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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Build Baby Build Hits COVID-19

Developers' Best Laid Plans No Match 
For the Virus

How California Cities Develop Will Change 

News Analysis/Opinion
Scoring a stunning victory highjacking California housing policy, multi-national development corporations and billion dollar real estate investment trusts who recently persuaded Sacramento lawmakers to legislate away the ability for California cities to maintain local control, appear to have run into a force even greater than they: COVID -19.  Poetry is invoked when such a lopsided and unexpected contest as this is joined.  Especially when the winning side is so small they can’t even be seen.  These squiggly little viruses are poised to run roughshod over the collective will of our ruling overlords and they don’t seem to care a whit about the hubris of neoliberal capitalism.  Unlike the Emeryville City Council majority, they’re downright unimpressed with all that power.  And so, as we wait for the calamity to pass, human nature, being such that it is, will no doubt reset the paradigm in its wake.
Alas, there are no guarantees we will return to the by now familiar refrain from the developer class, “build baby build”, caterwauled from the rooftops and boardrooms about the supposed existential threat of the ‘housing crisis’.  COVID-19 has taken care of that narrative, hasn’t it?
Nobody seems to be concerned with any of that now.  However, we know some new way to imagine our cities will assert itself....or maybe it's going to be the old way.  We may even collectively decide we want to return to the days when city planning served as a guiding principle for how to develop our town.

It’s pretty obvious that once this scourge passes with its economy wreaking recession in tow, things are not going back exactly how they were, in Emeryville or anywhere else.  And public policy is bound to reflect the changes.  We think that means the end, for all practical purposes, of build baby build.

It was bound to happen one way or another.  The former world, the former Bay Area real estate world, was never going to be sustainable.  The narrative from developers, that the housing shortage was here to stay until we handed the reins totally over to them, was as convenient as it was blinkered.  A market correction was bound to reveal that sham for what it was.  The only surprise is that it came in the form of a virus.

Looking beyond COVID-19, it would do us good to remember the former world.  Three Emeryville City Council members, John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina all told us they were throwing our lot over to the tender mercies of billion dollar developers as they sought to build baby build.  It was to be for our own good they assured us.  It was like the talking points from the former queen of the City Council, Nora Davis… except on steroids.  It didn’t matter that over the previous twenty years, Emeryville had build more than 200% of market rate housing as recommended by the Association of Bay Area Governments, the public agency in charge of Bay Area housing and jobs.  These three Council members, Bauters, Martinez and Medina  said that the fact that our population had doubled every ten years for three decades running amounted to precisely zero.  Developers wanted to increase profits and these three sought to help them by pledging their allegiance to their facile neoliberal notions of supply and demand.  So casting aside any ideas about market crashes (2007 forgotten), they cheered on Sacramento’s anti-democratic SB 330 and other legislation that takes away Emeryville’s right to decide for ourselves how we plan our town.  It’s an emergency they said and the only solution was to build baby build.

The people's will didn't enter into the Council's thinking.  However, you have to assume people moved to Emeryville over the years because there’s something about it they like.  “The small town atmosphere” is what’s commonly cited.  It’s a stretch to assume people moved here hating the small town atmosphere but betting three Council members would rise up and overturn our autonomous City Hall in order to Manhattanize the town.  We know this is false because we’ve already  collectively said we don’t want that.  We voted on the town we’ve been building (more or less) before the build baby build crew took over.  That vote was taken in the form of our ten year old General Plan…the same document John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Ally Medina now hold in contempt.  We voted on our General Plan…and then we voted for these three Council members.  They never told us when they were asking for our votes that they would move to destroy our General Plan.  Had they done so, it’s likely they would have lost their respective elections to the Council.

If COVID-19 had not reared its ugly face and we had done to our town, through the three member Council majority, what the developers had in mind for us, the wreaking ball would have begun swinging and a town filled with unaffordable luxury apartment skyscrapers would have begun to rise up, in contradiction of our General Plan.  After that, there would be no way to go back to what we were.  The reasons we created our General Plan would have all been rendered void amid all the hulking monstrosities.
But reality was bound to catch up with this boomtown winner take all mentality.  The virus has stripped bare the hubris of the elite, be they in the corporate boardrooms, among individual wealthy real estate investors, in the Statehouse and the warren of lobbying firms orbiting it or even in the Emeryville City Council chamber.  These three Council members either got caught up in the hyperbole or they’re true believers.  Either way, it’s clear in matters of city planning, one of the most fundamental functions of any municipality, they’ve simply stopped working for us.  They should stop trying to be heroes (as they couch it), doing the bidding of the developers and start doing our bidding.  That’s what we pay them to do.
Emeryville public policy in the hands of a developer smitten City Council has long bent towards destructive forces and more enthusiastically over time, notwithstanding our General Plan.  Developers have been having their way with us it's true but now it’s going to be COVID-19’s turn. Afterward, when we’re back on our feet, we’re going to tell the developers we’re no longer impressed by them.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sherwin Williams Developer Violates Emeryville's Construction and Noise Regulations Over the Last Six Months

Councilman John Bauters Steps Away From Dias, Addresses His Colleagues:
'Do Something to Preserve Neighborhood 
Peace and Quiet'

Planning Director has Dropped the Ball
at Sherwin Williams Site

The developer of the Sherwin Williams housing site has been violating Emeryville’s noise and construction laws over the last six months while City Hall has refused enforcement says City Councilman John Bauters who testified as much at Tuesday’s Council meeting.  Despite numerous complaints from neighbors over the last half a year at the Sherwin Williams site, Emeryville’s largest toxic waste cleanup brownfield site, the responsible department, the Planning Department, has done nothing more than offer verbal compliance requests to the multi-billion dollar housing development corporation says Mr Bauters.

