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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Breaking News: City Council Fully Rescinds Minimum Wage Roll Back

CITY HALL   ---- Breaking
Tonight the City Council voted (5-0) to rescind their earlier vote to roll back wages of small restaurant workers in town, a vote Councilman Scott Donahue characterized as  doing "the least harm".  The vote represents the end of the drive initiated by Council members John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Mr Donahue beginning May 7th to make a carve out in Emeryville's Minimum Wage Ordinance.  The bid to carve out a lower pay scale for an identified restaurant worker class was stopped after a coalition of labor and community groups known as East Bay Working Families gathered 871 signatures in a petition drive of Emeryville voters.  The Council could have pushed the issue into 2020 after the drubbing the three Council members suffered as a result of the petition drive,  by putting it to a vote of the people but they chose instead to end it here tonight.
A buoyant contingent of East Bay Working Families was on hand to witness the final putting to rest the whole affair.  Afterward, Liz Ortega of the East Bay Working Families told the Tattler the victory belongs with those struggling in the lowest paid jobs, "Workers in Emeryville won tonight" she said, smiling.
And with that, the issue of lowering Emeryville's MWO is ended two and a half months after it started.  Every minimum wage worker in Emeryville will now be paid the same amount.  Issue over.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Onni Project Threatens City Hall With Regulatory Capture

City Hall, Enthralled  
Captured by Onni

Work Performed at 1313 Park Ave is Done to Onni's Benefit

"Regulatory capture is a form of government failure which occurs when a regulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating."

News Analysis/Opinion
Resident communities get to plan their cities as they see fit.  That's a given.  All the planning documents ensconced in City Hall, made with lots of voluntary citizen work and taxpayer money is evidence of this.  And planning, by definition, means regulation and thus the people of Emeryville have created a regulatory framework to facilitate the building of the town as they envision it.  It’s a good thing.
The proposed Onni Development with its 700' Tower
So seductive to the City Council, they have allowed the
 Canada based Onni Corporation to capture our regulatory
safeguards meant to protect Emeryville's residents.
Except of course for those who end up being regulated.
We needn’t go into a lot of expository rhetoric parsing how the regulated tend to push back against the regulators in such a dynamic.  Suffice it to say the public commons are a contested space and there is always a yin to every yang in the administration of a democratic public policy.
What’s evolved of late in Emeryville however upsets this familiar apple cart; a new grand mal of late capitalism excess embodying total corporate empowerment; private for-profit entities, especially billion dollar entities pushing for and getting carte blanche access to the levers of public power.

Enter the specter of ‘regulatory capture’ to Emeryville; that being an abdication of the checks generally imagined to be inherent in representational governance, by a rapacious private sector intent on seizing the commons.  In a word, Emeryville  City Hall, in the thrall of the recently proposed Christie Avenue Onni project, has abdicated control of the regulatory regime to that corporate entity.  Meaning, the developer of the Onni project gets his say utterly in virtually all the circumstantial aspects of this looming mega-project in our town.  And that’s not all. The regulations that are being lifted for the benefit of Onni now, will expose the citizens of Emeryville to future development of a kind that will likely be at least as voracious. 

Onni Residential Tower Unit Mix as Proposed
A portrait of regulatory capture.
While this regulatory capture is unwritten of course, it can easily be seen in the City Council chambers when the existing tower separation regulations are repealed at Onni’s say so.  Done without public debate.  Did we mention this developer’s proposal would be constrained by our tower separation regulations?  …And when our family housing unit mix is repealed, again for Onni’s benefit and without debate.  …And when our General Plan’s provisions for acres of park per new residents are pushed aside, again all for the benefit of the Onni developer and again, without a public debate.  ...And when our General Plan's provisions to make our town a town of no more that 16,600 souls by 2029 are pushed aside, again to the benefit of Onni and again, without public debate.

It all adds up to a corporate capture of the constraints on greed that were set up to serve the citizens’ interests.  Barring a citizens’ revolt against Onni, the public will receive nothing but crumbs for all the destruction of the commons this project with its 700 foot luxury apartment tower and accompanying 200 foot office tower will bring.

Regulatory capture is evident when a single private entity is able to steer the government to its corporate bidding on multiple fronts, simultaneously and without real public debate.  It becomes weaponized when there are enough local calculating politicians with hidden agendas and/or when the private entity behemoth is out of scale with the local government.  City Hall, clearly enthralled with the billion dollar Onni Corporation and wont to hand over the reins likely represents a less corrupt version sometimes called non materialist regulatory capture or cognitive capture, meaning government regulators begin thinking like the regulated.  As opposed to a simple series of illicit money transactions taking place behind closed doors.  That's probably not taking place here.  Probably.

