to all except City Council members (except by invitation), and everybody else, including our Berkeley and Oakland neighbors, are encouraged to attend.
The following is submitted by RULE:

Hello Friends and Neighbors!

Please join us for our next RULE meeting 10 am Saturday, November 23. Bring your questions and concerns and visit with your neighbors over coffee and breakfast. The meeting will be held at Doyle Street Co-housing, 5514 Doyle Street, Emeryville (across the street from the Doyle Street Cafe).

At least half of this two-hour meeting will be devoted to discussion of the proposed 54-story (638-foot) Onni super tower at the corner of Christie Avenue and Powell Street in Emeryville. RULE is working with Mayor Ally Medina and City staff to put together a Town Hall meeting of residents, city officials and staff, Onni developers, and environmental, building, and other experts to discuss the project. RULE has also formed a Strategy Committee to focus efforts on the issue.

Everyone is encouraged to attend and share their views.

Residents' principle concerns about the Onni project:
- developer requesting to be excused from minimum number of family friendly (2- and 3-bedroom) units required by the City
- size of project out of scale for surrounding area
- detrimental environmental impact
- traffic impact
- bicycle and pedestrian safety and access, particularly for seniors
- lack of sufficient green space and other amenities
- Housing appeals to foreign investors who will not live there
- Housing rented or purchased for purpose of Airbnb rentals

About the project:
The proposed Onni Tower includes 653 residential units, the majority of which will be market rate studios and one-bedrooms. The development does not meet the city's required unit mix for families, and the developer has asked the City Council to excuse it from that requirement due to the added expense.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Forget the Minimum Wage; It's Time to Rollback Our City Council Healthcare Costs

If Rollbacks Are Fair Game, How About 
This One, City Council?

We all watched with amazement last May as the Emeryville City Council majority, a self proclaimed ‘progressive’ lot, voted to roll back our Minimum Wage Ordinance and punch down against the working poor, the traditional victims in contemporary America.  In so doing, they conspicuously switched victims and chose instead to pour their empathy on the small business restaurant community and their Emeryville patrons who want cheap eats.  The rollback, supported by Council members John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue was ultimately pushed back by the combined forces of the labor community and the people of Emeryville, who have shown they have more empathy (and numbers) for the working poor than those seeking a bargain at the local ramen eatery.

But the whole spectacle got us to thinking.  This City Council majority, who clearly feels the pain of the business community shouldering the costs of paying a living wage to their employees, must surely also feel the taxpayer’s pain who are shouldering the costs of the Council members' individual health care premiums.

Emeryville taxpayers are forced to pay almost $6000 every month for the five of them; a cost we don't have to be burdened with.  And $6000 is just for this month, next month might be more....the rates keep going up. It's a lot to bear for the constantly tapped Emeryville taxpayer. 
Councilwoman Dianne Martinez said it best when she voted last May to roll back Emeryville’s Minimum Wage Ordinance; we need to protect Emeryville’s small business community against these high labor costs in order to “keep them viable” she said.  Now it’s time for Ms Martinez who’s currently personally profiteering off the taxpayers to the tune of almost $2000 a month, it's time for her to protect us, the taxpayers…to keep us viable.
If Councilwoman Martinez and the rest of them want health care, let them buy it themselves.  Because there's a perfect analogy between the struggling business community and the struggling taxpaying residents.  Why is it OK that the Council use its power to provide monetary relief for the business community and not the residents?  In whose interests are the City Council looking after? Where's OUR rollback Mr Bauters, Mr Donahue and Ms Martinez? 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Blockbuster Demolition Comes to Emeryville's Triangle Neighborhood: Mockery of 'Area of Stability'

More Single Family Home Demolition in Emeryville's 'Zone of Stability'

Existing Working Class Families Being Removed to Make Way for 6 New Unaffordable Units

City Finds 50% Increase in Density 'Insignificant',
100 Year Old Craftsman Bungalows 'Too Old'

Rent Doubled on Tenants in Effort to 
Force Them Out

Four Family Friendly Houses on 47th Street
These existing homes with private backyards suitable for

children will be replaced with homes with no private outdoor
space except small decks (on some units).
The City of Emeryville is taking up a developer landlord's plan to demolish four side by side craftsman homes in Emeryville's Triangle neighborhood and replace them with six suburban style units on the same piece of land; a 50% density increase Planning Director Charlie Bryant calls 'insignificant'.  The demolition plan, forwarded by the owner of the homes, out-of-town landlord Mark Forbes, involves the forcible removal of his tenants; four working class families, to make way for the new market rate rentals.  The City of Emeryville has deemed the proposed replacement units, comprised of three duplexes, 'unaffordable', being offered for rent as they will be, at market prices.   Mr Forbes, who has owned the four homes "for decades", is asserting they are "in a state of disrepair " and at 100 years, are past their "useful utility" and good for demolition only.