Speaking as a private citizen,
John Bauters called on the City Council
override the Planning Director and
force the Sherwin Williams developer
to comply with the City's construction
and noise regulations.
At the Tuesday regular City Council meeting, Councilman John Bauters stepped off the Council podium and addressed his colleagues as a private citizen, alerting them to a litany of abuses he says Lennar has engaged in as the developer attempts to speed up their work schedule to begin building the 500 apartments the City Council have approved for the site.  Mr Bauters accuses Lennar of violating myriad noise and construction regulations over the last six months including jack hammering after hours, truck queuing in violation of their agreement, illegal Saturday work and incessant construction activity beginning too early.  The toxic clean up phase of the job is still being completed and is late by several months owing to a large amount of toxic soil the developer is removing that was not planned for.

Councilman Bauters, conflicted out of any decision making at the Council level owing to his living too close to the Sherwin Williams site,  says he and his neighbors living near the site have been beseeching City Planning Director Charlie Bryant to enforce the agreement Lennar has made with the City but they have been rebuffed.  The Planning Director has only offered “verbal requests” to Lennar according to Mr Bauters, actions that have no consequence as far as building a case to force compliance.

The lack of accountability at City Hall for resident’s concerns over the last six months at the Sherwin Williams site contributed to Mr Bauters' exasperation, “Is there ever going to be a time when residents are entitled to peace and quiet in our neighborhood and protected with the conditions of approval that you [the City Council] approved?”  he asked.  “Should a developer doing work in the City ever be concerned you will hold them accountable or will they always just get a slap on the wrist for violating local regulations?” he followed.

Owning to what they see as a lack of interest at City Hall in protecting the residents, especially by Planning Director Bryant, Mr Bauters and his neighbors have drawn up a list of two new provisions they see as being necessary to force Lennar into compliance with their development agreement.  The City should amend the Municipal Code to remove a clause that permits executive decisions from the Planning Director in such matters and give it to the City Manager they say.  The neighbors also request the start up time allowed on all Emeryville construction sites be changed from 7 am to 8 am.

The Tattler recently published a Department of Toxic Substance Control whistleblower’s account of Lennar’s actions at the Sherwin site after the former project manager for the cleanup charged his agency and Lennar with conspiring to forgo due diligence in the name of speeding up the cleanup work.  The whistleblower, DTSC employee Tom Price, says the fast and loose work done by Lennar and overseen by DTSC, enabled arsenic laden groundwater to leach past extraction wells for three years and rather than using standard cleanup protocols regarding volatile organic compounds, the developer instead just dug up wholesale, vast amount of soil to truck off the site, an action Mr Price compared with “strip mining”.  It is this improper strip mining that has pushed the schedule back and that’s likely responsible for the developer to now seek to cut the corners that have impacted the neighbors over the last six months. 
The City has been apprised of the violations with regard to the improper arsenic and VOC removal but so far have not yet responded.  If the allegations from Tom Price prove to be sustained, the actions of Lennar would constitute a breech of the Remedial Action Plan made in good faith with the City and theoretically, the developer’s ‘grading permit’ could be revoked says Mr Price.

Tuesday night, the talk was not of arsenic and VOCs but rather the illegal construction activity over the last six months.  Mr Bauters did not receive an answer to his complaints at the Tuesday Council meeting but he did take umbrage with the City's lackadaisical attitude shown to the neighbors, “There is no evidence that staff and the City has taken seriously, our [the neighbors] efforts to have this curbed and to have Lennar fully comply with you, the City Council” he said.

The commentary from Mr Bauters begins at 13:15:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Whistleblower Accusations at Sherwin Williams Toxics Cleanup Site

Project Manager at Sherwin Williams 
Toxics Site:
Substandard Clean Up, Pressure From Developer

A rank and file Project Manager at the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) is charging that developer Lennar Multifamily Communities, a nationwide home builder, attempted to avoid adequate investigation and clean up at the Sherwin Williams-Emeryville brownfield site in cooperation with DTSC management, potentially putting future residents at risk of exposure to poisonous volatile organic compounds.
The DTSC employee, Project Manager Tom Price, who until recently had been providing regulatory oversight for the Sherwin Williams clean up, has filed complaints with the DTSC and other government agencies over fast and loose practices he says that presumably would benefit the developer who seeks to build hundreds of apartments on the site.  Most egregiously, the developer failed to initiate groundwater pumping to prevent arsenic from migrating off the site to downstream properties as required under a 2010 cleanup plan, he says.

Mr Price alleges that soil ‘characterization’ was inadequate in the locations of planned building footprints at the site, and that an executive-level DTSC manager who has since retired, attempted to give the developer a free pass by side stepping standard DTSC protocols, including requiring adequate sampling coverage and representative sampling that would work towards the benefit of the developer.  Unacceptably high levels of ground water arsenic observed in test wells along the western boundary of the property were ignored for years he says, allowing the poison to migrate off the property toward neighboring properties downstream in violation of a 2010 Remedial Action Plan approved by DTSC.

Former Project Manager Price told the Tattler he asked to be re-assigned following his requested customary due diligence and investigation documentation after those requests were ignored.  He indicated he was getting “interference” from DTSC management at the Sherwin Williams clean up and that also contributed to his request for reassignment.