Onni, at 638 units is an extremely large development, and it would remake our town even if we still had control over our regulatory system.  The problems the Onni project brings are legion if not familiar for such a large project; massively increasing traffic and congestion, increasing pollution in all its forms, the blocking of views and the creation of a generally alienating environment of course all come with any large development project to a small city.  But Onni, being a 100% rental project also dramatically drives down the ratio of homeowners in our town, a town that already has the lowest percentage of home ownership in the East Bay.

Onni Residential Tower if Built as Required
Emeryville's existing family friendly unit mix regulations
provides housing for families.  A portrait of a town trying to
make up lost ground after a generation of losing families.

But what’s at stake specifically is our capacity for our own autonomy as we attempt to make our city a city for families, to build park land, to address legitimate concerns over crowding of towers and to limit our city's population to 16,600.  All things we have identified as desirable for us.  All things the law allows us to pursue.  And unfortunately, all things the developer of Onni has captured and turned away from us.
And woe be it to anyone who attempts to defend our public regulatory system in such an environment.  Indeed, the old familiar epithet of NIMBYism has already entered the Onni debate such as there is one.  But there is nothing beyond a debate tactic to conflate the idea that people who don’t want more traffic in their town or their views blocked and those who don’t want to see outright regulatory capture by a specific developer.  One is democratic and the other isn’t.

Residents Per Acre of Park Land
Emeryville Already Has the Least Acreage of Parks in the East Bay
The Onni project will drive down our already lowest
in the East Bay acres of park per resident.
Onni provides park land at 2200 residents per acre. 
Emeryville's existing average is about 512 residents per acre.
The General plan says we should have no more
than 333 residents per acre.

Number of People Per Rental Unit
Emeryville Already Has the Fewest Families in East Bay
Emeryville compared with our neighbors.
Onni will drive down Emeryville's average even lower.

Our schools will suffer the consequences. 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Tower Separation Regulations to be Repealed Just In Time For Onni Developer

"No Connection" Between Regulation Rollback and Desires of Onni Developer, City Council Assures Us

Planning Director Suggests City Staff Expressed Poor Judgment in 2013 When the Regulations Were Crafted 

News Analysis
The City Council members and the staff at City Hall has a tough task they’re engaged in.  They’ve got to move quickly to repeal Emeryville’s existing ‘tower separation’ regulations meant to protect the residents in order to help out a billionaire developer seeking regulatory relief for his proposed towers all while assuring the residents they’re not doing that.  It’s been an illuminating exercise in government chicanery watching the Council members’ strain as they carry water for the developer of the Christie Avenue Onni project and it’s two towers (one at 700’ and one at 200’), all while they deny they’re doing it…sometimes in the same sentence.

After Emeryville's Planning Director Charlie Bryant made a brief presentation at the July 9th Tuesday Council meeting wherein he said staff had goofed when they added tower separation to the city planning regulations back in 2013, he noted the Council is now being offered a chance to correct that mistake by completely rolling back the regulation.  Staffs' findings from 2013 that were made in support of the tower separation regulation were not presented Tuesday night, only that by overturning it, the Council would be "cleaning up" a terrible staff mistake.  Charlie Bryant, Emeryville's Planning Director, without explaining why, tried to quantify the mistake for the Council members, "This regulation was not based on any extensive research, rather it was based solely on staffs' professional judgment at the time" he said.
Emeryville Planning Director Charlie Bryant
The staff made a mistake in 2013 (lack of research)
with the tower separation rules.  He says the City
Council now has a chance to correct the staffs'
lack of "professional judgment".
For the record, tower separation regulations were to protect against overcrowding of high-rise towers; a condition pejoratively called ‘Manhattanization’.
The Council however jumped at Mr Bryant's reasoning Tuesday and “clean up language” was trotted out as the reason for abolishing the tower separation regulation by three Council members.  They assured the citizens it’s only a coincidence that they are “cleaning up” this regulatory burden the Onni developer says is unacceptable, now, just in time for approval for that controversial project.
Councilwoman Dianne Martinez seeking to allay any condemnations from citizens, was unequivocal and she sought to completely uncouple the Council’s action from the wishes of the Onni developer,  “It’s clean up language and it would apply to ANY high-rise.”  she said.  She made no other specific mention of the questionable timing of the rollback.