47th St Homes Landlord

San Francisco Resident Mark Forbes
CEO heir to a real estate & investment
financing fortune.  He enjoys golf and
collecting antique cars according to
the F E Forbes corporate prospectus.
Mr Forbes recently doubled the rent on
his 47th Street tenants to force them out. 

Dispossessed and soon to be dispossessed tenants of Mr Forbes, some having lived there for decades, testified at the Emeryville Planning Commission Tuesday night that their landlord has been remiss in repairing the homes over the years.  Their collective testimony serves as an informing counterpoint that the poor state of repair cited by Mr Forbes as a reason for the demolition, has been brought on by Mr Forbes himself; a classic slumlord ploy.
The tenants told the Commissioners they were all recently offered $5000 to leave their homes by the Forbes Corporation.  Two families took up the offer but the remaining two families noted the offer has since been retracted, replaced with a 95% rent increase.  The families said they cannot afford the increase and will be evicted.  Mr Forbes, for his part said he is observing all existing laws designed to protect tenants in a city without rent control.  The tenants explained to the Commission that their families include the elderly and and at least one disabled wheelchair bound family member.

Area of 'Stability'
The 47th Street Homes are in the General Plan designated 'area of stability', a General Plan determined zone that is supposed to preclude the kind of development density increase this project proposes.  Speaking to the 47th Street Homes proposal, Chief Planning Director Charlie Bryant reminded  the Commissioners about what the Areas of Stability specifically represent.  He said in the attending staff report the Areas of Stability are, '...described as those parts of the city that are not anticipated to change significantly in character, land use or development intensity.'
Proposed Suburban Style Replacement Homes 
High rents & no back yards but nonetheless
these are newer....and therefore better according 

to the developer and the City of Emeryville.
Expect new tenants to be whiter, wealthier 

(despite fake wood siding).
Inexplicably, the City of Emeryville,  siding with the developer of the 47th Street Homes has determined an intensity increase of  50% (six homes replacing four homes) is (according to the staff report) "... consistent with the development intensity of the area, and therefore conforms to the General Plan designation of this neighborhood as an 'area of stability'."  The staff didn't attempt to quantify its use of the word "significant", even though most people would say 50% qualifies.

Notably, the 47th Street Homes request for demolitions within the Area of Stability, is not unique.  Many other developers have similarly requested demolition and been granted despite the protected status afforded by the General Plan.  Indeed, Emeryville's last areas of detached traditional single family homes left continue to fall to the wreaking ball.

Open Space for Families?

One of the "Poor Quality" Craftsman Homes
to be Demolished 
The 'three drop' actual wood siding, dormer, 
and craftsman detailing all are no good 
according to F E Forbes Inc. 
Besides, it can't be salvaged they say 
(nevermind that demolition will increase profits).
Interesting too, is how the staff of the City of Emeryville engages in redefining the qualifications for family friendly housing in general but with specificity to the 47th Street Homes.  Paramount in the City's definition of what makes for housing that will attract families, an official housing policy goal of the City, is two and three bedroom units.  Left out of the equation is what traditionally has been found to be attractive to families; the prosaic notion of large private back yards, but also two and three bedrooms and most of all, affordability.  The 47th Street Homes project takes away the private back yards of the existing homes so popular with families with young children, parents hoping to steal away a few moments for household chores and such while young children play outside, unattended.  The replacement homes will not have any backyard space at all; would be parents forced to settle on small 99 square foot private decks for the three second floor units and no private space at all for the three lower units.
But the boldest claim of family friendliness coming from the developer of the 47th Street Homes is the removal of affordable older housing stock (the rent doubling increase made to force out the tenants notwithstanding).  Not to belabor the well worn axiom of new construction costs driving the need to recoup capital outlays resulting in higher rents, the market rate new homes on 47th Street will come in at a higher monthly rent, resulting in a whiter and likely 'techier' class of renters.  That's a demographic not normally associated with families, more with roomates.

'Wood' Siding Issue
San Francisco Victorians: Too Old
Even older than craftsman era homes. 