Mr. Price told the Tattler that arsenic concentrations began to exceed allowable limits at the test wells migrating off the site three years ago and that downstream property owners were not notified as would normally occur as part of a public noticing of a proposed cleanup plan amendment which the consultant and developer hoped to avoid.  He subsequently alerted his higher ups that the site was "out of compliance" with the clean up plan.  In January of this year, the consultant for the developer started collecting groundwater samples at the Bay Street Development property to the west of the Sherwin Williams site and in the path of the migrating plume of arsenic, probably as a result of Mr Price’s complaints.  However required pumping has still not occurred for arsenic laced groundwater near Temescal Creek he alleges.
The groundwater arsenic ‘off site’ migration is particularly concerning having come in the face of warnings from the whistleblower, "Despite the ground water exceedances at the property boundary which should have triggered pumping, the developer and their consultant submitted a 'modeling report'.  When the model appeared to fail, they still didn't initiate pumping and as a result, the site has been out of compliance with the clean up plan for three years" he told the Tattler.

The site still lists Tom Price as the
project manager.  Photo taken this week.
The agency has been under a lot of pressure to speed up the final clean up at the site by the developer Lennar who stands to benefit by a fast construction schedule.  Rather than conduct customary investigation, the developer appears to have opted to “strip mine” part of the site and as a result, what was originally planned to be an excavation 1000 square feet in size is now an acre and the site is covered with unplanned soil stockpiles.  Thousands of cubic yards of soil are now being off hauled, far more than what initial plans called for, Mr Price says.

The site, located at 1450 Sherwin Street, is bounded by Horton Street to the east, the former Rifkin Property and Temescal Creek to the north, Sherwin Street to the south and railroad tracks to the west.  A former paint and pesticide manufacturer,  Sherwin Williams maintained operations there from the early 1900s until it was decommissioned in 2007.  The plant manufactured various types of coating products including oil-based paints and latex paints. Other products which were manufactured at the site included extremely toxic lead-arsenate pesticides from approximately the 1920s until the late 1940s.
A series of soil, groundwater and soil vapor investigations by the DTSC were conducted at the site starting in 1988 which showed contaminants of concern including metals, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, and hydrocarbons.

Contractors were still digging at the site as late as January.
Interim remedial measures, sometimes referred to as the "big dig" by residential neighbors, were initiated in the 1990s including construction of a subsurface containment slurry wall, asphalt cap, and groundwater extraction, and monitoring.  The latest clean up activity, begun in the early fall, has occurred in response to Lennar's construction timeline and has been centered on the south side of the property, previously under a concrete slab and not cleaned up during the big dig.  A remedial action plan was implemented by 2011 which involved excavation of 100,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil for off-site disposal and placing a Land Use Covenant on the property to restrict future usages.

The breakdown in normal clean up protocols served as an impetus for the complaints with the DTSC and other government agencies, starting in September.   “As a private citizen (separate from my job at DTSC), I filed complaints all the way up to the governor’s office against the developer Lennar Multifamily Communities. In my opinion, they endeavored to skip customary due diligence and investigation for hazardous substances for [Sherwin Williams], a housing development at former industrial plant.” Mr Price said.   After his replacement at the Sherwin Williams site Project Manager Bud Duke took over, Tom reports that citizen complaints that he filed, appear to have resulted in considerably more cleanup than the developer originally proposed.

The City of Emeryville has not been included in the list of government agencies Tom Price has filed complaints with but since the City issued a revocable 'grading permit' for the site to Lennar, the City theoretically has leverage to force compliance with the remedial action plan it is a signatory to.  The City, the former Sherwin Williams cleanup manger said, has interest in a proper clean up of the site for the protection of future residents.

A Lennar sign on the property line fence overstates
the condition at the Sherwin Williams clean up site.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Oversight Committee Violates the Brown Act as it Moves to Support the Brown Act

'We Had to Violate the Brown Act in Order to
 Protect It'

Does the Oversight Committee Need an Oversight Committee?

Responding to a Tattler exposé, the Measure J bond Citizens Oversight Committee of the Emery School District, violated the California Brown Act accountability law Tuesday when, without a quorum, it moved to abandon its earlier plans to jettison the constraints of Brown Act regulations.  The committee, who’s state sanctioned job it is to watch and hold accountable the School Board as they spend $95 million in Emeryville taxpayer funds, dialed back a host of this and other illegal and unseemly proposals after the Tattler story posted on Monday.   Central to the Tattler story was a planned roll back of conflict of interest policy meant to stop committee members from unduly benefitting as a result of their committee work.
With only three legitimate attending members Tuesday night, the committee, without a quorum, was legally required to adjourn the meeting according to the Brown Act.  However, moving to support the Brown Act that they had previously placed on their agenda to disregard, the committee proceed to violate the Act it meant to support.  The committee will now follow the Brown Act, they say.
The irony of the situation was not acknowledged by any attending members, the Superintendent of the Schools or the bond consultant paid to advise the committee, both of whom who were also in attendance.

One of the components of the Brown Act makes it clear that the only legitimate action any bond oversight committee can make without a quorum is adjournment.  The quorum provisions of the Brown Act are something the committee members and even the paid staff professionals are unaware of.  After the Superintendent announced a quorum was lacking, instead of adjourning the meeting, the committee voted to forge ahead and make decisions on committee policy and other topics, but only in a “recommendation” capacity in an attempt to satisfy the Brown Act.  The Brown Act does not permit that and the whole meeting was in violation.

