Councilmember’s Brother/Tattler Editor Brian Donahue goes on Small Business “Harassment” Spree

4 mins read

RULE founding member Brian Donahue, brother of Councilmember Scott Donahue and The Emeryville Tattler opinion blog writer apparently took exception to small businesses requesting a non-partisan Minimum Wage Impact Study through an online petition. The riled Donahue proceeded on a systematic confrontation of small, local businesses last week though repeated phone calls and personal appearances. Businesses that were called or personally confronted by him chose to be anonymous for fear of retaliation by him and his union affiliates.

“We received so many phone calls and angry, confrontational voicemails from him, demanding comment on this issue and completely misrepresenting our position already, that there was no point in engaging in discussion” noted one establishment who was also contacted by SEIU spokesperson Shum Preston with similar vitriol. “He also charged into our store during business hours and spent 20 minutes badgering us about whether we were a ‘good business’ or a ‘bad business’. That’s why he received an angry ‘no comment’ in response. Because he was completely out of control and inappropriate, and we had a hunch he would spin our response to fit his own agenda, which is what he’s done now with the ‘no comment’.”

“I won’t go into detail but he was not pleasant” noted another business and described the phone exchange with Mr. Donahue as “QUITE hostile”.

These were two of many reported phone calls that Mr. Donahue made throughout the course of the afternoon trying to get small businesses to relent their support for the petition and claiming that “small business got everything they wanted” at the April Study Session. It should be noted that nowhere in this petition did it state any opposition to the historically unprecedented minimum wage increase, it merely asked for a more thorough and transparent study to disclose its impacts on everyone (The same study that Emeryville Staff initially recommended to Council but Councilmember Asher pushed to remove from the implementation timeline back in January). Accused by some of being a “Bully” through his aggressive and confrontational demeanor, Donahue’s antics may have gone overboard this time.

Dianne Martinez was the only one to acknowledge me when I alerted her to the harassing phone calls and appearances to local business. “I’m sure you know that I have as much control over Brian’s actions as anyone has over yours, which is to say none. I don’t take threats lightly, however, and I encourage you or anyone else who has received a threat to call EPD immediately.” When Mr. Donahue got wind that I intervened (I sent an email to his supportive Councilmembers and RULE Steering committee members asking them to cease this activity), I got this nicely worded email from him:


If this was a way of intimidating the media & small businesses in our community to not question Council’s unpopular measure, it may have backfired.

Council “conflict” called into question

In addition to being a brother of a Councilmember, Brian is close friends with Councilmember Jac Asher and a founding member of the self-described “advocacy” group RULE (Residents United for a Livable Emeryville) who put forth and supported Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue in the last election. One small business owner expressed concern about this seemingly “open” relationship between Council and Mr. Donahue. Two weeks ago, this business owner made a legal inquiry about actions taken by the City Council via a private email to one Councilmember. The email was forwarded and replied to by City Attorney Michael Biddle and copied to other Councilmembers. Within four hours, the business owner received an aggressive voicemail from Brian Donahue asking for comment and threatening to run with the story publicly. Mr. Donahue subsequently showed up at the business.

“My concern here is not with Donahue’s actions, but with the City Council.” noted the businesses owner who chose to remain anonymous for fear of further harassment and damage to his business reputation. “I was voicing a concern and raising a legal issue. My private email and the response of the City Attorney were communicated to someone in the media within hours. He had detailed knowledge of the City Attorney’s response. How does that happen? When you tack on the tone of Donahue’s blog and his aggressive demeanor, it’s hard not to put two and two together and think that this type of ‘friends and family’ access has a very directed purpose.”

The Emeryville Police Department acknowledged previous encounters with Mr. Donahue: “We’ve had contact with Brian Donahue before and he does know when to stop pressing an issue before he crosses the line and could be arrested. For businesses that feel he is intimidating them or interfering with their business or refusing to leave, I would encourage the owner or manager to call the police. The business owner or manager can place him or anyone under citizen’s arrest and the EPD would accept a lawful arrest. Because it is a misdemeanor, the arrestee would most likely receive a violation 602.1(a) citation.”

A photo from when The E’ville Eye interviewed Mr. Donahue back in 2013.

Are the “inmates running the asylum”?

Brian’s verbal abuse has not been exclusive to residents and businesses and he’s ridiculed many staff members throughout the years. You can’t help but wonder how this affects staff morale when a majority of council now aligns with the man who has verbally terrorized them throughout the years. For those paying attention, there’s a dysfunction that seems to have gripped City Hall and perhaps a cause of the recent exodus of key members of staff including City Manager Sabrina Landreth & City Attorney Michael Biddle. Internal grumblings are becoming more apparent as Council continues to hammer them with aggressive demands, unreasonable timelines and continually dismissing their professional opinions.

