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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.