A central complaint of the Monday Tattler story was a highlighting of the committee’s attempt to erase existing Sacramento mandated conflict of interest policy that requires committee members to wait for two years until they are permitted to bid on or do (Emery) School District jobs.  The committee, feeling the pressure from the Tattler story, agreed to back off and maintain the two year waiting period but not before the consultant weighed in on the value of the deregulation scheme.  Matthew Kolker of Government Financial Strategies, a private government consulting firm, told the attendees the idea behind nixing the conflict of interest waiting period was to “streamline the process”, presumably for those committee members who would like to profit off the District using their built up associations with colleagues.  Asked how the public would benefit by the streamlining, neither the consultant nor the committee members ventured an opinion.

The committee expressed their frustration in getting the members to dutifully attend meetings, making quorums difficult to achieve.  It was conjectured by committee members that because the District had already spent all but approximately $20 million of the original $95 million of Measure J bond money, meetings are less consequential and therefore less compelling to many members. Mr Kolker suggested by removing the conflict of interest laws that bounds committee members, perhaps the district could more easily draw potential new member interest.

After the Tattler reported on numerous violations of the Brown Act, the local media picking up the story, a crash program of Brown Act instructional meetings were conducted by a contrite Emery Unified.  To no avail apparently.  The District continues to struggle with following or even understanding this important sunshine accountability law.

Should be posted in School District executive suites, conference rooms
and at all street entrances to the school district.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Tattler at Ten

Ten Years of Punching Up

The Tattler Celebrates a Decade of 
Muckraking and Shit Stirring

Ten years ago today three of us started the Emeryville Tattler with a mission.  Concern over a ‘develop at all costs’ juggernaut ensconced at City Hall serving as the impetus, we thought we could flip the City Council and therefore the whole culture in Emeryville politics, ushering in a new era we hoped.  We thought the interests of the residents and average people could be risen up and take precedence over those of the business class and the developers, many of whom had become very chummy with the Council members.  Considering the forces allayed against us, including the then mighty Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, it was pretty audacious of us in retrospect.  But we started up our scrappy little news site nonetheless, knowing we’d make plenty of enemies along the way (and boy, have we).

The idea was as simple as it was brassy.  We thought Emeryville needed a newspaper like our neighboring cities had.  We looked around and seeing the demographic populations of our neighbors with their center-left proclivities, we thought the extreme pro-developer culture at Emeryville City Hall was an anomaly, an accident and therefore not sustainable.  It just needed a little push.  We could see no reason why Emeryville should stand out so starkly among our Bay Area neighbors.  We thought the people here were like the people around us and all we would need to do is to inform them and let democracy take over.  So we did.

While acknowledging there is still work to be done, it is no exaggeration to say Emeryville has indeed flipped.  The former clubby atmosphere at City Hall with developers, businessmen (yes, men) and Council members literally mixing over drinks at the Townhouse or at closed door Chamber functions is bygone.  Our town hall now much more faithfully reflects the resident’s interests.  Emeryville, no longer a throwback curiosity among Bay Area cities, can now be called a leader among them.  We’ll take some small measure of credit here at the truculent little Emeryville Tattler.  The change has been great to be sure but we're still keeping their feet to the fire.

Readers of the above three paragraphs will detect a level of cocksureness if not arrogance.  We don’t deny it.  We always knew we’d have to fight hard to take down the connected wealthy business/developer class and their government sycophants here in Emeryville and we came ready for the fight.  Our pugnacious nature has served us well.  We noted everywhere we looked in this little town, we found rot and we knew we’d have to take on all comers.  And that’s the reputation we cultured.  Our reputation has preceded us. We developed a backchannel cadre of moles who informed us.  That’s how we found out how effective we were being.  There has always been a bit of fear of the Tattler mixed in with the anger in the corporate boardrooms and in government back rooms.

Ten years ago if you had asked us how long our little project would take, we would have guessed about ten years.  We got that right.  Emeryville is now poised to become the town the people here want.  But there are storm clouds all around us.  Senate Bill 330, as of January 1st, the law of the land and the proposed SB 50, stand to take away the democratic autonomy we fought for just as we take our bows.  This new suite of ‘develop at all costs’ laws are coming now not from City Hall, but from Sacramento and they threaten our town much more fundamentally.
We don’t know if the Tattler is ready to take on Sacramento.  We’re audacious, but not that audacious.  Maybe someone else can come in and take over the fight for Emeryville.

In the meantime, we’re going to do a little celebrating.  We celebrate our ten years with selections from the archives.  We’re going to re-post our favorite stories and reader favorites every couple of weeks starting from 2010.

The Tattler is ten!  Our masthead says it all: We're here working for the residents and average people- against those who would take away from the commons.  Looking back, there have been victories and setbacks in that fight.  Reporting on that struggle, it's always easy to see the glass half empty, concentrating on the work yet to be done.  Looking ahead, it's pretty scary.  But ten years on after the Tattler's audacious beginning taking on all comers among the power elite in Emeryville, there's no doubt there have been more victories than setbacks.  We didn't just sit on our duffs and watch our town change around us.  We got involved. And that has served us well.  We feel pretty good about this.

Monday, February 10, 2020

School District Moves to Deregulate Themselves Ahead of Parcel Tax Election

Oversight Committee Prepares to Decouple From Regulation;
Brown Act, Conflict of Interest Rules

Tomorrow night at the Emery school bond oversight committee meeting, the School District has prepared a suite of regulatory rollbacks to vote on that, up until now, has constrained the District including: laws governing conflicts of interest, the Brown Act open meetings law, reductions of the number of auditors for parcel taxes and bonds, and other burdensome regulations from their bond oversight committee.  The audacious deregulation gambit runs afoul of California law in some cases and begs the question of timing: With the Measure K parcel tax March 3rd plebiscite looming, why would the District be seeking this high visibility power grab disempowering ordinary citizens now? 