The inability of Council and the political groups that align with these thuggish tactics and inability to deter them are an unfortunate reflection on them. It might be time for them to reconsider their decidedly passive approach and consider the negative attention it brings to them. You also have to wonder out loud how this behavior in fact reflects on us as a city. Perhaps this is the tipping point that is needed to get Emeryville back on a more rational track.

A playlist of Mr. Donahue’s Public Comments can be watched on the EPOA YouTube Channel:

[youtube id=”YO4hGiQAysY” width=”620″ height=”360″]

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. You should live next door to him. He is just a bag of wind. Easiest way to be rid of him is to stand up to him; frustrated he will punish you by not speaking to you anymore. A relief.

    • If you’re not for Donald Trump, you are a LOSER and a bag of wind yourself. Get a job, clown!

  2. That guy is a council members brother? What the hell is going on in this town? What a disgrace.

  3. OK Rob, you’ve made a lot of allegations here. Lots of illegal activity I’ve done according to you. You can continue on with the allegations or you can show us something real. The Emeryville Police are more than up to the job of dispensing with law breakers. Is an arrest coming anytime soon? Why has it taken so long? You’d think I’d have been arrested long ago given your litany of illegal activity. Or are you just a blowhard? The no arrest thing is going to be problematic for you…you can continue making this libelous allegations of your chief critic, citing all manner of crimes, but eventually people are going to wonder why no arrests have been made. I’ve lived in this town 35 years with no arrests. Can you make the same claim?
    Go ahead and have me arrested….what are you waiting for?

    You’ve cheapened your blog with this.

    • Where does it say anything about any crimes? Any more libel than stealing my LinkedIn photo, paraphrasing a quote and labeling me part of the “Right-Wing”? (There you go again with your embellishments. You are so GOOD at this!). IDK, you’re pretty handy with the Brown Act. Is Council passing off confidential emails to private citizens who may or may not be his brother illegal? I hear the EPD Chief is a real “no-nonsense” guy. Let’s let the public decide.

      • I agree with you Rob. It is time that the federal government take action to shut down persons who abuse the First Amendment. Can you join me in encouraging Congress to allow only approved Americans who love our country to have free speech? Thank you!

    • As a proud supporter of REAL AMERICAN DONALD TRUMP, you should take your clown show back to your liberal San Francisco where you belong. Emeryville is a community of PROUD AMERICANS who work for a living and don’t live off the government.

  4. I am extremely disturbed by the general tenor of public discourse in Emeryville. Anyone not in agreement with those who speak most loudly are routinely bullied into silence. How is this a democracy? I propose that every question posed to the public be presented as a anonymous survey so that a more unbiased and less suppressed viewpoint may be expressed.

  5. This story by Rob is one of the best and most courageous story published in Emeryville in a long time. I personally know a dozen people in Emeryvillle who have been wanting to publicly call Brian Donahue out as a bully but have never done so. Brian’s bullying tactics have been widely known in Emeryville for many years. Rob has well chronicled how much Emeryville has deteriorated with the election of the new City Council economically illiterate majority and its control by Brian Donahue.
    Emeryville is now rapidly on downward spiral from being on of the most business and entrepreneur friendly cities in the West to another overregulated, overtaxed dying town. Thank you Rob and the E’ville Eye blog site for your courageous reporting.
    And by the way, Brian, you may be riding high as the official Town Bully, but if you think Rob has said anything libelous, then why don’t you sue him for libel? Just remember before you do, it’s a long-held principle of American law that truth is a defense in libel cases. You might be surprised at how many of those businesses you and your union goon friends intimidate would not be afraid to come out if they had legal protection.
    I’m hoping that there are still enough people left in Emeryville who have the courage to stand up to Brian Donahue and help get Emeryville back on track.

    • Bob, I agree with you. The police should arrest and incarcerate anyone in our community who disagree with the principals our nation was founded upon. Patriots like you and me are those who should have a voice in America, not these rabble rousers who don’t deserve to live in our proud patriotic nation. They hate our freedoms.

      • So you made up a pretend name and came here posting pretend posts that would sound like your own imagined stereotype of the opposition. Grow up.

  6. Rob. Sorry now you know what we all know
    The Tar-Baby is a fictional character in the second of the Uncle Remus stories published in 1881; it is a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br’er Rabbit. The more that Br’er Rabbit fights the Tar-Baby, the more entangled he becomes.

