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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Police Flummoxed by County COVID Order at Emeryville Construction Sites

COVID Cat & Mouse Game Plays Out at City Construction Sites

Police Unable or Unwilling to Force Compliance

Workers at the Maz housing construction site on San Pablo Avenue got a surprise visit from the Emeryville police on Monday who, responding to complaints from citizens, gently reminded the workers they need to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the community.  It marked the beginning of a week of community calls and police responses to this and other construction sites in Emeryville where large numbers of workers have been flouting the Alameda County Face Covering Order, issued on April 17th.  The dynamic of police prompted to show up to ensure compliance has descended into a puerile if deadly game of COVID cat and mouse, workers keeping their masks at the ready to slip on at the sight of police cars or even an Emeryville Tattler photographer (we were sneaky and quick and caught several workers before they had a chance to slip their masks on).  And so the City of Emeryville appears to be flummoxed by strong willed construction workers and rendered inert in their charge to provide public safety.  Emeryville, it would appear, is not taking the COVID-19 virus seriously.

From the beginning when the pandemic arrived in our area, the Emeryville Police Department has shown a lack of concern.  The Chief of Police, Jennifer Tejada, didn’t alert her troops to the fact that it is the municipal police departments in Alameda County who are charged with enforcement of the county order decrees for the deadly virus.  Distressingly, it was the Tattler who informed the Emeryville police rank and file, that it is their responsibility to enforce the orders.  After the Chief had been made aware it was her and her department that bears responsibility for enforcement but before the Tattler disseminated that information to the EPD personnel, the officers were oblivious to this fact.  Emeryville police officers across the department had mistakenly thought it was the responsibility of the Alameda County Sheriff to enforce the COVID orders.

Starting after they were made aware it is their responsibility to enforce, Emeryville police have mostly reported worker compliance at various construction sites in town.  But how trustworthy is that?  They’re getting calls from the public, they’re driving out to the sites and the workers are pulling up their masks before the police get out of their cars.  This is what has come to pass as effective public policy in today’s Emeryville.  Tempting fate, perhaps the police and the Chief feel they can trifle with this virus.

Some of these work sites in town have 20 or 30 workers laboring shoulder to shoulder, many without wearing masks.  This is not some piddling thing.  This is precisely the kind of public health infection risk the county face covering order seeks to stop.  Alameda County Interim Health Officer and signatory to the order, Dr Erica Pan is adamant that construction workers and others wear masks saying the failure to do so "...constitutes an imminent threat and immediate menace to public health".  Failure to comply with the order can result in a fine or imprisonment or both.

Regardless, contractors in Emeryville aren’t forcing their workers to wear masks and the developers aren’t forcing the contractors and the police aren’t forcing any of them.  But in this dysfunctional dynamic, it’s not the private sector who the Tattler will go after.  They’re to be expected to lie and cheat and cut corners, chasing their profits.  It is the public sector we hold accountable.

And so we are distressed at the idea that our city is rendered impotent in the middle of a deadly pandemic by construction workers who don’t like wearing masks.  We like to think that it would take more than mask hating workers to bring our city down in their charge to protect the public.  But so far in this age of COVID, that’s not the city we live in.  Absurd as it sounds, COVID is likely spreading in our community because the Emeryville Police Department hasn't so far had the wherewithal to defeat cleaver construction workers who quickly pull up their masks upon the sight of a police car.

Insofar as construction site mask compliance may be had as a result of an embarrassed Emeryville Police Department due to our reporting, this is not a responsibility the Emeryville Tattler wishes.  We don’t want public safety to be in our hands.  We’re not paid for this.  We are here simply to report.  It is the Chief of Police who is paid for this.  We want her and this city to start taking this virus seriously.

No Masks at Maz Work Site
Caught in a candid moment by a Tattler photographer Thursday, workers wait for a crane
to lift a modular housing component into place.  Elsewhere on the site, when they saw our camera, workers quickly put their masks on... for us and for the police.  

