Sunday, May 4, 2014

Charter City and Property Transfer Tax

The City Council has directed staff to prepare a ballot measure for the November 4, 2014 election making Emeryville a Charter City, as most of our neighbors already are. Only charter cities can increase their Property Transfer Tax. As a general law city, we are restricted to follow state guidelines for how to organize and run our city. A charter city has greater autonomy, in that we can set our own guidelines through charter amendments passed by the electorate. More info on the city website here.

Because redevelopment went away two years ago, Emeryville has had to adapt, as 95% of our city was inside a redevelopment area, and we received significant funding for our budget and capital improvements from redevelopment as a result. Today, the council is looking at ways our neighboring cities have traditionally paid for these things, and one of those tools is the Property Transfer Tax. The Property Transfer Tax is a fee paid at the time of a property sale or transfer. Our current fee, which is the maximum allowed under general law, is about 5% of what Alameda collects and about 4% of what both Berkeley and Oakland collect. If we become a charter city and increase this tax, we have a lot of room to gain funds for critical capital improvements, and will still be competitive compared to our immediate neighbors.

The Property Transfer Tax is not going to be a consistent source of funds for the city, as it depends on how many parcels change hands year to year, and on what those parcels' value is according to the market. Looking back over the past several years, if we had had in place Alameda's higher rates, Emeryville could have collected between $800,000 - $13 million/year, instead of the $38,000 - $600,000/year. These fees are paid when a property is sold, and are often split by the seller and buyer as closing costs.

March 18: City Council directed staff to bring back a charter city ballot measure. Staff report is here.
April 22: City Council approved the "narrow" or limited charter city idea, and directed staff to engage a consultant to poll on this ballot measure, along with the range of Property Transfer Tax we would consider. Staff report is here.

I hope you will support the charter city measure and the property transfer tax to help Emeryville find new funds to continue to improve our city.

Impact Fees: Transportation, Housing and Parks

The City Council is considering Impact Fees to help Emeryville maintain and improve roads, parks and create affordable housing. These fees would be levied on any new residential or commercial developments in town.

These three fees will help to replace some of the redevelopment funds that we no longer have. There are three types of fees we are considering, and all funds that come in are designated to each type of improvement, as their adoption is based on studies that show how new development in town needs to pay for the impacts associated with that development. All studies we conducted justify the maximum fees that could be collected. What the staff is recommending is something far below that cap. Finding the right mix of fees so that we are not discouraging development is important.

Transportation Impact Fees
We have had a Traffic Impact Fee in place since the 1990s. This means that what we are doing is updating the reasonable amount that can be collected on each unit or by square footage (for non-residential). It also means that we have a new list of projects that can be funded through this fee. Most of the projects are improvements for bicycles and pedestrians. Car infrastructure improvements have been the focus in the past, and now we need to encourage fewer cars and more alternative transportation modes to reduce the traffic in town.

Affordable Housing Impact Fees
Every new development, even market rate developments, directly create an increased need for affordable housing in our region. A new unit brings people who will buy groceries, eat out, shop at clothing stores, use housecleaners -- and all of these actions require staff who are not paid adequately to live in the expensive Bay Area. As housing costs go up (and they are doing so in Emeryville), we have to make sure there is good affordable housing. I think this is critical, and one of my biggest jobs as a leader here.

These fees will help, but will not cover the cost of adequate affordable housing. We will continue to find other sources of funds to ensure we are creating a "just" Emeryville where all incomes are welcome.

Parks and Recreation Impact Fees
Emeryville is a dense 1.2 square mile urban village, and we need open space to make it a desirable place to live and play! Particularly for families, but for all residents and employees, we need more open space. These new fees cannot pay to remedy the historic lack of open space, but can pay for more parks that are required to support new development. Building parks in infill locations is very expensive, as it can mean relocating tenants and tearing down buildings. But look at how many people were enjoying the Movie in the Park at Doyle Hollis on Friday night! This is a critical need as well, and we must have a way to pay for new parks.