Some are past 130 years; well past the "end
of their utility".  Just think how much nicer
new homes would be here.
The artificial wood siding proposed for the houses that will replace the demolished craftsmen homes on 47th Street, not normally an existential concern with most residents, nonetheless stands out for its mockery of our City Hall and its General Plan.   Amid the wholesale denigration of public policy the City of Emeryville signs onto as a consequence of the City placating developers like Mark Forbes, this little artificial wood detail stands out less for its naked audacity and more for its pedestrian annoyance, a pact that gives away the game as it were.  The City of Emeryville is clear on this one specific, albeit minor score when it comes to demolitions within the Areas of Stability; the siding of any new replacement house must be authentic wood.   The General Plan states it unequivocally, calling wood siding a "high quality" material that needs to be provided if siding is used for a replacement home.  That the City staff did not call out this developer for this transgression informs Emeryville citizens as to the nature of the authority of our General Plan and its Areas of Stability provisions at least as much as the very idea of tearing down homes cast as 'stability' in the first place.   

Having completed the Tuesday Planning Commission study session unscathed, the next stop for the 47th Street Homes project is the City Council who will give their thumbs up or down on the controversial proposal at a to-be-announced meeting.  Watch the Tattler for details.
47th Street Homes Landlord CEO Mark Forbes' Tangled Corporate Web
Shell Corporations put to work to increase his fortune at the expense of working families.
This is who the City of Emeryville will be in bed with if they help kick out the existing 
Emeryville low income families of color that live in this man's Emeryville rental properties.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Twice Burned 'Maz' Project Developer Burned by Council: Noise Ordinance Waiver Denied

Historic Vote:
City Council Majority Says 'NO' to Developer's Noise Ordinance Waiver Request

'Maz' Developer Used Past Fires as Excuse to Work Weekends
Neighbors Told to Give Up Their Quiet Weekends 
Because Developer Wants to Save Money on Security

The Emeryville City Council made history Tuesday night when they voted to deny a noise ordinance waiver request, only the fifth such denial in more than 15 years, after the developer applicant offered an unorthodox argument that his noisy construction project needs to be completed quickly to make for a smaller window of opportunity for arsonists to set fires there.  The peculiar offering failed to convince the Council majority (3-2 Medina, Martinez dissenting) to ask residential neighbors around the apartment project at 3800 San Pablo Avenue, to give up their peace and quiet weekends from now until April 2020, the duration of the request.

Developers commonly ask for waivers to Emeryville’s noise ordinance based on the weather or other ‘unforeseen' complications but the fire vulnerability angle was the first such waiver request made by any applicant.  Since every construction project is vulnerable to fire until suppressive water sprinkler systems can be installed, a waiver granted by the Council on Tuesday would have set a sweeping precedent, potentially nullifying the whole ordinance.

Council Members Dianne Martinez & Ally Medina
Together they feel t
he public has no expectancy of
weekend peace and quiet in Emeryville...
not if a developer says he wants to
save money on security.
The City staff, continuing their near perfect record of recommending waivers, told the Council it is prudent for them to make the residents suffer through seven day per week construction noise until the project’s completion.  Planning Director Charlie Bryant said the Council should grant the waiver to the developer carte blanche, calling it “reasonable” because, “…the site was burned twice” in 2016 and 2017.

At least four City Council members seemed to agree, at least initially.  Council member John Bauters, who ultimately voted NO, indicated he thought the request was tough to turn down, “This is a hard one for me” he said.

Councilman Scott Donahue indicated he thought the fire vulnerability excuse was a good one but the modular construction technique the developer is using means wood framing members will arrive at the site with fire retardant already applied and consequently, neighbors should be able to expect weekend peace and quiet he said.  Councilwoman Dianne Martinez was less circumspect, “I don’t love weekend work but I’m inclined to grant the waiver” she said after she told the developer she felt his pain; the fires at the project were “very bad” she added. 
Mayor Ally Medina, acknowledging that it wasn’t up to the City of Emeryville to ask that the developer provide better security in the future, tried to strike a compromise.  She moved that the construction noise be limited to Saturdays.  Mr Bauters however said that condition was “not specific enough of a request for me to grant approval at this time” as he joined Mr Donahue and Vice Mayor Christian Patz in their historic noise ordinance waiver NO vote.
Council Member John Bauters
He struggled with the decision:
should developers be asked to spend
more money on security to help
neighbors have quiet weekends?
"This is a hard one for me" he said.

The developer’s representatives Tuesday night happily took up their narrative that adding security at their site isn’t a thing for them and Emeryville residents should instead take up the slack and do them a kindness by allowing seven day a week work.
Regardless of their 3-2 vote, notably, no Council members or the staff suggested the developer spend more money on security to protect against possible future arsonists, instead letting the developer’s narrative stand.

