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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.