Please see additional information in the staff report from the April 1 study session (special city council meeting). This will be coming back to council at the May 20 or June 3, 2014 meeting. The impact fees have gone to various committees in April for input.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joshua Simon leaving the school board

Joshua Simon has served on the Emery Unified School District's Board of Trustees for 12 years. He and his family are moving to Oakland, and March 26, 2014 will be his last meeting. EUSD is looking for applicants to fill his position, with a process that will be announced soon. I encourage any interested folks to reach out to me and I will put you in touch with someone on the School Board. As my neighbor, I will greatly miss Josh and his family! I thank him for his dedication and years of service.

The school district is also in the process of hiring a new superintendent. More information on that is here.

Josh's letter is below:

Dear Neighbors,

It has been a privilege to serve the Emeryville community as a member of the Emery Unified School District Board of Trustees for over 12 years.  Unfortunately, my professional responsibilities as the newly hired Executive Director of a nonprofit community development corporation and the needs of my family, have combined to require that I resign my position as School Board Trustee effective March 31st

With two teenage daughters, we are moving from our two bedroom, one bathroom condominium to a much larger condominium in downtown Oakland.  Our new home will accommodate our family's needs, and has room for our parents in the future.  We continue to own property in Emeryville and we intend to move to Emery Bay Village after the Center for Community Life is completed.  In the meantime, I will remain involved as a tax payer and future neighbor of the Center of Community Life.

I am grateful to my colleagues on the school board for their dedication to supporting the work of our teachers, students, families, guardians and the community.   I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with School Board members John Affeldt, Miguel Dwin and Joy Kent.  The sound leadership of Board President Melodi Dice has been a rock of stability in the changing tides of school funding.  The dedication and professionalism of these board members over many years has been inspiring.

I am also grateful for the thoughtful partnership of the Emeryville City Council whose work has demonstrated that “partners power student success.”  Closer integration of City afterschool programs with school programs has enhanced work in the classrooms and teachers have been able to buy homes in Emeryville through the City’s first time homebuyer program.  Under the leadership of City Manager Sabrina Landreth, I have no doubt that Emeryville will continue to improve as an “Age-Friendly City”. 

I have been impressed by the many ways that business leaders have stepped up in support of education in Emeryville.  Consistent partners who have worked to power student success include Pixar, Madison Marquette, Expressions Center for New Media, 45th Street Artists Cooperative, the Townhouse Restaurant, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Jamba Juice, Wereham Development, the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce and many others.   The Work of the Emery Ed Fund to coordinate these efforts has been invaluable. 

Most of all, my family is grateful for the twelve years of excellent education that our daughters received at both the Emeryville Child Development Center and Emery Unified School District.  My daughter Sarah was well prepared for her current interest in engineering by the teachers at Anna Yates and my daughter Maya continues to be inspired by the work of the Anna Yates Elementary School Theater Club. (Don’t miss their next performance at the Emeryville Senior Center on Salem Street on March 28th at 6pm and March 29th at 3pm.  Call the Anna Yates Elementary School office at 601-4917 for more information.)

The School District has made great progress toward becoming a model full-service community school.  Our integration of healthcare, parent resources, after school activities and community resources into our schools, has reduced barriers to education and supported teachers to do their best work. 

I am particularly thankful to Congresswoman Barbara Lee for her support of the Family Resource Center and her work to upgrade our High School Gym to be a safe shelter in times of crisis. 

I am also thankful for Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson who have provided invaluable guidance throughout our transformation process. 

The District’s strong relationship with Peralta Community College to bring college level courses to our High School is very exciting, and I must thank Superintendent John Sugiyama, Superintendent Debbra Lindo and School Board member Miguel Dwin for their leadership of this work. 

State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Senator Loni Hancock have been great partners in fighting for the needs of children and families in Emeryville.  Without their hard work at the state level, our efforts to improve Emeryville’s school district might not receive the critical attention that we require from the California Department of Education and other State Agencies.