Sunday, April 12, 2020

COVID-19 Forces 'Maz' Developer to Negotiate With City For Affordable Housing

Finally: Something Good Comes From the 
Caronavirus Epidemic

Virus Increases Emeryville Housing Affordability

The developer of the ‘Maz’ project, a large apartment building being constructed at 3800 San Pablo Avenue, renegotiated his agreement with the City of Emeryville last week, volunteering to add 10 units of affordable housing as a result of the Alameda County COVID-19 Shelter at Home Order.  The County order includes a prohibition on construction projects during the corona virus pandemic and would have forced Holiday Development to stop all work on the 101 unit housing project because Maz was approved without any affordable units.  Rick Holiday, CEO of Holiday Development, approached City Hall Thursday offering to renegotiate his project to add a permanent deed restriction for 10 affordable units to thwart the County’s stop work order for all housing construction projects with less than 10% affordability, coming in just under the wire (actually 9.99%, 10 out of 101).

Mr Holiday has had a very difficult time completing the Maz project, formerly called ‘The Intersection’ after getting City Hall approval for it back in 2013.  The 1.1 acre project, located at San Pablo Avenue and Adeline Street has been set back two times before after an arsonist twice burned down the nearly finished five story building.  After the second fire, the developer optioned to change to modular offsite prefabricated construction.  During the interim period, Holiday also contracted with the University of California to make the building exclusively for the housing use of Berkeley students, a change that incidentally wasn’t cleared with the City of Emeryville.
Maz developer Rick Holiday

In response to citizen calls received by the Emeryville Police Department last week referencing the County work stoppage order and police visits to the site enforcing the order, Mr Holiday at first claimed that since the project is now for student use, that could be defined as low income housing. The argument was presented that with the students (at 100%), the Maz project qualifies for the County’s 10% minimum affordability mandate but was rebuffed by the City Manager Christine Daniel, according to City Hall sources.  Following that rejection and facing a County work stoppage of unknown duration, Holliday agreed to guarantee 10 units of affordable housing with an irrevocable deed restriction.
Emeryville's new housing regulations, enacted after the approval of Maz, require a minimum of 17% affordability for all projects over 10 units.

The Maz project, likely to be renamed, has been controversial from the start.  Approved in 2013 in a 3-2 City Council split vote (Kurt Brinkman, Nora Davis and Ruth Atkin voted YES and Jennifer West and Jac Asher voted NO), Maz turned away from the attempts to make Emeryville housing more family friendly and affordable being promulgated by the then progressive Council minority.   With its zero affordability all market rate housing, Maz also is not family friendly, coming in with almost no three bedroom or even two bedroom units.  Studio apartments make up fully 60% of the unit mix at the anachronistic housing project.  At the time of approval, Mr Holliday told the Emeryville Planning Commission that he saw Maz as a building filled with dynamic young [affluent] people, “Younger people seeking an interesting place to live”,  a prospect the Commission called “exciting” as they passed it over to the City Council for approval.
When it's finally finished, almost ten years after approval, the Maz apartment building will push Emeryville's housing affordability percentage down, despite last week's renegotiation and will drive down the City's already low ratio of resident families to non-families.

The Tattler criticized the project after it was approved in 2013, likening it to a “men’s dorm” owing to the predominance of tech workers drawn to such market rate housing with so many dorm-like studio units.  The ‘men’s dorm’ charge rankled conservative Emeryville business advocate and Tattler hater Rob Arias, to such an extent, he publicly accused Brian Donahue, the editor of the Tattler of being the Emeryville arsonist at a police press conference in 2017 after the second Maz blaze.
The fact that the Maz project will now be for the exclusive use of UC Berkeley students and is therefore actually a dormitory, is merely a coincidence and the Tattler makes no claim of extraordinary prescience when we called it a dorm in 2013.