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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Guest Column: Former City Councilman John Fricke on the Privatization of Emeryville

The Privatization of Emeryville

By John Fricke

Guest Columnist

Back in high school, I learned about the concept, the tragedy of the commons, which holds that unregulated access to public land will inevitably lead to its degradation.  I’m happy to report that we in Emeryville are not at risk of suffering the tragedy of the commons because our public spaces are being safeguarded for private users, to the exclusion of members of the public.

Dean and John on the smaller
play structure in 2019, now
off-limits to the public.

As a parent of a three-year-old, I am again a frequent visitor to Emeryville’s parks and playgrounds.  My son, Dean, my wife, Andrea, and I often visit the public schoolyard next to our house that is owned by Emeryville’s school district.  The schoolyard includes a large play structure for big kids, and a smaller one for kids closer to Dean’s age.  (When my daughters were Dean’s age, we used to enjoy having access to the schoolyard on the weekends.)  But this site is no longer used by the school district as a public elementary school, and the weekend public access is being curtailed by a private school that occupies the site.  

In 2017, the public elementary school was relocated to the high school site, and the school district struck a deal to lease the original elementary school site to a private school that conducts classes in German.  Rest assured, the school district said, public access to the schoolyard would continue.  Indeed, this promise was memorialized in the lease agreement.  

But ever since the German school occupied the site, the public access has been spotty at best.  Most recently, the German school installed a gate and padlock, preventing public access to the smaller playground, sandlot, and community garden.  

Contrary to the lease, access to the public
is denied.

When I brought this to the attention of the school district’s superintendent, Quiauna Scott, Ed.D., a week went by with no response.  After following up with email and voicemail messages, Dr. Scott responded that she would forward my email message the school district’s facilities person, Jody Clarke; and, to the head of the German school, Rufus Pichler.  This latter action struck me as odd given that my message to Dr. Scott included my many unanswered email messages to Mr. Pichler complaining about the German school’s weekly leaf blower noise on Saturdays.  

Apparently, Mr. Pichler felt no need to respond to repeated messages from a member of the public until the superintendent directed him to do so.  His response?  Threaten a lawsuit.  

“It is unlawful to interfere with our contractual relations in this manner. We hereby give you notice and ask that you cease your unlawful interference.”  -- Rufus Pichler.

As it happens, not only does the lease with the German school require that weekend public access be maintained, it also requires the German school not to engage in annoying behavior, such as hours-long leaf blower noise on Saturdays (often coinciding with Dean’s naptime and his parents’ only quiet time during the day).  

Let me pause here to state the obvious:  there is no need to use a leaf blower at all.  The state of the schoolyard grounds before the leaf-blowing is generally fine, except for small areas that can be taken care of with a broom.  Just because there is a tool that can remove every speck of dust from the ground doesn’t mean that it must be used.  Schools somehow managed to operate quite well before the advent of the leaf-blower.  

Why does the school create this noise pollution on Saturdays?  In an unattributed message I received the German school stated that “this work can only be done on weekends when the school is not in session.”  In other words, the noise pollution is not acceptable when the private school is in session, but it is fine to create noise pollution on the weekends when the public has access to the schoolyard.  Mr. Pichler would have us believe that this creates no deterrent to the neighbors’ use of the schoolyard.  By sheer coincidence, whenever the private school parents and students gather for a weekend activity in the schoolyard, the leaf blower noise does not occur.  

What can we expect from Superintendent Scott?  Will she exercise her authority over the private German school, a tenant of the school district?  

The lease revenue from the private German school (close to half a million dollars for this school year) represents a significant portion of the school district’s budget.  Any school district would jealously guard this revenue stream since it comes with few reporting requirements (unlike the money from the state).  

Dr. Scott’s most recent email message reported that she met with Mr. Pichler.  Dr. Scott provided assurances that the small play structure and garden area will remain accessible to the public on the weekends, subject to the area being assessed.  As for the weekend noise pollution, Dr. Scott assured me that the German school “will make a concerted effort with the landscaper to reduce the amount of time the leafblower is used as practicable.”  (Read:  the German school can continue its leaf-blower noise pollution on the weekends when the public is present, so that noise pollution can be avoided when the private school is in session.)  Did Dr. Scott ask Mr. Pichler the obvious question:  why is the leaf blower necessary?  Inquiring minds want to know.  

Any email message assurances from Mr. Pichler directly?  No.  Will my “unlawful interference” on behalf of the public lead to a lawsuit against me or the school district?  Stay tuned to this bat channel.  

Until public access is restored, I will tell Dean that he can only play on the schoolyard’s play structure designed for older children.  As for the leaf blower noise on the weekends, let’s all bring our ear plugs to the schoolyard.  The tragedy of the commons in Emeryville is not overuse, but denial of public access in favor of private use.  

John Fricke is a longtime Emeryville resident, father of three, husband, lawyer, and former member of the Emeryville City Council.


  1. Love this article, I personally used the school on the weekends, but I too noticed that they began to padlock parts away from the public. And the leaf blower noise... don't even get me started!! It's so loud and they seem to be blowing leaves the entire weekend. I wish more public spaces were available in Emeryville.

  2. I recently move out of one of the apartments directly adjacent to the German school. The leaf blower noise was awful! My significant other and I would often go on the weekends for soccer or a stroll, to find the front gate locked or a school event in progress. Thank you for speaking for the public.

  3. How unwise for the German School director to respond irately or not at all to complaints about leaf blowers and padlocked facilities. This well documented post, let’s hope, will inspire officials to respond and insist that the terms of the lease be enforced.

  4. Completely agree with John on the leaf blower noise which runs for hours. We are right next to the school, for me and my wife the only downtime is on the weekend and the leaf blower noise in afternoon is so loud and runs for hours and hours. Why can't the leaf blower come on weekdays when school is running, they can manage time when the kids are inside building for classes and activities or right after the school is over on weekdays?

    I completely understand children being loud on weekdays but almost every other weekend the school is having an event with children and parents where there is loud music and we cannot access the play grounds for strolls and small games. What's the point of it to be open for public where public cannot use it.

    Thanks John for speaking for the public!

  5. Thanks for this story. Where does this private school get off being so belligerent? This school ground belongs to the people of Emeryville. They have to do as they agreed in their lease they signed. The lease uses the word annoying so they have to stop being annoying. Going on the offense like they are is unacceptable for someone renting from us. Please follow up on this Tattler.

  6. My father Andre' an engineer operated a machine shop in his back yard housed in a 40 ft container. His neighbor clerk at B of A
    a.k.a."Beach Inn Ruby" was annoyed his machine shop made more noise than her clerk job at B of A. A.s.A. as Ken Bulowski got elected he had my father's machine shop junked. Lately my father
    habitat and again the working area of his engineering projects
    was wrecked by the city over the sight of his working area but
    the city deceivingly used my inheritance'so called code violation as the motive to discard his entire machine area, the mean of
    earning his livelihood. His other neighbor bragged of his in
    kin people at city hall to connive his ruin so with a clean lot
    absent of the sight of workingman and his work area, it increased
    his property value as landlord to jack up all his tenants rents.
    At the school. did those objectors of the noise, the fume, the
    sight of Doctor Weed Eater earning top wage to blow away dirt
    as an excuse to annoy them on weekend ! Did those " Doctors "
    volunteered to help collect those golden dust nugget or is it
    another one of those yak yak from the " ears of the beholder"
    ganging on the leaf blower wearing, mask, distancing & ear plugs
    To whom do they complain when their children cries out loud
    Carpiaux Patrick