Emeryville City Council explores moratorium on residential developments, elimination of committees

Published On February 6, 2015 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

The Tuesday Emeryville City Council meeting that began with a special study session ran nearly five hours and nearly to midnight as the City discussed the Christie Avenue redevelopment project, the formulation of a homeless strategy and the possible consolidation and/or elimination of several committees. Councilwoman Jac Asher stunned the other four Councilmembers, staff and all 10 in attendance 😉 by proposing a 45-day “Moratorium” on development to rethink and redefine what the city expects from development projects for the community.

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Asher cited resident frustration with the rapid pace of increasingly unaffordable, all-rental apartment buildings in town. “The folks in Emeryville that we’ve seen in chambers, they want us to do better and we need to get the tools in place in order to have better development going forward and that’s going to take a little bit of staff time and require us to hit the pause button right now.”

Nearly a year ago we wrote “The 800-pound Gorilla in the City is Housing” article exposing the fact that every development in progress in our city was slated for 100% rental with little to no tenant protections and linked to our overall lack of civic engagement and pride. The city is now looking to “pump the brakes” on development and clarify how the city can encourage ownership and redefine our density bonus system. The tipping point here may have been with the Equity Residential Parc on Powell project when the astronomical rents were exposed that few existing residents could afford and hardly fit the idea of “Family Friendly” housing. Prices ranging from $2,700/mo. for a 734 sq. ft. one-bedroom to nearly $4,000/mo. for a one bedroom 1166 sq. ft. live/work studio. Meanwhile stories continue to emerge of tenants being evicted presumably so property owners can capitalize on the increasingly hot East Bay real estate market.

If enacted, it would put a 45 “hold” on all pending Residential Housing Projects that would include the Sherwin Williams Development, The Nady Site, Public Market Development, and possibly both the 3900 Adeline & Rick Holliday’s “The Intersection” (formerly MAZ) project among others. The city-subsidized affordable development planned at 3706 San Pablo would apparently be exempt.

“Every time we talk, and we start talking about affordability, the same themes come up that what people in Emeryville want is they’re looking for a different unit mix in their developments.” noted Asher. “They’re looking for more family-friendliness, that they want more affordable ownership opportunities in town. As we realizing with the Sherwin-Williams study session the density bonuses we’re offering seem a bit dated.”

Give Asher credit for bravely stepping up and addressing an important issue that is arguably overdue. Councilmember Donahue spoke up in support of this as did Mayor Ruth Atkin noting “We’re seeing these large projects are not meet community needs.” Affordable housing advocate and former city council candidate John Bauters was called to the podium by Councilmember Nora Davis to provide his insight: “I think we actually have a housing crisis on our hands to be honest with you.” “There’s going to be a need in the future with the type of housing stock we’ve developed in the last twenty years to think proactively about tenant laws and protections that will meet needs that are going to come down the line.”

Council voted unanimously to have staff draft the city-wide residential development moratorium that would pause development for 45 days with provisions for extensions. City Attorney Michael Biddle explained that after the 45-day moratorium, two additional extension of up to year each could be granted if the findings were appropriate and certain criteria were met. Council will review and vote on the proposed moratorium at a special meeting to be convened on Friday February 13th at 5 p.m. A 4/5 majority would be required to pass and it was unclear if Councilmember Donahue would need to recuse himself because of his proximity to the Sherwin Development. “This is our last chance to get it right” noted resident Ruth Major at public comment.

About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

4 Responses to Emeryville City Council explores moratorium on residential developments, elimination of committees

  1. Phil Epstein says:

    How much power does the Council have to alter existing development agreements? I mean, is it even possible for them to force an all-rental development to have units for sale also (e.g.)?

    • Rob says:

      I wish I knew Phil. I assume they wouldn’t pursue the moratorium if they couldn’t actually do anything about it. We’ll know more Friday I guess.

  2. GBR says:

    If residential housing is currently “unaffordable,” imposing a development moratorium is the surest way to make it even more expensive. Further, current rents are not unaffordable for our new neighbors willing to pay them. If rents were in fact unaffordable, vacancy rates would rise and landlords would presumably elect to decrease their ask price to affordable levels. The best way to decrease asking rents is to increase the quantity of units on the market.

    • Rob says:

      I see your point about the correlation between density and affordability. Family friendly and density (and thus affordability) are then at odds, correct?

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