With the community’s support, we have started construction on our new community school and will now have adequate facilities for the District’s partnerships and collaborations. Funds are now available to build the facility required to house the combination of recreation, health and pre-k through grade 16 education services that comprise our community school partnerships.  I am proud that the Measure J Bond Oversight Committee recently reported that all Measure J funds are being spent appropriately and responsibly, and that Moody’s recently gave us a very high bond credit rating.

I am confident that the District’s transition dream team of past superintendents John Quinn and John Sugiyama will support our extraordinary professional staff and teachers to continue building on our progress to date.  With the support of EUSD’s amazing staff, I have great confidence in the continued improvement of our school district.

The board intends to discuss the process for filling my position at the February 26th School Board meeting.  I regret that I will not be at that meeting due to work travel, but I look forward to continuing to serve the community until the end of March.


Most of all, thank you for being a community that consistently supports safe quality schools for the Emeryville community.

Joshua Simon

Monday, February 17, 2014

Capital Improvement Program 2014

It is time to weigh in on what larger capital improvement projects you think are the top priority for the next 5 years. We have limited funds to spend and lots of projects that are deserving. Please help us out by attending a committee meeting (which are listed on p.11 of this packet), coming to the community meeting on Saturday, March 1, 10:00 am - noon (at City Hall, 1333 Park Ave.), or reading over the projects and sending your opinion to me and the rest of the council members.

This CIP process has been a long time in coming. We started this process once before in 2011, just before redevelopment was dismantled in 2012, and are just now ready to tackle it again. The total amount we have to spend is approximately $95 million. The number of projects is about 75. Read through the list of projects staff have identified. Some are in your neighborhood, some will improve traffic circulation in town, or help improve bike/ped facilities. There is something for everyone. Please get informed and share your opinion.

Background: Now that Redevelopment is gone, the City of Emeryville is trying to figure out how much money we can use toward capital intensive projects. For the past 35 years, these projects have been paid for by redevelopment funds (at between $12 million and $51 million per year), which were based on the growth of property taxes over the years. As properties were improved, tax revenues went up and that gain was put into redevelopment (and was borrowed against). We will be paying off those redevelopment loans for a number of years still.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Only one more year... are you ready to join the council?

In December, I announced that I will finish my city council term in the Fall of 2014, and that I will not be seeking re-election. I have announced my intention this early because I would like to encourage anyone who is concerned about good policy decisions in Emeryville to run. I would love to find two great candidates to support!

When I ran in 2009, I expected a four year term. With our change of elections to even years (to align with County, State and Federal elections and greater voter turn-out), I ended up with a 5 year term (as did all other sitting council members and school board members). I will spend my fifth year working hard on furthering my initiatives, but will leave the council at the end of 2014. If you are a person who is interested in local issues, from small details to larger policy, please consider talking with me about the city council race and the position!

Some of the things I have learned:
  1. This work is very gratifying, and an individual with community support can make a real difference in our urban village.
  2. It is hard to balance family commitments and a demanding job with this important work. The pay is not worthy of the position, but there are good health benefits provided.
  3. I know that the changes we are seeing in Emeryville for the better (more attention paid to bike/ped facilities, more family friendly units in projects) are not because of me, but may be a result of increased public participation and a shift in priorities. This is about a group effort, not one individual.
I would also like to let you know about Scott Donahue, who is one of my trusted advisors for all things Emeryville. He has lived in town for over 30 years, in the artists' co-op, and he has announced that he is running for city council in 2014. I think that he will do a fantastic job, with thoughtful consideration of issues and a strong sense of where Emeryville is going. Please support me by helping elect Scott. I would like to find one more candidate to run with Scott as well.

Thank you to all of you who have shared opinions with me, served on committees, met with me, supported or challenged my ideas! I truly enjoy making sense of our opportunities, and correcting wrongs. Here is to big accomplishments in 2014!