The wholesale denials that this action the Council is taking has anything at all to do with the Onni project were noted by citizens at the meeting.  One resident who wished to remain anonymous told the Tattler later he found it “curious” the Council members were all so adamant about denying any connection with Onni.  It’s worth noting and it’s also curious that the roll back of the tower separation regulations is happening at the same time the Council is also considering rolling back Emeryville’s family housing ‘unit mix’ regulations, also an existential problem for the Onni developer (or so he has said).  Strenuous denials have been issued from the City Council there as well, about any nexus between rolling back the family housing unit mix regulations and the desires of the Onni developer.  It’s just another coincidence, the Council says.
The Proposed Onni Project
The developer wants Emeryville's  existing
'tower separation' law to be repealed.
The Council says it's all just a coincidence.

Where four Council members left it as self evident that our 2013 tower separation regulations are terrible things that must now be rooted out and rolled back, unworthy of even offering explanation, Council member John Bauters thought a few words about it should be offered to the public.  The tower separation regs are unnecessary, Mr Bauters told the crowd, because future environmental impact reports for projects (presumably that means Onni), will take up any concerns about what the proper distance of towers should be.  That’s a pretty extraordinary plea against the whole idea of city planning but one Mr Bauters bolstered when he said if we don’t get rid of our separation rules, we’re going to get “sprawl”.  The Councilman didn’t explain how that would work and as such, it was presented as another self evident fact.  But the most incongruent evidence for why the Council must roll back the tower separation regulation was presented in a non sequitur he offered up, claiming regulations in general remove the ability for the "Council to review projects”.  Mr Bauters told the crowd that if the tower separation regulations are removed, the Council will get a chance to review (the Onni) project for the public benefit that somehow would not be possible were there to be tower separation regulations on the books.  Again, no explanation of how that works was offered.

Mr Bryant, throwing out a lifeline for the struggling City Council, volunteered that the tower separation regulation, "... was in merely one page out of over four hundred pages of regulations” that were generated by staff as they sought to overhaul the zoning and planning regulations in 2013 he said.

The City Council will finally remove tower separation from the books at their July 23rd meeting when they do a required ‘second reading’ of the ordinance that forever removes the regulations so unpopular with the Onni developer.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Breaking News: Council Continues Minimum Wage Vote

Tonight the Emeryville City Council took comments from the public about their plan to roll back the minimum wage for certain restaurant workers in town and then they voted to not vote.  At least not tonight.
After certifying the Alameda County Registrar of Voters’ certification that the voter petition drive to stop the roll back has passed, the Council had three options before them; to repeal the roll back they voted on May 29th, throw the issue over to the voters of Emeryville in a future plebiscite. or  continue the whole thing to another meeting.  It was the first two choices the Council said they didn’t want to make tonight and they directed the City Manager to bring the issue back to them in a future meeting, probably in July.
However, the stalling action tonight means the restaurant workers will receive their raises that were mandated by the original Minimum Wage Ordinance, so it will effectively be as if the Council had voted to repeal their roll back vote.  However, the workers could still see their wages rolled back at a future date, but that decision would have to come from Emeryville voters.  If the Council ultimately says NO to repealing their May 29th roll back, the question before the voters will be, ‘should Emeryville restaurant workers have their pay cut?’.
The Tattler will closely follow this issue as it this space.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Existing 'Tower Separation' Rules to be Overturned to Help Onni Tower Developer

Onni Developer Wants Tower Separation Regulations Repealed
City Council Prepared to Acquiesce 

No Reasons Offered Why Existing Public Policy
is Unacceptable 

News Analysis
What was considered fantastic in Emeryville only a short while ago, now inexplicably and with no new information, is totally unacceptable.  
Apropos to that, the City Council votes Tuesday to, without findings, remove protections against overcrowding of architectural towers in town, a condition of 'Manhattanization' recognized by the City's own General Plan, at the behest of a specific developer who stands to materially benefit from the repeal.  The developer of the Onni project proposal, a Christie Avenue 700 foot apartment tower together with a 200 foot office tower on the same lot is constrained, like every other developer,  by Emeryville's 'tower separation' regulations but he says Emeryville's rules make it so his project "won't pencil out".  The City Council in response, is considering removing the pesky UD-P 35 tower separation regulations from the books altogether, making sure this or any other developers' towers will never again be so constrained in Emeryville.

