All This Development IS Good for You: Just Ask the City Council’s Pricey PR Expert

August 22, 2008
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$15,000 PowerPoint to “Hone in on Certain Messages”

PROPAGANDA n. Any widespread or systematic dissemination or promotion of particular ideas, practices, etc. to further one’s own cause or to damage an opposing one. Often used disparagingly to connote deception or distortion.

by Brian Donahue

There has been a lot of talk in Emeryville lately about all the new development, and whether or not the community has benefited. Mindful of growing public concern, the City Council is moving to head off public disapproval — not with a change in direction, but with a pricey public relations campaign aimed at convincing voters that the Council’s development-at-any-cost strategy is paying huge dividends to residents.

The campaign, by the way, is being paid for with your tax dollars . At a Council meeting June 17th, the Council voted (4-0) to spend $15,500 on a PowerPoint presentation extolling the virtues of all the new development and, perhaps more ominously, to smooth the way for increasing the pace of development to come. Helen Bean, the city’s Director of Economic Development and Housing, urged the Council to craft the presentation to “hone in on certain messages”.

City Council Member Ruth Atkin stressed that residents need to know how they have benefited, and characterized the PowerPoint as an educational tool. The comment came just moments after Mayor Ken Bukowski and City Council Member Dick Kassis debated whether the proposed presentation should include any mention of the negative impacts recent development has had on the city. Kassis wondered aloud whether the public should receive a more balanced report for their money. However, Bukowski was unequivocal:

“The purpose of this is to put out the positive. What are we going to do, start criticizing ourselves?”
Mayor Ken Bukowski

Siding with Bukowski, Council Member Nora Davis took umbrage at the idea of producing an objective ‘product’ for the taxpayers money: “EBASE (the local community benefits/labor alliance group) will be glad to provide the criticism. We don’t have to do that ourselves,” she said.

Once again, disinformation won the day at City Hall. Educational outreach efforts by EBASE were cited by City Council members as justifying their decision to omit any negative impacts of development in the presentation. During deliberations, this reporter asked council members: If all this development is so great, why would the Council need to spend taxpayer money to convince the taxpayer of something that should be readily apparent? Kassis complained that “EBASE has been running around all over town” telling people they should expect more community benefits from development than they’ve been getting.

City staff recommended hiring the Oakland-based public relations firm, The Place Making Group, to produce the ‘product’, citing their expertise in effective ‘branding’ and advertising. The PowerPoint presentation will be played repeatedly on ETV Channel 27 in lieu of other programming, and will be presented at various civic events the City Council is planning to further this pro-development campaign.

Brian Donahue has lived and worked in Emeryville for 28 years. He and his wife, and young daughter, live in the Emeryville Artists’ Cooperative. Brian has been a longtime activist, working for transparent government and better of quality of life for the residents; he’s not very popular with the City Council majority.

2 Responses to All This Development IS Good for You: Just Ask the City Council’s Pricey PR Expert

  1. David on September 4, 2008 at 3:13 am

    A one-sided powerpoint presentation covering a boondoggle of this magnitude in Emeryville represents a wholesale abandonment of our local government’s responsibility to its people.

    Such a large subsidy is unjustifiable when the city cannot even afford to fund smaller projects that carry a much larger benefit to the community (like the quiet railroad crossings, the bridge over 80, or the park ave park).

    Shame on the mayor and shame on the city council members who support this effort.

  2. Anonymous on September 4, 2008 at 6:55 am

    I just don’t get why the City Council want to build more useless stuff at Bay Street or at the Public Market and why such large subsidies? Surely the councilors must have some sort of stake in covering Emeryville with more concrete, making the streets even more dangerous for pedestrians and introducing more and more cars into a very small town that can’t cope with the volume of traffic it now has.

    I was looking forward to the day that the Quiet Zone happened (I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in a year and a half since moving to Emeryville) and was prepared to wait knowing that it was in the pipeline. The Quiet Zone plan has now been canceled by the Council – more proof that they don’t care about the residents. It is now time to take a closer look at EXACTLY where these subsidies are going? Can anyone tell me please (and convince me they’re telling the truth)?

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