Emeryville's noise ordinance, enacted in 2003, has been seen as an irritation for developers who are rarely required to abide by it but usually have been required to provide a reason why they shouldn't have to follow it.  Many developers have shown their displeasure in having to appear before the City Council to go through the sometimes humiliating spectacle of presenting a plausible explanation for why they shouldn't be constrained.
While most developers settle on using rain delays as a reason to ask for a waiver, more brazen reasons have been stated such as "complicated nature of the work" or that the public, expecting quiet weekends will get them sooner if the developer can "finish faster".  Remarkably, that developer, City Center Partners at the Public Market, got caught when they couldn't even abide by their waiver, taunting the Council by starting their granted Saturday work before the agreed to time.  After twice being warned, the Council finally revoked the waiver in an unprecedented sanction in 2017.
In an even more audacious request, the developer of the Transit Center, Wareham Development, successfully trotted out the most unabashed reason we've heard a couple of years ago; "because we really want it".  No other developer has used the 'we really want it' excuse for a waiver request since.
The City Council itself got into the act last April one upping Wareham when they granted a developer's waiver request inexplicably by waiving the waiver request, saving the developer and the citizens the bother of conducting a public hearing at all.

The Maz project, also known as "The Intersection" with its unit mix heavily skewed towards studio and one bedroom apartments together with zero affordability, has been controversial since it was approved by a divided Council in 2013.  In a 2013 opinion piece, the Tattler’s editor Brian Donahue famously called the project a “men’s dorm” owing to its anti-family unit mix attractive to techies, drawing an accusation of felony arson in the two fires by Rob Arias, the editor of Emeryville’s business friendly blog, the E’Ville Eye.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Sherwin Williams Tree Fight Over, Trees Saved

Two Year Fight: Sherwin Williams Trees Saved

Staff Reverses Finding that Required Removal

"Embarrassed" Mayor Medina Apologizes for Earlier Vote to Cut All the Trees 

An entire block of street trees at the Sherwin Williams development project on Horton Street have been saved from the developer's chainsaw by a unanimous City Council vote on Tuesday September 17th following a standing recommendation from the city staff to cut the trees dating back from April 2018. Up until the latest vote, it’s been a divided Council with two wanting to save the trees and two wanting to cut them.
A year and a half after Emeryville City Hall and the developer of the Sherwin Williams project together determined that every street tree alongside that nascent development project would have to be cut down because of ‘undergrounding’ of utilities necessary under the sidewalk, at the newest Council meeting, the City staff suddenly reversed their finding.

At the 2018 Council meeting, without giving evidence, the staff told the Council they really had no choice on the trees.   Planning Department Chief Charlie Bryant and Sherwin Williams developer Kevin Ma, said the 11 existing street trees fronting the project, the entire block, would have to be removed because the underground pipes would have to be placed under the sidewalk owing to the fact that space under the street is “too crowded” with other utilities.
Inexplicably, the staff added that if the Council voted to save the trees alongside the project (on the west side of the street), the undergrounding of the utilities in the street could result in a cutting of trees on BOTH sides of the street.  The Council never asked for a clarification of that logic and the whole Sherwin Williams tree issue was continued.

By September of 2019, Planning Director Bryant’s views had changed.  His staff rechecked and they found out there IS space enough under the street for the cables after all and the trees can be saved he told the Council.  And with that, the City Council voted to place the utility wires under Horton Street and save all but one tree they say that has to be cut to accommodate a specific utility box in the sidewalk.

And so it would appear a very contentious and ongoing issue has finally been put to rest for the Council who had been fiercely divided on the cutting of the Sherwin trees.

Mayor Ally Medina
Misled by the staff.

Initially she voted to cut all the trees.
At the September 17th Council meeting

 she apologized for that vote. 
The tree issue before the Tuesday September 17th meeting has been somewhat of a Rorschach test for the City Council, half the Council eagerly believing the developer and the staff and the other not believing them.
Staff and developer claims that the trees must be cut brought skepticism from Council members Scott Donahue and Christian Patz whereas members Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina simply accepted the staff's findings at face value.  The normally perspicacious Ally Medina indicated she was so eager to cut the trees down, she didn’t even want to accept a continuance of the April 2018 meeting that was ultimately dangled in front of the Councilors by the staff.  No, she said, the trees must be cut down, so let’s get on with it, she said.  The two to two split at that 2018 meeting forced the staff to bring the issue back before the Council a year and a half later (after they initially told the Council a continuance was impossible and the vote had to happen that night).

Councilmember John Bauters lives within 500 feet of the Sherwin Williams project and is by law, not allowed to vote on it.