All told, the proposed deregulation promises to make it easier for District decision-makers to profit from their decisions, for developers to profit and to keep the public in the dark.
Those proposed changes can be seen in red here:

Compendium of District Proposed Deregulation
On page 15 (of the entire committee pdf packet), the District is proposing removing the existing two-year moratorium on oversight committee members profiting from Emery school bonds.  Given that there is currently one member who is a developer (Josh Simon, more on him later) and another is a contractor, the roll back would permit them to approve a project, resign from the committee, then bid on the project.
The District thinks it’s better to allow the overseers to immediately move into bidding on projects and working for the District upon vacating their positions, a classic ‘good old boy’ network the two year moratorium rule is meant to stop.

On page 12, the District excludes the committee from the Brown Act.  While the removal of the Brown Act from the bylaws does not exempt the committee from the Act, as all government committees are beholden to the Brown Act, striking it from the bylaws does not make Emery Unified look good.

The District might be trying to exempt the committee by reducing the number of members needed for a quorum as they do on page 12.  The new rules propose that two members represent a quorum.  Under the Brown Act, anytime two members of the committee discussed the bonds, it would be a violation of the Act if not done at a public meeting.  It also allows a single member to decide issues during a meeting because of the abstention voting rules.
ECCL Citizen's Oversight Committee
Member Josh Simon

Formerly of Emeryville, Mr Simon
would benefit by the deregulation
proposal.  His development company
could bid on projects without
constraint from existing
conflict of interest rules.

Other changes throughout the update make it easier for quick opaque decisions.  Things like updating the bylaws become easier by removing the two-thirds requirement putting into the hands of any two members, or a quarter of the members.  The update removes the requirement for parents or seniors to be members. It leaves in “people with knowledge of facilities,” code for developers (page 11).

It should be noted that former School Board member and regional developer Josh Simon has been the consistent member of the oversight committee since he moved out of Emeryville.   He is about to be term-limited out because of state law.  It is an interesting coincidence that Mr Simon, the same person that pushed for the ECCL single school site, campaigned for the $95 million bond measure that built it, and has been on the oversight committee that fought against an audit, is now about to be set free for his company to bid on projects or surplus land from the District.  Some might say this sort of conflict is exactly what lawmakers had in mind when the rules constraining this were written.

The Superintendent of the Schools was called to comment on this deregulation vote tomorrow night, but she didn’t return calls.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

RULE Meeting: Onni Tower & Measure K Discussions

From RULE:

Residents United for a Livable Emeryville

Hello Friends and Neighbors!

Please join us for our next RULE meeting 10 am Saturday, February 8. 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.

Mayor Christian Patz will attend from 10 am to 11 am to discuss the proposed 54-story (638-foot) Onni super tower at the corner of Christie Avenue and Powell Street in Emeryville.

RULE is working with city officials and staff to put together a March Town Hall meeting with residents, Onni developers, Emeryville Council members and planning staff, and outside environmental and other experts to discuss the project. RULE has also formed a Strategy Committee to focus efforts on the issue.

If time allows, Christian will also talk about Measure K, an upcoming ballot measure that, if approved, would provide the Emeryville Unified School District with close to $2 million. Christian opposes the measure because the District does not ensure the money will go to teacher pay and classroom resources.

Everyone is encouraged to attend and share their views!

About the Onni 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. For more information on the Onni Group proposal, go to: and

Below is link to article about negotiating a community benefits agreement (CBA), an option if the project goes forward. 

The next critical step in the process is the project’s Environmental Impact Report. The city’s website does not indicate when that will be complete. For more information, contact Senior Planner Miroo Desai, at 510-596-3785 or

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Election Season Deceptive Flyer From School District

School District Falsely Claims Low Funding,
 Admin Salaries

The deceptive mailer was signed by the
Superintendent of the Schools
In anticipation of the March 3rd election and the Measure K school parcel tax proposal, the Emery Unified School District late last week released a four page public mailer deceptively claiming Emery to be “One of the lowest funded districts in California” despite being funded 4% above average of State funding and over nine times the average district in local funding according to the California Department of Education.  Additionally, Emery is asserting that “No [Measure K] money can be spent on administrators' salaries” but this is the same language that was used for the last Emery parcel tax (also called Measure K, in 2014) and the District subsequently increased the number of administrators while keeping teachers’ salaries low.  Spending on administrative salaries increased by 45% while teachers' salaries went up 8% three years after passage of the parcel tax.
The 2014 parcel tax language, like this year's, claimed to bolster teacher salaries while not increasing administration costs.

The year before the existing parcel tax (2013-14), Emery spent $3,374,743 on teachers’ salaries.  In 2017-18, the most recent year reported on, the district spent $3,631,650, an increase of $256,907.  Administrative salaries went from $622,780 to $903,052 an increase of $280,272.  That means administrative salaries increased by $23,365 more than fifty teachers’ salaries increased over the same period of time.
Past and present Emery parcel tax claims of 'no administration salary increases' appears to be a deceptive shell game that discounts the fungible quality of money, an argument of sophistry.

Usually, this kind of exaggerated rhetoric if not outright falsehoods can be found in election campaign literature but for a government agency to partake of it is untoward.  Noteworthy is the fact that the flyer contains no sources or accreditation for any of the information it contains.