Emeryville, long known for bending over backwards to accommodate developers, on Tuesday is moving into new territory to assuage the desires of a developer.  Normally, when city regulations are considered for amendment or repeal, new findings of fact are presented that change or negate the original findings.  The Council, if it goes along with the staff's recommendation on Tuesday however, vacates UD-P 35 (and addendums) and all its original findings with no new findings whatsoever leaving open questions about the truthfulness of the original findings; as in were they false?  Did the City of Emeryville make bogus findings of facts about tower proximity for the General Plan ten years ago?  Or is the problem occurring now?  Should the City, for transparency's sake, let us know why the regulations need to be overturned?  Or is it rather that City Hall doesn't even care about policy optics anymore and has entered a new phase of naked (anti-public) policy?

The current City Council members, not seated ten years ago when the General Plan was written, do not owe allegiance to the sentiments that brought us the UD-P 35 tower separation regulations.  But any reading of democratic governance tells us they need to reveal why they disagree and not just rely on facile procedural claims to their authority to reverse the regulations.  Their authority or even the legality to do that is not what's in question.

It's noteworthy that the staff report accompanying Tuesday's City Council decision goes into some detail highlighting the legitimate authority of the Council to overturn the tower separation regulations but nothing as to why they should do so. The report highlights how the Planning Commission had agreed with the Council that tall steel constructed buildings should not have to abide by the City's family unit mix regulations (also a gift to the Onni developer) and then by extension somehow that the Council should now overturn the tower separation regulations as well.  From Tuesday's staff report sent to the Council:

 "At the City Council meeting on October 16, 2018, the Council directed that the Planning Commission reconsider the Planning Regulations unit mix requirements for residential buildings that are taller than the California Building Code allows for wood-frame construction. In this context, staff also identified an additional regulation to be examined, namely the minimum separation of buildings over 100 feet tall, or 'tower separation'."
It's neither cogent nor rational.  The conflating of the two regulations is not warranted beyond a naked and undemocratic greasing of the skids for a specific development proposal and a specific developer, unless the current Council wishes to announce a new pro-development, anti-regulatory regime that's being assembled.  That seems unlikely though, owing to the fact that the new City Council, RULE endorsed with progressive bonafides touted to the rooftops, has always sought to distance themselves from this sort of reputation-proceeding Emeryville city planning ethos from a earlier era.
If for nothing more than transparency's sake, it is hoped Emeryville citizens will get a stated reason from their representatives Tuesday night as to why their laws from a few years ago, considered to be a good thing by all involved, are now suddenly not up to snuff and must be utterly vanquished.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Minimum Wage Petition Drive is Successful: Council Cannot Lower Wage by Fiat

Council Majority Loses Bid to Lower Minimum Wage

Bauters, Martinez, Donahue Constrained 
by Labor/Community Group's Petition Drive

After a dramatic push by the Emeryville City Council to lower the City's minimum wage by decree last month, a coalition of labor and community members has successfully beaten back the edict following a city-wide petition drive, the City Clerk announced today.  The petition, signed by 871 Emeryville voters will now force the Council's hand who on Tuesday must decide whether to reverse their decree or allow the people of Emeryville to decide about the issue in the form of a ballot initiative, probably in November of 2020.

The City Council majority, made up of John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue voted May 29th to amend Emeryville's Minimum Wage Ordinance to lower the wage for restaurant workers.  That action brought a coalition of labor and community members called the East Bay Working Families (EBWF) to begin a petition drive to fight off the Council led attack on the lowest paid Emeryville workers.  Before the State mandated 30 day cut off period, the group had collected the signatures of 871 Emeryville voters, far more than the minimum required 666 (10% of the registered voters in town).  The Alameda County Registrar of Voters certified the count saying earlier today,  “The petition is found to be sufficient to require the City Council of the City of Emeryville to take the appropriate action specified in the California Elections Code.”

The City Council meets Tuesday to decide whether to give up on their bid to cut the minimum wage or let the people of Emeryville decide at a later date.  However, the petition drive is a victory for Emeryville minimum wage workers who would have seen their pay cut starting July 1st.  They will instead now receive their full pay until the people of Emeryville decide to cut their pay in a future election unless the City Council decides to restore the Minimum Wage Ordinance on Tuesday.
The Emeryville City Council Appearing United for the Photo 
The Mayor and the Vice Mayor stand up for the minimum wage.
Their three colleagues now face the wrath of Emeryville voters.