Mr Patz and Mr Donahue had reason for their disbelieving of the staff.  At the initial April 2018 meeting, the staff publically misrepresented the health of the trees.  Attempting to coerce the Councilors, the staff said the City arborist had determined the trees to be “unhealthy”- a direct contradiction of the actual arborist’s report which indicated the trees were “healthy”.  Planning Director Bryant later apologized for the false statement following a Tattler exposé on the issue.
Additionally, the staff recommended cutting the mature existing trees along Sherwin Street (also abutting the project) offering visual aesthetics as a what for; that the species would clash with the proposed new trees to be planted along Sherwin Street they said.  The actual reason for the removal of the mature trees along Sherwin Street was specified as “hindering the creation of a unified streetscape”, a finding not supported by the City’s Unified Urban Forestry Ordinance (UFO).  The staff’s recommendation thus was improper but helped show their disdain for saving trees….as has been the  79 to 2 record of killing trees over saving them as recommended by the staff since the inception of the UFO.

The Horton Street trees are now saved but staff, leaving the door cracked just a smidge, got the last word.  Once the contractor digs the street up, there's always a possibility they could be wrong in their latest assessment they said and there may not be enough room under the street.  There's a chance the trees may still have to be cut down yet, they cautioned.
The Trees in Question
Saved From the Chainsaw
Developers have to spend money saving street trees.
It's cheaper to just cut them all down and plant lollipops.
The staff has been trying everything they can to get
these leafy profit reducing nuisances removed. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Mayor Announces No More Bike Boulevards, Yes to Protected Bike Lanes

Two Year Countdown Clock Runs Out For Emeryville to Build Bike Boulevards

Mayor Responds: No More Bike Boulevards

The Mayor of Emeryville has taken a missed deadline in the City’s Bicycle Plan yesterday to announce she will explore finally scrapping Emeryville’s entire bike boulevard system in favor of a system of ‘protected’ bike lanes.  Mayor Ally Medina, who also serves as Council liaison to Emeryville’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), made the surprising announcement in a recent interview with the Tattler in response to probing questions over the City’s recalcitrance providing traffic calming for the 45th and 53rd street bike boulevards.  The two streets are now past due to receive ‘Level Four’ traffic calming measures owing to an excess of vehicle traffic discovered during a City commissioned measurement of traffic two years ago.  Instead of providing traffic calming for the two streets, Mayor Medina indicated she will direct the BPAC to start discussions over amending the Bike Plan with an eye towards finally removing all bike boulevards, an idea she says has not worked well in Emeryville.

Mayor Ally Medina
She says bike boulevards'
time has come and gone
in Emeryville.
Bike boulevards are streets that allow vehicle traffic but are set up primarily for bike travel.  Vehicles and bikes share the street on a bike boulevard but vehicle speeds and volumes are managed by a traffic calming infrastructure.  Streets with protected bike lanes by comparison, are regular streets with physical separation between the vehicle traffic and bikes.  Usually, the separation is provided by bollards or concrete ‘K’ rail.
In Emeryville, the Bike Plan says the City has up to two years to move a bike boulevard up to the next highest level of traffic calming after a traffic count shows an excess of traffic on the street.  Bike boulevards here have routinely been moved up to Level Three traffic calming without incident but Level Four calming, a more rigorous push down against vehicles, has never been applied. The less restrictive Level Three traffic calming infrastructure involves corner intersection 'bulb outs' as well as signage and other such benign measures.

Ms Medina’s desire to finally kill Emeryville’s bike boulevard system comes at the end of a two year period in which the City should have installed temporary Level Four traffic calming for the two bike boulevards on 45th and 53rd streets.  Level Four traffic calming is defined by Emeryville’s Bike Plan as either ‘chicanes’ or ‘chokers’.  Both devices, using bollards, are meant to lower traffic volume to less than 3000 vehicle trips per day, a number that both streets have been in excess of as the Council commissioned traffic count from two years ago revealed.  A chicane is described as a “horizontal” traffic calming measure, a forcing of vehicles to wiggle side to side, whereas a choker is a narrowing of the street to one lane, effectively serving like a one lane bridge.

Level Four traffic calming has proven to be very unpopular with developers and the business community here although it is common in neighboring cities.  Developers, have publicly stated their desire to not have Level Four calming in Emeryville and it has never been used here.  Some Council members over the years have announced they will only go as high as Level Three calming on our bike boulevards despite the clear direction from Emeryville's Bike Plan that traffic calming goes as high as Level Five (traffic diverters).
The former Horton Street Bike Boulevard was removed from consideration for Level Four traffic calming in 2016 when the City Council signed a ‘Statement of Overriding Considerations’ (SOC) that posits the Sherwin Williams development on that street is more important than the bike boulevard and that the City has no interest in keeping traffic on the street less than 3000 vehicle trips per day after the development, with its 1000+ vehicle trips per day generated, was found by its attending Environmental Impact Report to be in conflict with the bike boulevard.  The street will have approximately 4000 vehicle trips per day including the traffic generated by Sherwin Williams.  Horton Street still has signs up claiming it to be a bike boulevard but the City Council, by signing away the Bike Plan’s provisions for it in the SOC, has said it will not place Level Four (or Level Five for that matter) on the street regardless how much vehicle traffic it has.
So 2019.

