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Monday, February 25, 2019

Emeryville's Progressive Minimum Wage Ordinance Draws Praise

Much has been written about Emeryville's 2015 highest-in-the-nation minimum wage ordinance and how its implementation has helped improve the lives of low wage workers economically at risk in our community.  Grinding poverty has been associated with poor physical health and it has been assumed Emeryville's ordinance would help in that regard.  To assist, New York Times writer Matthew Desmond documents how Emeryville's landmark 'living wage' law improves the physical health of the lowest wage workers in our town.  As part of the Time's 'Future of Work' series entitled Dollars On the Margins, Mr Desmond depicts regions of low minimum wage as loci of suffering and deteriorating health.  The author however singles out Emeryville as a place where workers can lead healthy lives in dignity.  It's high praise for our town in the national edition of the New York Times Sunday magazine section and it can be read HERE.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

City Council Moves to Overturn Family Housing Rules

Council Says Family Housing Rules From 2015  Are Too Onerous

Big Developers to be Helped With Regulatory Rollback

The City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with a plan to roll back existing family housing regulations for large developments in Emeryville citing claims that developers can't make their projects "pencil out" if they are required to provide such housing in their unit mix.  While the Council made no secret the rollback is primarily meant to benefit the developer of the 58 story Onni project proposed for Christie Avenue, they expressed hopes their proposed deregulation for big developers could spur a flurry of tower building similar to Onni for Emeryville.

Ignoring the pleas of three attending School Board members hoping to safeguard the family housing 'unit mix' rules enacted in 2015, the Council also voted to move to rollback regulatory impediments that dictate how close towers can be to each other, Emeryville's so called 'tower separation' rules meant to stop the manhattanization of our town.  The case was made that the tower separation rules and the unit mix rules were stifling skyscraper tower construction and that the City had blundered in 2015 when they mistakenly enacted the regulations.
Councilman John Bauters lead the charge against the family housing unit mix rules stating that high rise towers are more expensive to build than low rise buildings and that makes the rules too onerous for the developers of those buildings.
Emeryville's unit mix rules for family housing for small developers will remain unchanged by the proposed rollback.
Two Proposed Apartment Buildings
Two Tier Law
The one on the right must provide family
units, while the one on the left gets a pass.

Mr Bauters told the assembled crowd Tuesday the City did not develop the two tier law it now proposes back in 2015 when the regulations were crafted because no one at the City at the time was aware how much more expensive buildings over 100 feet tall are to build and that large developers need the extra help.  Besides, he said, reducing the requirements for large projects like the 700 foot tall Onni tower to supply three bedroom units would result in more families moving to Emeryville.  Board President Barbara Inch dissented, stating "Three bedroom units may not benefit the developers but they do benefit the community."  Her colleague, Board member Susan Collins said the existing unit mix rules should stand and deregulating as the Council proposes will hurt the community, Emery schools and the City's investment in the ECCL, "The community has signed on to the Emeryville Center of Community Life" she said.

With the exception of Councilman Christian Patz who argued to save the existing unit mix regulations stating "If we want families in town we have to do it", the City Council was united and undeterred by his and the School Board member's pleas when they moved to bring on the regulation rollback after another study session planned for the near future.  The biggest fan of regulation rollback on Tuesday however, Councilwoman Dianne Martinez, was clearly agitated over the vote to hold one more study session on the subject.  Warning her fellow Council members that the Onni tower developer needs their help now, Ms Martinez was definitive, "No more study sessions should delay this" she said.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Emeryville Considers Roll-Back of Family Housing Regulations

The Most Unfriendly City to Families in the East Bay, 
Emeryville Considers Housing Roll-Back

Two Tier Deregulation Scheme Gives Biggest Developers a Pass
for Family Housing Requirements

The City Council is considering relaxing existing regulations meant to attract more families with children to Emeryville by letting big developers off the hook for providing three bedroom apartments in their projects, at a scheduled Tuesday night special meeting.  The changes to Emeryville's so called 'unit mix' regulations are being spurred to accommodate the developer of Christie Avenue's planned Onni Tower who says the City's requirement to build family housing "won't pencil out" for the controversial 700 foot tall residential tower.  If the Council agrees to the changes, the regulation roll back would not be enjoyed by small developers, as they would still be required to provide family friendly housing that the municipal code currently requires.

Emeryville's proposed Onni Tower
At 700 feet, lots of apartments but

family friendly housing
"won't pencil out" says the developer.
Also being considered for roll back are 'tower separation' provisions in the existing regulations designed to stop the Manhattanization of Emeryville by maintaining prescribed distances between towers.  The builder of the Onni project if it were forced to abide by the rules, would not be permitted to build a planned  accompanying 16-story office tower sharing the four acre site with the 54-story main tower.

City Hall's 'family friendly' unit mix regulations, part of the municipal code since 2015, were drafted in a lengthy and democratic process that sought to repair a lopsided anti-family demographic; Emeryville's terrible legacy of  virtually unregulated growth over the previous 20 years.  The 'hands off developers' approach Emeryville became known for during that time, net us the town we now live in with only 32% family households compared with 68% statewide and an average house size population of only 1.7 versus 2.9 for the whole state.  The current unit mix regulations seek to redress these discommodious inequities and to build support for the City's investment in the recently completed $95 million Emery Center of Community Life by feeding children to the struggling Emery School District.
The existing unit mix regulations, 50% of proposed units be two or three bedroom and no more than 10% be studio apartments, were written to apply to all housing development projects that contain over 10 units.  The Onni Christie Mixed Use Project  is proposed for 638 apartments.
It is unknown how far the City Council will ultimately deregulate City Hall's family housing provisions, if at all.  A vocal citizenry will probably have an effect on their decision.

The two tier regulation proposal, one that rolls back regulation for developers building over 100 feet high and the unchanged regulations for smaller projects, was first proposed by Mayor John Bauters last October. The majority of his Council colleagues at the time, agreed it should be considered.

The special study session meeting to consider the changes is scheduled for Tuesday February 5th at 6:30 pm at City Hall.
Tightly packed.
Emeryville's 'tower separation' regulations, designed 
to avoid this, will also be rolled back if the Onni
developer gets his way.