What the City Council Does Not Want You to Know

September 13, 2008

A Letter from Council Member John Fricke
(Sent to residents via email on Sept. 4, 2008)

Dear Emeryville neighbors,
Another large development project is moving toward city council approval. Informally referred to as “Site B,” the project would expand the Bay Street shopping mall to the north with a department store, a 30-story hotel, and a parking garage. This project is one of several to which the city council will likely give millions of dollars in subsidies to the developer. I would like to report to you the amount of the subsidy contemplated, but the other city council members refused my request to make this information public.

Before I was elected to the city council, I often wondered what occurred in closed session city council meetings (held just prior to the public meetings). After two years of attending these closed meetings, I have observed that the details of development deals are ironed out over several months, and that the eventual city council vote in a subsequent public session is somewhat of a formality.

Given the large subsidy and the scope of the Site B project, I feel that the public should be informed about how much the developer is requesting as a subsidy, and how much the city council is willing to grant. At the end of last night’s closed session, I requested that these two pieces of information be made public. The other city council members present (Ken Bukowski, Nora Davis, and Dick Kassis) did not support my request to make this information public. (Ruth Atkin was excused from the meeting.)

We are now in a period of ironing out the broad details of the Site B project, what amount of retail/hotel/residential will be constructed, how long the developer will have to construct the project, how much subsidy the developer will receive, etc. During this period a developer can hold private meetings with each of the council members, hoping to obtain support of the project by the individual council members. The eventual vote to approve then becomes a formality.

There is an agreement that governs the negotiation between the developer and the city. The agreement includes a confidentiality clause. (I have included this clause at the bottom of this message.) I did not request that we reveal confidential financial information that the developer has disclosed. I simply want to make public the amount of subsidy that the developer is requesting, and the amount that the city council is willing to give as a subsidy.

If we value vigorous public debate, then waiting until the final city council vote to grant the subsidies and entitlements is too late. The public should be able to weigh in now about the merits of giving millions of dollars in subsidies for a project that will exacerbate traffic congestion, and provide no concrete community benefits in return. The other council members prefer to keep this information confidential.

I am therefore limited to reiterating information that the city manager provided two years ago; information I shared with you in my progress report at the end of 2006. Two years ago, the subsidy that was contemplated from the city to the developer was $47 million. (The developer was willing to pay $10 million for the land after toxic remediation. The city expected to pay $17 million to acquire the land, and $10 million to do toxic remediation. The department store was to receive a $22 million subsidy, the hotel $8 million.)

The subsidy money would be drawn from the city’s budget for capital projects. Here is a partial list of projects that the city council has identified as worthy projects, for which no money has been set aside (2006 estimates):

Railroad Quiet Zone, $2M
Park Avenue Park, $3M
Replace police station, $15M
Cultural/Performing Arts Center, $14M
Recreation Center, $5.5M
Improving pedestrian access on Powell Street Bridge, $15M
Bridge over Interstate 80 at 65th Street, $10M
Bridge over Interstate 80 at Temescal Creek, $10M
Extending Bay Trail south of Powell Street, $2M

At a June meeting, the city council voted (4-0) to spend money to create a PowerPoint presentation focusing on the benefits of major development projects while excluding the negative impacts. (I missed the meeting because I was on vacation with my family.) I doubt that the PowerPoint presentation will mention the tens of millions of dollars that the city is doling out in subsidy money. Here is the staff report:

See The Secret News story, “All This Development IS Good for You: Just Ask the City Council’s Pricey PR expert.”

The city council has hired a PR firm to provide one-sided information to the public, but refuses to make public the subsidy amount that will likely be granted to the Site B developer.

John Fricke

One Response to What the City Council Does Not Want You to Know

  1. Anonymous on September 24, 2008 at 2:55 am

    Why does the City Council feel threatened by the public being able to be part of the process? This whole thing seems rotten.

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