Mayor Medina used her influence to place bollards along Horton Street in 2018 it should be noted, after she received many complaints from bicyclists over vehicles blocking the bike lanes around the Amtrak train station at 59th Street.  The bollards themselves, consequently, have become a source of controversy as car and truck drivers complain they have no place to make drop offs or deliveries to businesses in the area.  These complaints, ironically, would not be happening if the City had enforced a bike boulevard for Horton Street because bike lanes are not to be used on bike boulevards and as a result, street parking, including yellow zones, could have been employed in that congested area.

Now that the two year clock has run out for the City for the 45th and the 53rd street bike boulevards, like the Horton Street bike boulevard earlier, Level Four traffic calming has been taken off the table with the announcement by Ms Medina.  The City Manager, Christine Daniel, whose job it is to place agenda items for the BPAC to consider, told the Tattler she will not allow the committee to discuss Level Four traffic calming for the 45th and 53rd street bike boulevards specifically but she will allow the committee to discuss Emeryville's bike boulevard system as a general thing, in October.  However, she did not say if the October meeting would be the time for the committee to take up the Mayor’s idea of eliminating bike boulevards in Emeryville.  Mayor Medina for her part, refused to explain the City's (and her) failure to implement the Bike Plan for traffic calming on the 45th & 53rd street bike boulevards, using the idea of eliminating the entire bike boulevard system as an indication the City has moved on and bike boulevards are no longer applicable here.

Emeryville's Bike Boulevard 'Treatment' plan may be viewed HERE.

The Tattler's 45th & 53rd Streets Level Four Traffic Calming Countdown Clock
This feature has been on the bottom of the home page for almost two years.
Yesterday it finally hit 00 days 00 hours 00 minutes 00 seconds.
The City couldn't or wouldn't install the traffic calming mandated 
by its own bike plan in that time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Promised Emeryville Community Library May Finally Be In The Works

Oakland May Increase Library Fees Charged to Emeryville From $120,000 Per Year to $800,000

 Fee Hike Drives Council to Reconsider 
 Forsaken Library Promise

Nine years after the citizens voted for and paid for a community library, the Emeryville City Council is finally talking about building it...and it would appear a major increase in the fees the City of Oakland charges Emeryville for use of their library is driving the new found interest in having our own library.
The building of a public library has been entered as item number nine in the City of Emeryville's top ten 'Priorities, Goals and Strategies' for 2020 as voted on by the Council.  This better-late-than-never plan belies the last nine years over which the citizens, after having already paid for the library, have been patiently waiting for its debut.

In 2010, Emeryville library loving voters went to the polls to decide on Measure J, a $95 million municipal bond outlay that would build the Emeryville Center of Community Life, a vast new schools and community center project that promised to provide the town with its first public library as well as an upgrade replacement for the previous 'substandard' school libraries.  Measure J passed and the public money has been spent, but the promised libraries never materialized.  The school library ended up being smaller and less accessible for students than their previous libraries were and the public library was never built at all.

Emeryville: Biggest City With No Library
Emeryville, with its current population of almost 13,000 residents, has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the Bay Area with no municipal public library.  And despite strong public support (the measure passed with 73%) and specific campaign promises from Council members Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in 2018, there has been no movement towards giving the residents what they voted for and already paid for.

A Sign Went Up But
No Library Inside

A large sign facing San Pablo Avenue
tells the community their library is here.
The space inside is being used by the
school district for an extra classroom.

The vexatious sign is an ipso facto graphic
symbol reminder of failed public policy. 
Measure J, it should be stated, also funded the building of a school library on the ECCL site for the K-12 students at Emery Unified School District.  But like the general Emeryville population, the students got shortchanged by Measure J too.  The promised ‘new and improved’ school library as built is considerably smaller than the previous school libraries with far fewer services, including volumes.  The new library contains 27,000 total volumes for the elementary school and the high school combined.  The old libraries contained approximately 50,000 volumes total spread between the elementary school (30,000) and the high school (20,000).
Noteworthy too is the fact there is now only one library serving all K-12 students.  Whereas before the expenditure of the $95 million, students could use their libraries anytime during the school day,  now, with a shared space and the State mandated prohibition against mixing older high school aged students with the youngest children, the times students can access their one library has been severely managed and curtailed.

