Emeryville City Council convened on Tuesday, September 26th with two action items on the agenda.
The first was review and adoption of a proposed “Code of Ethics” for elected and appointed city officials and the second was the naming of the 2-acre park at The Emery development that is nearing completion.
The park-naming item was marred by some notable historic gaffes by appointed Emeryville Mayor John Bauters.
Code of Ethics & Conduct Adoption (Action Item 12.1)
The first action item was adoption of a Code of Ethics and Conduct for elected and appointed city officials as well as members of boards, committees and commissions.
City staff was directed to model their draft policy after the City of Barstow’s Ethics Code. Standards outlined in the policy would govern things like conflicts of interests, process, gifts and use of public resources.
Emeryville, despite its notorious history of corruption, lacks a process or an independent body to oversee and hold accountable the public behavior of elected officials. Neighboring Oakland has a public ethics commission, Berkeley has 32 boards and commissions but none that specifically oversees citizen complaints regarding public officials.
Small cities like Emeryville, where power is typically concentrated among a handful of people and receives sparse regional news scrutiny, have proven more susceptible to corruption and Emeryville has seen its share throughout its 127 years.
Councilmember Kalimah Priforce took exception to draft language in the resolution that he felt placed too much of the power with whomever the Mayor was at the time of the complaint pointing out his observations of outsized influence by the current mayor. “One of the reasons I’ve been pushing for a code of ethics because I have seen time and time again that where that is false,” referring to the notion that the designated mayor had equal influence as the other councilmembers.
“One of the reasons I’ve been pushing for a code of ethics because I have seen time and time again that where that is false,”Councilmember Kalimah Priforce
Things got a bit testy at one point as an online beef between Priforce and BPAC member Samuel Gould manifested itself in chambers. Gould spoke out during public comment about his personal experience saying he was called a “troll” in online exchanges with Priforce and experienced what he called personal intimidation. Priforce fired back that Gould’s online behavior was “bullying” and it was within his right to fight back. Priforce later cited his experience prior to being elected and the pressure he received from sitting councilmembers to sign a so-called “collegiality” agreement.
Sanctions for violating this policy could include stripping councilmembers of titles or committee chair positions as well as committee, board and commision members of their appointments. Councilmember complaints against fellow councilmembers would need a majority of support (three councilmembers) in order to agendize the item for discussion at a future meeting. Only Councilmembers could bring forth complaints against members of city boards, committees and commissions.
Ultimately, the council opted to shield themselves from scrutiny by omitting citizens and others from the ability to bring forth complaints against them and allyship among them will continue to pose a barrier to true accountability. Councilmembers can only be removed via recall initiatives which is there is no recent record of having happened in Emeryville.
“I could see this city weaponizing this code of conduct to quash free speech rights,” noted a member of the public that spoke out against the way the resolution was written. The speaker also questioned the reduction in public comment time allotted to two minutes for less contentious items when there are very few speakers (public comment time were recently allotted three minutes).
The item was unanimously passed with a small amendment removing the reference to “the Mayor” being the primary point of contact for complaints.
Watch the video segment above at [1:14:45]
Emery Park Naming (Action Item 12.2)
The second action item was voting on the naming of the new park attached to “The Emery” (Sherwin-Williams) development. The fences surrounding construction of the park are expected to come down any day now giving the public access to 2-acres of open space and the connecting paths.
The city solicited ideas for the park’s naming from the public through an online form allowing for a brief description. Guidelines for naming the park included:
- A name that helps identify the location of the park by reference to distinct geographic, environmental or development features in the immediate area.
- A name referencing the history of the area or subject site.
- A name honoring a person or family who made a distinct, significant contribution to the well-being of the city.
An ad-hoc committee was assembled to mull over the submissions and make a recommendation to council.
Favorites expressed online included “Joel’s Park” named after popular neighbor Joel Devin who passed away in 2019 and Jess “Longshot” Conley a charismatic Black Jockey that raced horses with long-odds to victory at the nearby Trotting Park horserace track.
The Emeryville Historical Society attempted to provide some historical context to the space which was Trotting Park from 1871 – 1915 and the Sherwin-Williams Paint Factory from 1920-2006.
Over 90 submissions were made with 20 variations of “Joel’s Park” leading the way. There were 16 submissions referencing it’s use as the Sherwin-Williams Paint Factory and a handful of others honoring local dignitaries, the nearby railroad tracks and the early Ohlone inhabitants.