Emery is highest in the East Bay in Per Pupil Spending
Emery spends $18,472 per student versus
California statewide all districts average of $12,714

Source: CA Dept of Ed
Government agencies including Emery Unified, are expressly not allowed to campaign for parcel taxes they place on the ballot as Emery has with the current iteration of Measure K.  They have to rely on citizen led election committees registered with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to do such campaigning.  The Registrar of Voters provides that government agencies, including school districts, can only produce factual, objective information disseminated to voters, not campaign material. 
Emery Unified is claiming this flyer they produced and mailed to each voter in town is such a mailer; factual and objective.  As such, the District has charged Emeryville taxpayers for the cost to produce and mail the flyer.   If this mailer were produced as part of a campaign, the costs associated with it would have to be paid by private donations. 

The president of the School Board and the Superintendent of the Schools were invited to clarify or explain their statements in the mailer but they declined to.  The Tattler will report again on this story before the election and it is hoped the District will engage with the citizens on how they got this erroneous information of Measure K low Emery funding and no admin costs they sent out to voters last week.

Correction:  In the text of the story, we originally printed that admin salaries had gone up by 145% after three years after passage of the first Measure K in 2014.  The actual amount is 45% as the chart below says.  We have corrected it and we apologize for the typo. 

Administration salaries went up disproportionally over teacher salaries after passage of the last
Measure K parcel tax despite claims to the contrary.

Source: Ca Dept of Ed

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Council Chastises Developer, Moves to Save 47th Street Homes From Wrecking Ball

Invoking 'Emeryville Values', Council Excoriates Developer's Actions

Destruction of 47th Street Homes Deemed 'Detrimental' to Emeryville 

In a historic and unanimous decision, the City Council moved Tuesday night to disallow a developer’s request to demolish four contiguous single family homes in the Triangle Neighborhood to be replaced with more dense market rate duplex rental homes, Emeryville's first ever ruling against a proposal to tear down existing homes in one of the City’s so called ‘zones of stability’. The remarkable event was capped by Councilman John Bauters and Mayor Christian Patz, both of whom invoked an impudent developer, calling him out for his deviousness and lack of honesty.

A 99 year old company, F.E. Forbes has owned
homes and been a landlord in Emeryville for
decades.  Hearing tenant testimony, Councilman
John Bauters said the company's failure to provide
heat for renters for seven years was "against the
law" and constituted "landlord neglect".
The project proposal to demolish four existing craftsmen homes and replace them with duplexes called ‘47th Street Homes’, sailed through the Planning Commission’s October study session effortlessly, only to be stopped Tuesday by the Council who said the destruction of the existing homes would be materially detrimental to the housing needs of the City and not in the public interest.  This finding singularly precludes the Council from approving the project according to the General Plan, leaving the developer, Mark Forbes CEO of F.E. Forbes Inc without a clear path forward for the 47th Street Homes.  After hearing the City Council’s strong rebuke, Mr Forbes and his team left the meeting without indicating if or how they would proceed with the project.

The Council found the actions of F.E. Forbes, an out of town mortgage brokerage firm and its CEO to be not in sync with “Emeryville values”, pointing to the public testimony at the October Planning Commission study session.  Long term low income tenant families of Forbes testified their corporate landlord had deferred maintenance at the homes for decades resulting in what Mr Forbes said is now a general state of disrepair, a condition he claimed as a primary reason for the demolitions.  He also said the craftsman houses at 100 years, are too old and past their useful lifespan.
Several tenants testified that Forbes had recently offered $5000 to families to vacate the premises and imposed a 95% rent increase to drive out the two families that didn’t take the initial cash offer.

The Council heard tearful testimony on Tuesday from a remaining 20 year tenant and grandmother detailing how the Forbes corporation had not repaired the furnace in her home, leaving a multi generational family without heat for seven years.  Councilman Bauters, an attorney, chastised CEO Mark Forbes for that transgression, characterizing his company’s failure as “landlord neglect” and “against the law”.
Mr Bauters added that he didn’t necessarily believe Mr Forbes’ claims of deterioration in the four homes, “We’re just being asked to believe the homes are in disrepair, and I have not seen any evidence of that” he said.  He called Mr Forbes' presentation "insincere".  Mayor Patz also expressed his disfavor in the CEO’s presentation, stating he felt the applicant had not been honest or straightforward with the Council.

Mark Forbes CEO
F.E. Forbes Real Estate Investment Trust

'Not honest or straightforward; insincere'
according to the City Council.
Adding to the consternation in the council chamber brought on by the testimony of the applicant’s tenants and the Council's reactions, it was revealed the company's contiguous Triangle Neighborhood real estate holdings, some 15 homes in all, were being proposed for a lot line adjustment in effort to game City Hall.  Mr Bauters accused Forbes of deviously attempting to take advantage of City regulations to escape requirements to provide affordable housing.  The proposal asks for the City to recognize a moved property line so that only the four (of the 15) homes would be in a newly drawn parcel, a number that brings Forbes under the wire, negating a City requirement to provide affordable housing when proposing home demolition and replacement.  The corporation would be free to again move the property line in the future and demolish the remaining homes, four at a time, without having to provide affordable housing.  It was a plan the CEO said he had no intention of doing "at this time".
Mr Forbes offered no response to any other allegations Tuesday night as he left the building.

Here is the meeting (start at 41:41):

Sunday, January 19, 2020

How Awesomely Great are Emeryville's City Council Members? Their Bronze Plaques Tell Us

Why in Hell Would the Emeryville City Council
 Brag About Christie Park With its 
Shameful 2636 Residents Per Acre?

How About a Plaque Reading "On This Site, the City of Emeryville Sold Out the Residents"

What’s the adage about mushrooms sprouting after a rainfall?  It’s been raining a lot in Emeryville recently and we’ve noticed mushrooms are popping up everywhere.  But so too are commemorative bronze plaques extolling the would be great works of our City Council members.  Unlike the mushroom/rain nexus, Emeryville’s bronze plaques don’t come as a result of rain, rather they pop up upon completion of any construction project that could be conceived as having public benefit. After the rains quit, the mushrooms disappear.  But embarrassingly, the bronze plaques in our town remain, their numbers only increasing over time.