The community library Emeryville residents paid for was promised to be substantial.  The ECCL plans shows a real functional community library there.  An open public plaza off San Pablo Avenue with copious seating and an open to the public cafe was to front the library.  Inside, the library space itself was to be quite large, 6,600 square feet, large enough to comfortably serve 40 people at a time.  There was earmarked a staff of three librarians and the ECCL parking lot was to include nine spaces for library patrons.  The Emeryville community library was to be "open to public use all day", M-F with Saturdays as well.

Realpolitik Shapes New Library Debate 
The City Council has not done its due diligence with regard to the community library over the last nine years to be sure.  However, the sudden interest taken by the whole Council as evidenced by its inclusion in the City priorities list, has all the attributes of a sharpened focus brought on by the effects of large and unplanned outflows of money.  A new force seems to be spurring all of them into talk, if not action on the issue.  Oakland's Golden Gate Library Emeryville is contracted to use, is raising their rates.  For years the City of Oakland has been charging the City of Emeryville $120,000 per year for our citizens to use their library.  Recently Oakland has announced the yearly library services fee Emeryville must pay is going to be raised to as much as $800,000 per year.  Eyebrows were raised in the Council chambers as well when the staff informed them of the new fee schedule.

For the last few decades, Emeryville has been on a pro business/development trajectory that has netted a degradation of public amenities and services here.  Unlike previous more conservative iterations of the City Council, the current 'progressive' Council, to their credit, has focused on bringing in new affordable housing and living wages to our lowest paid workers.  They have had a nearly singular regional mindset.  What this Council has not done is address the needs of those who live here now.  They've been no better than their predecessors in improving livability for existing residents.
From its inability to provide parks to match our burgeoning population rise, to its failure to provide places for families to live in support of our school district, to its troubling deficiency in stemming the transition of our town from a city of homeowners into a city of renters, this Council has shown little interest in improving the lives of the people who live here.  Regardless they may be primarily driven by the distasteful idea of shelling out $800,000 per year to Oakland and their attempts to stanch that, their new found interest in honoring their commitment to the people of Emeryville as far as the community library goes, represents a welcome change. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Onni Project Asks Permission to Build Beyond 'By Rights'

Huge Difference Between What Onni Wants and What They Have a Right to Get

Developer Should Come to Us,
Cap in Hand
News Analysis
The Onni development project is really big.  It's big, even for Emeryville, known throughout the Bay Area for welcoming extremely large development projects that couldn't get approved elsewhere.  This reputation precedes us and is likely the reason Emeryville was chosen by Onni to locate its 640 foot tall building, the tallest residential tower west of Chicago, here instead of Berkeley or Oakland.
Christie Avenue's proposed Onni project
It has to please us or it's going to be a no go.

But what if Emeryville acted more like our neighboring cities?  What if we decided we didn't like the Onni project as its being proposed?  What if we thought it's too much?  This corporate developer, like all land owners, has rights to develop their property.  But they can't develop as intensely as they're proposing without our permission.  Emeryville has rights too.  We can say no.

So what's the difference between what Onni wants to build in Emeryville and what they have a right to build?
Quite a lot as it turns out.

What Onni Has
Onni can build 'by rights' a building 75 feet tall, no matter what Emeryville says.  On the 3.76 acre real estate parcel they bought, Onni can build a building or buildings totaling as much as 163,706 square feet.  They can build up to 320 housing units on it with a floor to area ratio of 3.0.  Meaning they can build a building that covers the entire 3.76 acres that's no more than 3 stories tall.  Or they can go as high as 75 feet but they would have to leave some of the lot as open space to meet the 3.0 FAR regulations.

That's it.  That's as much as this developer is legally entitled to build.  Everything beyond this meager amount of development has to be done to our satisfaction.  And Onni wants to build A LOT more than what they have right to build.  So that means they're going to have to satisfy us.  They have to do as we please if they're going to build as intensely as they're proposing.

What Onni Wants
Onni wants to build a tower 640 feet tall; 565 feet over what they have a right to build.  Onni wants to build 638 apartments; 318 over what they have a right to build.  Onni wants to build a project that's almost a million square feet (982, 236); 818,530 square feet over what they have a right to build.  And Onni is proposing to build their project with a FAR of 6.0; twice what's their right to build.