These were whittled down and manipulated by this subcommittee into five recommendations including uninspiring names like “Emery Green,” “Paintbrush Park,” “Railroad Park” & “Hokan Hubbard Park” 🤷🏻♂️.
Over 90 public submissions for naming the new 2-acre park at the former Sherwin-Williams site (now “The Emery”).— The E’ville Eye News (@TheEvilleEye) September 16, 2023
Lotsa support for Joel’s Park (after deceased neighbor Joel Devin), variants of Sherwin-Williams, current and former leaders and a few “outliers.”
An ad hoc… pic.twitter.com/7RDqsC0p0e
Council Weighs In
Mayor Bauters was the first to weigh in on the naming of the park following a brief presentation by staff and public comment.
Bauters took the opportunity to influence his fellow councilmembers on his preferred name by diminishing city founder Joseph Emery’s accomplishments down to a single, obscure footnote in his career and another blatantly inaccurate attempt at explaining the area’s history.
“We hold up Joseph Emery. Joseph Emery ran a quarry on Yerba Buena Island, and he built prisons. That’s what Joseph Emery did.”Emeryville Mayor John Bauters
“He built prisons” – Bauters’ Denigrates Emeryville Founder
“We hold up Joseph Emery,” Bauters further explained. “Joseph Emery ran a quarry on Yerba Buena Island, and he built prisons. That’s what Joseph Emery did.”
Emery of course was a well respected pioneer in the Bay Area who earned his fortune as an expert stone-cutting contractor providing building materials for the still-standing SF Mint Building, Parrot Building and the first dry dock at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard.
He operated several stone quarries including Yerba Buena Island (nicknamed “Goat Island” at the time), Angel Island and another in British Columbia.
He also supervised the dredging of the Oakland Estuary that enabled ferry lines to SF and eventually led to Oakland becoming the terminus of the transcontinental railroad. He was active in transportation infrastructure establishing a horse-drawn streetcar service from Emeryville to Broadway in Oakland and was president of the California & Nevada Railroad company.
He also helped found the Mountain View Cemetery (where he is buried) among many other notable accomplishments. Emery died in 1909 at the age of 88. His estate along San Pablo Avenue and 43rd was razed in 1946. There are no historic markers indicating the significance of the location within the city.
Yes, when Emery first arrived in California from his native New Hampshire in 1850 at the age of 30 he supervised the building of the Old Broadway Jail in San Francisco. Although his involvement with the quarry on Yerba Buena was a year later and not while supervising its building as Bauters erroneously noted (Source: San Francisco – Its builders past and present).
Many of San Francisco’s early structures were built of timber and susceptible to devastating fires. Emery was among early builders that helped create more substantial structures with stone materials including this jail. The project is considered a small footnote in his long career of building and no respectful historian would define him as a “prison builder.”
A plaque sits near the site of the original structure that was damaged in 1906 earthquake. Nearby Emery Lane is named in his honor.
Following this six-month assignment, Emery departed for the mines in Butte County. He returned to SF the following year to help rebuild the city after another devastating fire.
Bauters also failed to provide any context for the Gold Rush era, Wild West circumstances that the jail was built.
Emery recounted 489 killings in the area 1855 alone in this 1901 interview with him and his brother Matthew. Emery helped establish the SF Committee of Vigilance that helped wrestle the city away from mob and gang-rule and restore law & order in San Francisco.
Bauters’ implication seams to be that the West could have been settled with noncarceral means if only politicians like him were in power.
Bauters attempted to clean things up when we reached out to him by noting that there was less of a distinction between “prisons” and “jails” at the time and that “Prisons” (plural) could be used interchangeably with the individual cells. Today, jails are considered short-term and municipally-run containment facilities while prisons are considered long-term and state or federally run for more dangerous criminals with longer sentences.
It’s been an impulse by progressive politicians and activists to apply so-called “purity tests” to leaders and founders from generations ago. In 2021, The SF Board of Education pushed to remove Dianne Feinstein’s name from an SF public school. Names like Berkeley, Fremont, Stanford, Jack London and John Muir have all been posthumously scrutinized for their views on race, part in Indian genocide and other cultural insensitivities. Emery is not historically tied to any of these atrocities although he was wealthy and clearly a capitalist.