Bronze Plaques Give Emeryville the Opportunity for
Over The Top Brobdingnagian Hyperbole

"A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness
of its vision and the height of its dreams" reads the Herb Caen
quote.  Emeryville dreams of a city with 2636 residents per acre
of parkland.  How's that for a vision? 
Hey Council members: Mr Caen wasn't talking about Emeryville
with its worst park-to-resident ratio in the Bay Area.
Stop devaluing his name.
With so many of these 'informative' plaques sprouted up in Emeryville, by now, there can be no question about it; the City Council members are all awesomely great.  Or at least so say the ubiquitous bronze plaques the Council shamelessly installs all over our town.

We’ve never seen a town so big on congratulating itself. Maybe it’s because they screw up so often, they're trying to show us when they don’t.  Maybe the plaques are meant to serve as a tail wagging the dog counter narrative. It’s like our City Council is repeatedly engaging in one big conspicuous, Trumpian, in-your-face selfie after another.  It’s all because they want us to know they’re doing the job we pay them to do.

Or not.
Sometimes a plaque will present a project associated with and in tribute of the Council members, but it’s all out of proportion to what’s actually been built.  Sometimes it directly contradicts what's been built.
Take the recently rebuilt Christie Park upgrade and expansion far example. The plaque installed on the site brags that the council members are responsible for the newly expanded park.  But what it is not telling us is that the park they provided is substandard and in gross violation of the City’s own General Plan.

Council member Jac Asher voted 'NO' to a plaque at the
Center of Community Life.  After she was rebuffed by her glory
seeking colleagues, she said at least to keep her name off the plaque.
But bronze plaques can't be fought apparently, even by

modest Council members.  
Emeryville has a bad case of plaque build up.  
The Christie Park expansion that the City Council thinks is so great is anemic at less than half an acre of new park land added to the existing park.  The park expansion was paid for by the developer of the Public Marketplace project in trade for all the new rental units being built there.  That small size of park expansion (.46 acres to be precise) clocks in at an astounding 2,636 new residents per acre of park land. That number is helping drag down Emeryville’s whole town existing total of residents per acre of park land (a little over 500), already the worst among Bay Area cities. The Marketplace development project will bring 1,213 new residents (using the standard Emeryville formula of 1.8 residents per housing unit times the planned total 674 units the project brings).

The park acreage per resident ratio for housing projects is not to exceed three acres per 1000 new residents according to our General Plan.  Therefore Christie Park should have been expanded by a minimum of 3.6 acres to properly offset the new residents the Market Place project brings.  An additional amount of approximately one acre would be needed to offset all the new workers in the retail and office spaces generated by the project according to the General Plan.  Combining the two, the total amount of park acres to offset this project needs to be approximately four and a half acres instead of .46 acre. 

So the total amount of park land the people of Emeryville were screwed out of when the Council approved the Market Place development was about four acres.  Hiding that colossal screw up, they audaciously installed a vanity plaque of disinformation at the park telling us how great they are.  Christie Park: Far more pan-worthy than praiseworthy….but it gets a bronze plaque regardless.

These plaques our Council keep putting up will someday be seen like index fossils in the world of paleontology: representative of a very specific time and place.  In this case, of and suited to this time of Trump's America when people felt justified to wallow in narcissism and when government felt less constrained by public service and more animated by tooting its own horn.  And in the case of the Christie Park plaque, lying by omission.
What we need is some righteous truth presented in the commons to serve as a counter narrative to what the City Council is serving up and with equal audacity.  Graffiti artists, if you're listening....   

Monday, January 13, 2020

Public Records Request Reveals Lie at Center of Noise Ordinance

Noise Ordinance Investigation Reveals
People's Interest Not Represented at City Hall

Public Records Request Proves Developers Are Preferred,
Residents Interest in Peace & Quiet Rank Second Place

Public Records Request (PRR) for internal documents at City Hall, filed by the Tattler as part of an investigation into a breakdown of Emeryville's noise ordinance, has revealed a lie at the center of the ordinance perpetrated by the City Hall staff.  Previous publically made assurances of deference to the citizens and their expectations of peace and quiet by the City staff have given way to a public records revealed truth that it's really the developers who the City works for.  The trove of documents, turned over last week following an initial request filed in mid October, is revelatory more for what it didn't contain than for its mundane contents (mostly concerning getting meeting dates coordinated).  After the staff made blanket assertions of their turning away developers seeking noise ordinance waivers administratively en masse, no such evidence was found among the  documents that would bolster those assertions.  The documents turned over to satisfy the PRR means the charge, brought by the Tattler, that the staff at City Hall recommends noise waivers be granted to developers in a global way at the expense of the residents, remains uncontested.

Anybody that’s lived here for a while can see how Emeryville is changing.  Our population has doubled over the last 20 years and the business sector keeps growing as well. Emeryville is slated to grow even more moving forward; now we’re entering a new era of skyscraper construction.  All this growth means there’s always lots of construction going on.  Seventeen years ago we decided we need peace and quiet on weekends and evenings against the constant din.  And so like other cities, the people of Emeryville enacted a noise ordinance.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the end of it.  The ordinance has not served as a correction.