As the Onni project moves towards approval by the City of Emeryville, the people have a right to ask for concessions from this billion dollar development corporation.  The concessions should at a minimum, make up for the development's impact on us, over and beyond what Onni can build 'by rights'.  Otherwise we're on the losing end of the deal.  There is nothing that says we have to concede anything beyond the by rights numbers.  Beyond the minimum is at our pleasure.  This project needs to markedly make our town a better place to live for the existing residents.  Anything less than that, constitutes a gift from the people of Emeryville to the billion dollar Canada-based multi-national corporation.

The by rights legal minimum development rights Onni has should be known by everyone as the City and the developer move this consequential project forward, least we let the developer obscure and cajole us and reap unjustifiable benefits at our expense.

The apartment tower at Onni will be 8 1/2 times
  taller than they are allowed to build by rights.

Double the number of apartments 
over what's allowed by rights.

How big is Onni?
Six times bigger than the by rights size.

The developer is asking to double our by rights
FAR allowance.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Emeryville Celebrates Its Status at the Rotten City Block Party

Emeryville celebrates this Saturday 11:30 - 4:30 in the first annual Rotten City Block Party at City Hall.  All are invited to what is being called a celebration of our past, present and future.  Our future is what we make of it but our reputation in the past was cemented in 1927 when Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren called Emeryville with it's reeking rendering plants, dirty smokestacks and corrupt politics "The rottenest city on the Pacific coast".  Today Emeryville has shown a remarkable penchant for consistency.  Our town is still rotten with its worst in the Bay Area record in many areas of livability including the lowest ratio of park acreage per residents, the unfriendly-to-families lowest number of people per housing unit, the worst record on home ownership and our school district's highest per pupil spending netting the lowest test scores and worst teacher retention.

Come one and all this Saturday to celebrate how we don't have any parks to speak of at Emeryville's Rotten City Block Party!  It's gunna be bad...super bad!

WE SUCK!  And we're damn proud of it!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Community Benefits Agreement Looming for Controversial Onni Project Says RULE

The Emeryville resident advocacy group known as Residents United for a Livable Emeryville has announced it is considering plans to negotiate directly with the developer of the proposed Christie Avenue Onni apartment tower project, skipping the City of Emeryville, by means of a Community Benefits Agreement to deliver a more resident friendly project than is being proposed.  In an August 17th letter to its members, RULE's steering committee indicated they have requested the City host a town hall type meeting to address resident concerns about the controversial 650 unit Onni project to be followed by a RULE facilitated Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the developer, depending on the outcome of the town hall.

A CBA is a legally binding contract signed by the community and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide certain amenities or mitigations to the proposed project in exchange for the community’s acceptance of the project.  Often, the community forms a coalition with labor organizations and environmental groups.  CBAs are open processes and the whole community is encouraged to attend meetings and engage.  Usually CBAs accompany the largest development projects.
The Proposed Onni Project
At 700 feet, the Onni tower would be
America's tallest residential building
west of the Mississippi River.
RULE, extant for more than 10 years, is open to all Emeryville residents and even out of town residents (in a non voting capacity).  The only group excluded from RULE meetings have been City Council members although they have been allowed in by invitation.  However a RULE facilitated CBA would likely allow out of town groups to have the same legitimacy as Emeryville residents.

The Vancouver-based Onni developer is entangled in a FBI bribery allegation after officials accused a Los Angeles Councillor of accepting money from Onni in exchange in 2018 for a positive vote on a pending LA Onni project.

In Emeryville, Onni plans an all rental 650 unit 700 foot tall apartment tower joined by a bridge with a 200 foot office tower.  The City Council has been working to help the developer, voting to remove existing ‘tower separation’ regulations from the books in July.   Additionally, the Council will seek to overturn existing family housing regulations at the request of the developer who claims he can’t afford build the towers if he is required to build family housing as other developers in Emeryville are.  These regulation rollbacks were chronicled in a Tattler story exposing City Hall of ‘regulatory capture’ and has contributed to a lack of trust among the residents, helping fuel a push for a CBA.

CBAs have a checkered history in Emeryville.  In 2016, a private group of property owning neighbors formed the Park Avenue Residents Committee (PARC) for the sole purpose of negotiating a CBA with the developer of the Sherwin Williams project, a 500 unit development on Sherwin Street slated to begin construction later this year.  The City assisted PARC with the "CBA" and ultimately the City Council used it to justify approving that project.  However, the Sherwin Williams "CBA" turned out to be out of character for a CBA; the PARC group operated behind closed doors and only invited guests could attend their meetings.  No other community members or labor or environmental groups were permitted to take part in the negotiations.  Regardless that the final document produced by PARC and Sherwin Williams didn't fit the description of a CBA, the City proclaimed it as such.
The RULE/Onni CBA by contrast will be democratic and transparent, says members of the steering committee.