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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: