Developers, Lawyers and a few Oakland resident “ringers” (mixed with a few Emeryville residents) turned out in droves to Emeryville City Hall on a Friday evening before a holiday weekend and on a Sabbath day for some. Most came to speak in opposition to the proposed housing moratorium ordinance that would put a 45-day hold on three major all-rental apartment developments. The Council would have to qualify that this “Urgency Interim Ordinance” met the criteria as an actual emergency to legally qualify and not be challenged.
The comic above circulated by SFBARF.org portrayed Emeryville as NIMBY’s. In reality, Emeryville has surpassed required housing allocation by ABAG (Associations of Bay Area Governments) and hardly can be described as “NIMBY’s”. Only 5% of our current housing stock are three-bedroom and above. SFBARF (SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation) identifies itself as an organization that “organize(s) renters to testify in favor of new building projects at neighborhood meetings and hearings” (nice acronym, btw).
Developers argued that they had met all the requirements and that their projects were too far down stream for the City to “change the rules” at this point and doing so was unfair and even irresponsible. They also pointed at that their developments would contribute largely to Emeryville’s affordable homebuyers program as they are required to contribute via a housing program impact fee. Other arguments included that 45 days would not be long enough to make a significant impact anyway.
Jac Asher, who initiated the ordinance discussion, lobbied hard for the votes of the other Councilmembers where a 4/5 majority would be needed to ratify it. “In the last 10 years, we’ve added an additional 56% to our housing stock in the city so the idea that we are ‘bad actors’ within the region simply isn’t true”. “Families with children are a protected class under the Fair-Housing Act. I don’t understand why we would want to build a city that excludes them.”. Asher went on to qualify the emergency nature of the ordinance by pointing out that nearly half of Emeryville households were “overpaying” for housing as of 2010, defined by paying more than half of their household income on housing.
As expected, Councilmembers Martinez and Donahue both aligned with Asher. Councilmember Davis chastised the timing of the meeting and the legal team that drafted it for what she called “probably one of the worst things I’ve ever looked at” and likened it to circus cotton candy cone for the way it was inflated & hollow. “I’m uncomfortable with the process here and if you begin badly, you’re probably going to end badly”.
Ultimately though, the decision rested on Mayor Ruth Atkin who has proved to be the “wild card” of the five. Atkin voted against it, citing “The reason is not for the goals that are stated, I just think this is the wrong way to go about doing this.” With that, the ordinance was defeated. The fast-track timing may have ultimately worked against the agenda as it was cited by many for stirring opposition to the ordinance. The battle was won by developers on this day but there’s hope that this may be a turning point in the war for affordable, for-sale, family-friendly housing in Emeryville. The message was sent that and the city’s policies would need to be revisited.