Ken Bukowski, who we profiled last June as a longtime councilmember during Emeryville’s redevelopment-fueled “Boomtown Era,” is at it again. Ken emerged as the only challenger to the current Donahue/Martinez slate of incumbents vying for their expiring city council seats.
Ken distinguishes his policy stances from the incumbents by eschewing “progressive” ideology in favor of economic principles. He makes no apologies for calling out our current council’s “unfriendly business attitude” throughout his questionnaire. Ken has a lot to overcome if he’s to overtake the incumbents as he is out-funded, out-endorsed and has faced a flurry of negative press by the greater East Bay local media.
Ken is concurrently running for Emery School Board although did not participate in that questionnaire.
KEN BUKOWSKI – CHALLENGER QUESTIONS
1). You identify as a Democrat but where on the political or ideological spectrum would you place your social and fiscal principles? (i.e. Democratic Socialist, Neoliberal, Centrist, etc.)
Independent. This is especially important in local elections. Everything I do is what’s best for Emeryville.
2). Since 2014, per capita crime has increased dramatically, housing affordability is down, the homelessness encampments bookending our northern & southern borders have reached humanitarian crisis levels leading one longtime resident to declare “this is the worst it’s ever been”. What metrics do you use to evaluate if Emeryville is going in the “right” or “wrong” direction and if reelected, how will you assess this at the end of your four-year term?
Economics plays the biggest role. It determines the staffing level for public safety. I am opposed to the current unfriendly business attitude of the current city council. And while I support an increased minimum wage, Emeryville should not have the highest minimum wage in the US. The city has always provided an economic incentive to attract and maintain businesses. They pay almost all of the taxes. My opponents say economic development is a high priority but their practice shows the opposite. No one on the council has enough experience to understand the implications of what they’re doing. .
3). Although you last served as an elected official in 2011, you’ve remained being active in local and regional government. What have you learned as an observer of these institutions that you could apply and think would benefit our city?
I attend and record regional meetings of the Metropolitan Transportation commission (MTC) Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)and Alameda County Transportation Commission. (ACTC). Two years ago I made it possible for the city to receive funding for the Emery Go-Round from the County transportation sales tax. For many years Emeryville never got its fair share of the revenue. On the last meeting when they were adopting the final expenditure plan, I hired an attorney and threatened to have a competing local sales tax measure. It forced them to change their plan. The city could have received a million dollars each year. The city refused to agree it is a public bus service. They would rather collect all the money from private property owners. The city did get $500,000 as a result and potentially more in the future. The ACTC did agree to pay for parking meters, not something I agree with. You should watch this short video to see how it was accomplished. At the regional level they are aggressively pursuing more housing and growth with a whole series of new taxes and fees.
HOUSING & DEVELOPMENT
4). Prop 10 (Costa Hawkins repeal/Rent Control expansion) is both supported and opposed by many prominent democratic leaning organizations and leaders. If it passes, what do you foresee the pros and cons will be for a small city like Emeryville with a high percentage of multifamily units and renters and what is your personal stance?
The city only needs rent control for the larger apartment complexes, but not for owners with less than 4 units. If prop 10 passes, it becomes a local decision. If no rent control is enacted, the city won’t have a stable population.
5). Would you consider yourself a NIMBY or YIMBY? If the latter, what can be done locally to expedite projects like the Sherwin-Williams (500 units) and Nady Sites (186 units) that have languished under a lengthy approval process and burdensome regulations.
As stated earlier this city council is not business friendly and any project or business needing city approval for anything will pay a dear price. We will all feel the pain of these policies especially when they drive away enough of the tax base and public safety services have to suffer.
6). California SB 827, which failed in committee, would have removed some local control from housing projects to streamline the approval process. While Emeryville is not among the “bad actors” of Bay Area cities that are not building their share of our regional housing needs, would you be supportive of relinquishing some local controls to expedite housing and help combat a regional housing crisis?
I have to disagree with your synopsis. Emeryville as to whether or not the city is considered to be a “bad actor” The existing jobs-housing imbalance and the fact the city does not have enough below market rate housing makes the city a bad player.
7). The twice blazed 3800 San Pablo project will be rebuilt with modular units assembled in Vallejo. This type of building can expedite and lower construction costs which are currently the second highest in the world and prohibitive for some projects. Some Labor groups have opposed this type of building as it could push high-paying union jobs to remote parts of the state and beyond. In midst an epic housing crisis, would you support or oppose a housing project that utilized labor from outside the greater Bay Area if it meant making significant strides in our massive housing deficit?
It should not be up to the city to decide any aspect of the labor issue. Will the project meet the current city general plan, zoning, and building codes. The labor for any project is decided by the developer and not the city council. The housing deficit can’t be fixed because this region is adding five times more jobs than housing units. It’s almost a deliberate effort to force the poor people out of the region.
The housing deficit can’t be fixed because this region is adding five times more jobs than housing units. It’s almost a deliberate effort to force the poor people out of the region.
PUBLIC SAFETY & QUALITY OF LIFE
8). It’s difficult to walk a square block in Emeryville without coming across a pile of broken window glass from an auto burglary. Drug paraphernalia strewn about on sidewalks is becoming an increasing problem in some neighborhoods. If elected, what will you do to address these “quality of life” issues?
As stated earlier the quality of life is controlled by economics and the anti-business attitude of the current council is going to drive away the city tax base and the city will be unable to effectively address these important issues.
9). Prop 47, which reduced thresholds and penalties for “nonviolent” crimes like auto burglaries and shoplifting, has been linked to an increase in these property crimes by the nonpartisan PPIC and many law enforcement professionals. However, you utilized our delegate to oppose reforms to this law proposed by Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) to address issues like organized retail theft that we’ve experienced at the Bay Street Apple Store. If elected, what would you do to address the increase in property crimes?
I don’t agree that all non-violent crimes should be handled the same way. Drug crimes are a public heath issue. Auto-break-in and theft of property should have a harsher penalty. As stated before, if the city doesn’t collect enough taxes. The city could create a volunteer task force to help the police.
10). Two of the biggest impacts on our city’s public safety are our large daytime population and sharing a somewhat wonky border with a underpoliced Oakland. Do you feel the EPD has the support and staff levels they need to combat crime and protect Emeryville residents and businesses? If not, how would you change this?
Please refer to my previous responses.
11). The “Big 11” (Mayors of CA’s largest cities that includes Oakland) lobbied for $500 million from the state budget to help aid homelessness. Which initiatives do you think will make the biggest impact on this crisis (e.g. expanding conservatorship, “sanctioned” camps, shelters/supportive housing projects, prevention assistance …).
They are not addressing the high cost of public transit as a key factor. Providing any form of housing in ineffective, if you can’t afford to travel. At the regional level, I continue to push for reduced cost or free public transit. In New York, they use bridge toll money to make transit affordable. In this region no money from bridge tolls or express lanes is used to make public transit affordable. I believe the homeless population could be substantially reduced if public transit was free or affordable. It would improve the economy and provide more equal opportunity for everyone, and it would reduce traffic congestion. In Emeryville, we created the Emery Go-Round, and property owners support it because they see the benefit. The same could be true at the regional level.
12). Many school-age parents we’ve communicated with have expressed their desire to leave Emeryville. The reasons are typically housing, school performance and diminishing public safety/quality of life issues. What would you tell a parent that is considering leaving Emeryville for these reasons?
The quality of the schools must be improved and again without resources to address the issue, it’s a problem. This school district has another problem. Having a district with only one school is an economic problem. One school district can handle numerous schools where the administrative costs of running a district are shared by all the schools in the district. This means the administrative costs for the Emery School takes away money necessary for teachers, projects and programs. The city learned that lesson with the fire dept. by consolidating with Alameda County Fore Department the city saved lots of money and has better fire protection. There are three school facilities for the Emery School district. All three of these facilities once thrived because of on-going contributions for the former large industrial businesses which used to exist in the city. One of the three school sites should become a housing project with affordable housing for teachers. There is a new state program to provide affordable housing for teachers. The school district should use the property at 61st and Doyle to build affordable teacher housing and also include in that project other facilities for learning which could potentially provide additional money to help the school. This is a real opportunity for the district to consider. I have seen the school district go bankrupt twice. The second time the city bailed out the district and created the ECCL as a shared facility to help the district survive. However, the ECCL facility was scaled down when the district didn’t have the capacity to sell a $95 million bond. Most of the revenue producing aspects of that project were eliminated. There is still $30 million of already authorized bond funds which could potentially be used to develop affordable teacher housing. These options should be fully explored. The district should find out if the students in Emeryville are getting less than what is available in surrounding communities. Reestablishing a friendly relation with the business community could help but that would be hard considering the city’s unfriendly business attitude.
13). The space of the proposed Halleck-Beach dog park project has seen a double-shooting/homicide, an encampment fire, and the area is strewn with hypodermic needles and rodents. Do you support a dog park being built there? If not, what are your ideas for making this space safer for families and providing better thoroughfare for neighbors that traverse our city on foot and bike?
Even though it appears the area would be a great place for a dog park, we discovered the multi-jurisdictional aspect of the location makes a dog park unfeasible. The police no longer tolerate homeless people under the bridge. The area has been cleaned up considerably. The police no longer tolerate Homeless people under the bridge. The city should highlight that as an entrance to Target and other stores in the area as a better way to get across 40th Street. The city could specifically define that area and solicit requests for proposals of how that space could be used to potentially earn money to provide some type of recreational opportunity. Maybe outdoor ping-pong and etc. There has not been enough creative thinking to explore the best potential use of the area, maybe an outdoor eating environment
14). Is celebrating our city’s unique history that ties generations of residents together important to you and if so, what will you do to support this?
For many years I have proposed to organize Emeryville citizens and business people. the effort was sabotaged, however it could still happen. We have a great opportunity with the city’s recent decision to be a charter city. The Emeryville community is small enough to come together where we could all benefit. In 1986 I created the Emeryville chamber of commerce and I saw how bring residents and business people together was a great exercise. If the focus of city hall was to benefit the whole community we could see real reductions on the cost of utilities. By creating an Emeryville only membership group we could save money on products and services common to all of us. We could create a network where local employers could have access to local residents to hire. If we got to know each other better we would have a safer place to live and work.
15). In 2015, Emeryville implemented its Highest in the Nation Minimum Wage Ordinance arguing that it would reduce government assistance and enable those who work in service and retail sectors to also be able to afford to live in our city. From conversations you’ve had with businesses, how is this panning out and do you believe this is the most effective way to lower poverty rates?
The city can add more affordable housing. The minimum wage ordinance mostly applies to people who do not live in Emeryville but live elsewhere. Considering the high cost of housing the increase in minimum wage does very little to offset that cost. However the high minimum wage forces an Emeryville employer to adjust the wages for all its employees, and makes it more expensive to conduct business in Emeryville. Whatever this small city does will have little impact on poverty rates.
I have already talked about the unfriendly business climate. I would seek to restore the chamber of commerce except this time not allow the city manager to control it. I would create a local ordinance for voter approval which would reduce the minimum wage to one dollar less than either Oakland or Berkeley. The ordinance require voter approval for any changes to wages and benefits for employees working in Emeryville. The unions would be forced to convince Emeryville residents to approve such increases. It is the only way to restore some level of confidence for investors. Businesses would no longer have to worry that 3 members of the council could impose any arbitrary increase in wages they would have to comply with .
16). Restaurants have had the hardest time adapting to our MWO and are utilizing service charges, switching to counter service models to reduce staff, implementing large price hikes and turning to automation wherever they can. We’ve lost Farley’s, Commonwealth and Navi Kitchen among many others and none of the eating establishments that have left Bay Street since the MWO was implemented have been replaced by new tenants. How will you support and encourage businesses, especially those affected by the MWO, to open shop in Emeryville?
This was already answered but also I would seek to create affordable retail condominiums where a small merchant could enjoy low overhead. The city investment allows the community to pick the retail stores. What a departure from the standard stores in every other community. A small merchant would welcome the opportunity The city subsidy allows the merchant to pay higher wages and charge less for goods and services. The city manager didn’t want any interference with the deals he was making with developers We would out a deed restriction the unit could not be used as collateral for debt, if they fail the unencumbered unit could be offered to another prospective merchant..
17). Every time you read the news, another local institution is shutting down it seems. Brennan’s, Spenger’s, Mexicali Rose, Brown Sugar Kitchen. Emeryville has lost Bucci’s & Scend’s. The Townhouse has expressed they may have to leave and Trader Vic’s has endured a long battle with neighbors. While some of these are retirement decisions and the consequence of shifting demographics, what can our city do to preserve our neighborhood establishments and protect our city’s character?
Please refer to my previous responses.
FISCAL & BUDGET
18). Despite a robust Bay Area economy, our city endured a significant budget crisis last year that involved difficult decisions on service cuts, layoffs and an increases . How will you help Emeryville avoid such a crisis in the future?
Please refer to my previous responses.
19). Underfunded Pension liabilities, decreasing sales tax revenues, housing and tech bubbles … do you feel our city is prepared for the next economic downturn? What revenues do you think will replace forecasted sales tax and other revenue declines (cannabis tax, raising business taxes, other emerging industries …)?
The City’s unfunded Pension Liabilities is a sleeping time bomb which will eventually bankrupt cities and counties across the State. During the term of employment money is provided for retirement. When the employee is no longer working that obligation is supposed to end. Government agency employers contribute retirement benefits. into the California Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). The employees have a “Defined Benefit Plan” and are guaranteed to receive those benefits. Upon retirement PERS is responsible to pay those benefits. However, under State Law if PERS does not have enough funds to pay the benefits the former government agency employer s responsible. The local government agencies have no control over investments made by PERS but are forced to be financially responsible when they don’t have enough money. The situation has already reached the point where a growing portion of every city budget is being used to pay retirement benefits for past employees. Each year PERS will dictate the amount of money to be paid to PERS. Since the retirees also receive medical benefits those costs are skyrocketing. The amount paid for these unfunded liabilities will be an ever-growing part of every city budget.
20). Are there any local measures on the ballot that you feel will adversely impact our city that you want to express support or opposition for?
- Yes on Prop 10
- No on the local cannabis tax (Measure S)