Developers, always looking to increase their profits, hate our noise ordinance.  Not known as a group fond of regulatory constraint, they’re free to hate it of course but that doesn’t mean we have to grant them the waivers they keep requesting.  We should only grant noise ordinance waivers for special circumstances when any public benefits clearly outweigh losing our peace and quiet.  And there’s the rub: Emeryville has fallen into a bad habit of routinely granting developers waivers for no good reason.  Sometimes for no stated reason at all.  For 17 years the developers have been getting their way at City Hall at the expense of the residents with their interest in quiet weekends and evenings.

The Tattler has followed this issue closely over the years.  We’ve documented how the City Hall staff, specifically Charlie Bryant, longtime head of the Planning Department, keeps recommending the City Council grant every waiver brought before them.  The Council, who has the final say, generally has used the staff waiver recommendations as political cover to say ‘yes’ to each developer seeking relief.

Before the release of the damning noise ordinance documents last week, anyone paying attention could see how developers have been getting preferential treatment at City Hall.  If residents desires for peace and quiet were genuinely and impartially being listened to, one would expect the staff to recommend noise ordinance constraints be waived maybe half the time; 50% in developers interest and 50% in residents interests.  But that’s not what's been happening.  The staff has gone with the developers, recommending the residents give up their peace and quiet virtually 100% of the time (with only one exception over the last 17 years).
Responding to mounting criticism from residents, the staff some months ago, made claim to an unseen world behind the doors at City Hall where they say residents interests ARE being looked after.  Planning Director Bryant says watching the Council meetings, it only SEEMS like the residents are being ignored.  He told the Tattler that the residents are only seeing the waiver requests that the staff thinks are legitimate and worthy.  A great number of developer requests are denied “administratively”, meaning the staff interdicts and refuses to even forward many to the City Council for their consideration.  Many, if not most waiver requests never even see the light of day says Mr Bryant.

The Tattler, ever vigilant, saw in Mr Bryant’s claims of behind the scenes noise ordinance waiver denials, a facile attempt to put to rest resident claims of the staff's anti-democratic behavior once and for all.  And so we made a Public Records Request for all documents including electronic recordings and interdepartmental memos concerning any administratively denied waivers, just to verify.  After waiting almost three months, the documents provided by City Hall reveal nothing to substantiate the claims made by Mr Bryant.
We now know the claim of a staff diligently working on our behalf with the noise ordinance behind the scenes at City Hall is a ruse.  The Planning Department is merely forwarding each waiver request from each developer, no matter how absurd the stated reasons, over to the City Council, after giving their recommendation to waive the constraints of the ordinance.

At virtually 100% of recommendations falling in the developer’s favor, we can now say with certainty the loud weekends we’re experiencing in Emeryville are not part of any compromise.  The noise ordinance doesn’t function.  It’s just for show.  The fix is in.  Emeryville’s pro-developer reputation is not your imagination.  And it's going to get worse.  Quiet weekends are not anything the residents can expect as we enter Emeryville's next phase of frenzied skyscraper construction.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

School Board Shake Up: New Factionalism Rises

Protesters on School Board Attempt to Stop 
New President 

Go Down to Defeat: 2-3 

News Analysis
Emeryville voters will go to the polls in March to decide on Measure K, a new $1.8 million per year parcel tax meant to shore up a structural deficit at Emery Unified School District; a prospect now potentially undermined by ongoing and growing discord among the School Board members.  It’s a situation none of the members would likely have chosen.  Nonetheless, a shake up at the Emery Unified School District is revealing a new factionalism at the School Board after Board Trustee Brynnda Collins was elected President in a contentious 3-2 vote at their December 18th meeting.

The vote itself helped illuminate the players and the dimensions of the two new factions, coming as it did with the two dissenters aware that Ms Collins had locked up the presidency.  The two, Cruz Vargas and Sarah Nguyen voted NO to Ms Collins’ bid, even though by the time their votes were entered, the roll call voting procedure had already showed Ms Collins as the victor; a move that in a divided Board is commonly reserved to show enmity and displeasure.  A classic protest vote.
Emery School Board Member Sarah Nguyen
She followed member Cruz Vargas in a protest vote
against newly elected president Brynnda Collins.

The newly revealed factionalism seems to be indicative of a general lack of cohesion on the Board rather than a clashing of policy visions as was indicated by the previous iteration of the Board.  However whereas before, Mr Vargas stood mostly alone in his dissenting position, the joining of Board member Nguyen as indicated by the new December 18th vote, would suggest a more broad base of dissent against the majority faction, now represented by President Collins. 
Tattler readers will recall, Mr Vargas was stripped of his Board presidency by a unanimous vote of his colleagues in June 2018.  Mr Vargas, tilting at windmills, went on to engage in retaliatory personal attacks against his replacement, President Barbara Inch, calling into question her trustworthiness around children in December of that year.

Any hopes for a more unified School Board this last December 18th were dashed when member Vargas reminded his colleagues that members should not forget the “roles” each need to play on the Board and that only those with “strength” should be president before he joined with Ms Nguyen in voting NO to Brynnda Collins for president.  As it turned out, the didactic arguments presented against Ms Collins by Mr Vargas this time were nearly identical to the arguments he offered against the prospects of a Barbara Inch presidency in his 'Not Every School Board Member Should Be President' speech he gave back in December 2018.

As the Board turns towards the business at hand moving into 2020, the infighting may upset their plans.  Struggling to present a unified face to voters deciding on the proposed Emery School District parcel tax increase in March, a newly factionalized Board may have trouble getting taxpayers to trust them with another increase in tax proceeds.
Board Member Cruz Vargas
Leading a drive against his colleague
Brynnda Collins, he said she should
follow her "role".
Then he joined with fellow protester
Sarah Nguyen, voting NO to
Ms Collins' Board President bid.