    In modern usage, “tar baby” refers to any “sticky situation” that is only aggravated by additional involvement in it.

  7. Donahue is a total nut job. Last year when he was threatening me on NextDoor and then threatened me with gun violence everyone was blasé about it. Finally when he tresspassed and violated federal law by tampering with mailboxes at my building mgmt stood up against him.

    Emeryville is becoming a laughing stock, we’re heading into the same territory as Bell, Ca. Pathetic!

    We should probably refer to Donahue as Mayor Rizzo (look it up).

    • Adam, I knew Mayor Rizzo. Mayor Rizzo was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Mayor Rizzo. Look it up, pal.

  8. Rob, you have more guts than the entire city council, small business community, and SEIU combined.

    You’re a hero in Emeryville, and we sincerely thank you.

    • Now it’s time for the rest of us to speak up. We can do this with respect and elevate the discussion.

    • Thanks. This means a lot. I’ll never give up fighting for the plight of small business in our city and giving a voice to those that City Council has tuned out.

    • I want to know where Rob stands in regard to patriotism and AMERICA. Are you in support of REAL AMERICAN DONALD TRUMP or are you a tree-hugging liberal who merely pretends to love Jesus?

  9. Harassment is a crime, so is threatening to shoot someone…or countless other crimes you’ve accused me of. Why hasn’t any of you called the police? That’s what you’re supposed to do when you witness a crime. You could so easily solve this problem you have with me. Why won’t you call the police?

  10. Rob, thank you for the compliment, but I’m going to have to turn it down….based on this story, and the history between you and Brian, it is obvious that NOBODY in Emeryville has “similar vitirol” to you two.

    That said, the good news is that I see you and Brian as two complementary souls locked into eternal combat and love across all universes and reincarnations. Have fun!

  11. I’m sorry to report to you guys the City Council passed the minimum wage ordinance first reading tonight (check it out in the Tattler). Now the working poor in Emeryville are going to be able to pay their rent and feed their families. Sorry for your loss, E’Ville Eye readers.

    • Pretty sure rent is about to sky rocket in Emeryville if it hasn’t already, so these poor families will have to relocate regardless of the minimum wage increase.

  12. The issue that bothers me in Rob’s article is not Brian Donahue (sorry Brian). It’s City Council.

    Nora Davis spoke strongly tonight against people being harassed.

    Not one of the others voiced even the slightest concern (!!!!!!!!!). All they had to do was echo the same sentiment, and they just couldn’t do it 🙁

    For whoever is left, enjoy the new Emeryville but I think it’s time to start making our way for the exits like the rest of city staff.

  13. It took years for the city of Bell crooks to go down. But they ended up in jail. Psycho Brian eventually will too.

  14. Shum, thanks for visiting our city. I hope we have been useful to the SEIU’s plans and that the City of Emeryville can serve your purposes in the future.

  15. Our city council is playing mafia games, but looking on the bright side, the Village Idiot position will soon pay $14.42, so we should be able to recruit a better one.

  16. Oops! It looks like a little unauthorized use of a chain restaurant’s logo in service of the E’Ville Eye’s campaign. It’s not cool to use people’s good will they’ve built up in the community for your own deranged anti-worker agenda Rob. Looks like an apology is in order.

    • Oh, you mean the comment that’s coming from the same IP address as this comment? C’mon Donahue. You ain’t fooling anybody. No Class.

  17. Rob just took down a comment right above mine from IHOP demanding he remove their logo from a story in the E’Ville Eye against the minimum wage. Rob took down the IHOP logo as well I’ve noticed. Are you denying this Rob?

      • Thank god for screen shots! First Rob took down the IHOP logo…now the Rotten City Pizza logo comes down. And we all see Rob denying it. Caught in another lie Rob…you’re busted. You’re doing real damage to your credibility with this.
        I smell a Tattler story…featuring a screen shot countering Rob’s pack of lies.

    • Be sure to include the screen shot of the “IHOP” comment with the same IP address as you. I’ll send it to you.

  18. Brian, since you’re hanging out here, could you tell us which of the City Council members are using you to go after the opposition?

    • Nah, Unlike the Tattler, we don’t censor our comments (but reserve the right to if things get too malicious). I’ll let you dig your own grave.

      • You might want to change the name of your blog to “I Hate Brian Donahue” Rob because Tattler stories are forthcoming. They’re going to be about one of your favorite subjects; Emeryville’s minimum wage and your role in it.