If you are interested in running, please be in touch with me directly at emeryvillewest@gmail.com. In April or May, I will participate in a forum to discuss what serving on the council means in our town, with Jac Asher, sponsored by Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE). Details will follow.

Stopwaste in 2014

I serve as Emeryville's representative on the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, also known as Stopwaste. I greatly appreciate all that this government organization has done to make Alameda County a national leader in terms of how much of our waste goes back into the economy through recycling and compost (food scraps and plant debris). We (Stopwaste) are also responsible for banning single use plastic bags at most retail stores county-wide. We also have required commercial businesses and multi-family residences to offer recycling.

But we still find that people need an additional nudge or more education to further reduce the amount of "good stuff" that is going to landfill. You may have received a mailer recently that gives a snapshot of how well our community of Emeryville is doing on this, in comparison with other cities in the county. This mailer is paid for by a "benchmark" fee, that also pays for additional data collection, so we can measure how well we are doing. the fee is $1.51/year for most accounts, more for larger trash generators. Questions you may have can be answered here, or you can email me directly at emeryvillewest@gmail.com.

Another challenge that we face in Alameda County is how to fund disposal of Household Hazardous Waste -- materials that cannot safely be put in a landfill. Over the years, our money to fund this has gone down (as it is based on fees on landfilled materials, which have been decreasing -- yeah!), so Stopwaste is finding new money to support HHW disposal, while also making it easier for households to take HHW to the facilities (making the hours more frequent and more regular). Ideally, someday, we will be able to phase out more of these toxic substances from our store shelves, or charge the person buying it at point of sale to cover these costs, but for now, we are proposing a fee on all properties in the county to support these services. You may have received a letter recently informing you about this fee and how you may protest it, if you choose. It will be $9.55/year for all properties, added to property tax bills. It will only be in place for 10 years, and will be reduced if the cost of services is reduced or other funding sources are more than projected. Go here to see answers to frequently asked questions.

I have asked for an information item on the March 4 council agenda to be sure we have a chance to discuss these fees at council. You may also contact me directly to get more information on these programs.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Emery-Go-Round and Watergate

I have heard from lots of people who live at Watergate over the past couple of weeks. Emery-Go-Round, which temporarily suspended its service beyond the Watergate office towers during sidewalk construction this summer/fall, announced that it would not reinstate the bus-stops out on the peninsula due to safety concerns and difficulty turning around. The Emery-Go-Round continues to stop at the Towers, which is a walk from the residential community.

Many people who live in Watergate (which constitutes about a fourth of the population of Emeryville) depend on the free shuttle service to get around without a car. Lives and travel patterns have been disrupted by this change, and everyone agrees -- we like our Emery-Go-Round! Watergate folks can get to MacArthur BART faster than most of us in town!

Well, I am a big fan of public transportation, so I do not take these changes lightly. In fact, abrupt changes like this make it clear that it is time to look carefully and comprehensively at public transportation throughout town and the area. There is a study being conducted now (dubbed EBOTS) that is looking at greater transit service in West Berkeley, Emeryville and West Oakland. See this blog entry for info on upcoming workshops. This crisis also shows how vulnerable chunks of town are to small and big changes -- changes that are not under the control of the city or your elected officials. Emery-Go-Round is predominantly funded by commercial property owners in town, and was set up originally as a shuttle for employees. The Emeryville Transportation Management Association (ETMA) runs the Emery-Go-Round through a funding mechanism called a Property Based Improvement District (PBID). That funding and other options are being considered soon.

The City Council has been asked to weigh in on future plans for Emery-Go-Round and its funding source, the PBID, along with plans for a bus yard. We are planning a study session for Tuesday, Dec. 3, starting around 6:30 pm at City Hall, before our regular council meeting. Please come and tell us what you think!

Some in town have asked for increased service to West Oakland BART, for example. We know that ridership has continued to grow and the free shuttle serves over 1 million riders per year. AC Transit has reduced service in Emeryville over the years. I would like to hear from you about Emery-Go-Round and public transportation in general.