In 2021, The E’ville Eye published an ironic April Fools piece describing how council threatened to remove Emeryville’s first Mayor Wallace Christie’s and others names from streets within town. This story now seems less far fetched.
Those interested in the life of Joseph Emery can read this historical essay by historian Richard Ambro on EmeryvilleHistorical.org.
Second Shellmound Gaffe
A second historic gaffe was made by Bauters when he attempted to dissuade his fellow councilmembers from referencing Sherwin-Williams in the park’s naming.
“In 1924, the Sherwin-Williams Company came and they purchased this huge ten and a half acre piece of land for this emulsion paint factory,” Bauters noted referencing this 2018 KQED Bay Curious Podcast. “It was situated between where Bay Street is and the Sherwin-Williams property and there is a photo of the Sherwin-Williams Company demolishing the shellmound.”
The “photo” John references correctly indicated that the Shellmound was leveled for a “paint factory” but it was not for Sherwin-Williams. The C.K. Williams Company built the first plant on the site in 1928.
When Prohibition was instituted in 1920, Shellmound park became unprofitable and the park was razed in 1924. The estate of James Mee, owners of Shellmound Park and the land around it, opted to raise the shellmound and partition the land for industrial use.
The Sherwin-Williams plant was in fact built 8 years earlier on the eastern side of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. That said, industry at the Sherwin-Williams plant did in fact pollute the land requiring extensive remediation by the DTSC.
The Emeryville shellmound was located just west of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks and just north of Temescal Creek. This would place it in the northern part of what is now the Bay Street Shopping Center.
The below 1917 Sanborn fire insurance Map shows the location of the Shell Mound that had been mutilated for a dance pavilion at Shell Mound Park.
The shellmound was first excavated by German archaeologist Max Uhle in 1902 and then later in 1925 by archaeologist W. Egbert Schenck.
A Hearst funded initiative recovered thousands of artifacts and over 700 human remains that are currently stored at the U.C. Berkeley Anthropology Department.
C.K. Williams was acquired by Pfizer in 1962 and the plant continued until about 1986.
In the 1990s, the plant was demolished and the land was remediated of the toxic impacts from decades of industry. The city commissioned another excavation of the site in 1999 prior to Bay Street being built.
Madison Marquette received approval for its mixed-use development in 2000 and opened The Bay Street Shopping Center in 2002.
As a concession, Madison Marquette added a replication of a Shellmound as well as an Ohlone Memorial walkway. These attempts at atonement have been derided by many Ohlone descendants. The Villages of Lisjan website acknowledges the sites as sacred burial sites and discourages those sympathetic with their plight from shopping at the mall and hold an annual “Black Friday” protest.
Huchiun Park Chosen
Council ultimately settled on “Huchiun Park,” one of the 5 recommended names. “Huchiun” is the native word for the land used by the native Muwekma Ohlone people.
The city has not specified which Ohlone organization they would be consulting to “accept” the park’s naming. The most visible and outspoken organization within Emeryville has been the Sogorea T´Land Trust led by activist Corrina Gould who regularly organizes the annual Bay Street Black Friday protests.
“Neither [Corrina Gould] or tribe Villages of Lisjan Nation were contacted about the park naming,” according to spokesperson Inés Ixierda as of October 5th.
Surprisingly, the Muwekma Ohlone are not a federally recognized tribe. New DNA evidence is said to have been found that could bolster their case to be reinstated and the benefits that come with it including reclaiming artifacts and reestablishing tribal lands.
The city will be hosting this year’s Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 28. Ironically, despite the city shunning its seedy history in the park’s naming, the event will include a “Rottenest City” Dog contest.
Joel Devin will instead be honored with a bench at the park.
In addition to the open space, the park will include a kids play area, basketball half court, community garden and numerous public art pieces.
Bauters stands to benefit materially from the opening of the park as his condominium is directly across from it. Instead of his unit being cast in shade by a 75 foot housing structure, it will open up to the 2-acre park with a view of the stunning South Bayfront bridge.
The initial location of the park was proposed to be directly across from the Blue Star Corner condominiums but it was recommended to be moved adjacent to the tracks by neighbors to avert shadows and interact with the adjacent railroad.
Bauters was a Planning Commissioner and eventually council candidate who had to recuse himself from voting on the project.
Watch the video segment above at [1:53:42]
Read the full staff reports and agenda on Emeryville.org.