  19. Donahue, you play this slight of hand where you try to distract everyone from your outrageous behavior by railing until everyone’s forgotten the point. Here’s the point: you have been going around to businesses who speak out against the minimum wage hike and aggressively bullying them with threats of publishing bad stories about them (like you did with Rob just now), you’ve been doing this with active participation from someone on the city council, and you’ve been doing this sort of thing as long as anyone can remember. So, who on city council sent you?

    • I’m sorry about your forgetful nature…that’s beyond my control. I control the town but I’m not a god.

  20. Ask Rob about this. He pointed out that in fact since the election of Scott Donahue to the council, I run this town…the city council members are my useful idiots. They don’t send me, I send them, understand?

  21. Again, slight of hand. The question is: who on city council passed information about a business to you so that you would go harass them?

  22. Hey Rob- The Emeryville Tattler is only read by five people. I’m kinda surprised you’re so bothered by it.

  23. Again, it’s a simple multiple choice question. There are five members of city council. You either got the information from one of them, or feel free to deny any of this ever occurred. Which one?

  24. The childish e-mail Brian sent in response I see also had Dianne Martinez cc:d, did she reply or contact you about it Rob? Our council members need to step up and address this nonsense. It’s interesting because you actually stood up for Brian when he chose to leave Nextdoor because he was asked to tone down his aggressive attacks. I’ve never seen him be supportive of you, which i think shows who is the better man. Thanks again Rob.

    • Thanks Jones. Dianne did reply and honestly her & Nora are the only council members who have shown some class and professionalism here. This all feels so petty to me but I new what I was getting into when I decided to challenge the town bully!

  25. We need to take back the city from these bozos. They want their headline that Emeryville has the highest minimum wage in the country and apparently they don’t care how they get it.

  26. Rob, this is a great article. Well done. Several things really disgust me right now in Emeryville and the City Council and Brian Donahue are central to that vileness. Excluding the wage increase issues effect on small business, the Council’s approach and the sick side show with Donahue makes the town look like a joke. Well, I do think we can now call it a joke. As a resident of Emeryville who once considered buying a home here and opening a business here I am so very glad I didn’t.

  27. We are now the worst place in the country to start a small business, the worst place in the country to try to get a summer job, the worst place in the country to be unemployed, the worst place in the country to be a senior on a fixed income, the worst place in the country to be a manufacturer, and the worst place in the country to find part time work. That goes well with our crime rate, our model school system, our rock solid finances, the nearly complete exodus of our city staff, and our exemplary and respectful public discourse.

    We are however a great place to visit!

  28. Whether one is for or against the minimum wage increase is not the main issue for me. It is the unprofessional divisiveness of some of the council members and Brian’s overly aggressive tactics. I do feel sorry for Brian’s neighbors.

      • Brian, don’t mince words: you harass anyone who opposes the minimum wage hike at the request of city council to prevent the small business community from being heard. Do your job with pride and courage. Be a strong, proud enforcer, or tell us nothing Rob wrote happened. Go ahead, let’s hear it. Be bold man.

        Your actions and those of the city council are indefensible. If this were a good idea, if this were actually supported by Emeryville, then this nonsense wouldn’t be necessary. You wouldn’t need the SEIU rep and all the out of town help badgering small businesses.

        You do what you do because the only way to make a bad idea into a good one is to silence those who have the guts to speak out.

        Don’t mince words. You do a dirty and necessary political job, and you do it well.

      • BRAVO! VERY well said! Remember, Brian is his own worst enemy: Every time he opens his mouth or appears on TV at a City Council meeting looking like a filthy, deranged street person, he loses the support of another 100 people. Someone once suggested that we should pay Brian $200 to keep writing his phony blogsite and speak at Council meetings so more people in Emeryville could see what a deranged lunatic he really is.

      • The magic is in keeping the audience focused on the wrong thing. “Pay no attention to what I did or who asked me to do it. Pay attention to me.”

  29. I disagree. he isn’t a lunatic. He’s smart and the most outspoken representative RULE has (residents united for a livable Emeryville). He’s clear on what he believes and what he’s willing to do to get it. Watching Brian is the best way to understand RULE and the current city council majority.

  30. There was a time long ago when businesses sent out goon squads to intimidate the unions. Now the unions send out goon squads to intimidate small business. It’s easy to know who the good guys are in both cases I guess. (They’re the ones without the goons.)

  31. Thank you to Emeryville resident Joyce Jacobson who took the time to come out and express her feelings against the harassment and intimidation of small businesses. The small businesses truly appreciate your support and your comments.

    Also thanks to Mayor Ruth Atkin and Vice Mayor Nora Davis who spoke against this type of activity.

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