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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.