Emeryville Special Election Candidate Questionnaire: Christie Core Resident Courtney Welch
Mail-In ballots for the November 2 Emeryville Special Election are on their way. Emeryville voters will be asked to choose between two relative newcomers to Emeryville politics Courtney Welch and Charlotte Danielsson-Chang. Either will be the first councilmember to live in “Western” Emeryville (area west of the railroad tracks) since Nora Davis retired from politics in 2016.
Welch will be listed first on the ballot (pursuant to the Secretary of State’s randomized alphabet drawing conducted on Aug. 12) and Danielsson-Chang second.
We’ve provided 20 questions to the two candidates covering a broad range of topics relevant to Emeryville. They have both obliged us by providing their responses that we hope will help voters make your decision.
The City of Emeryville will host a drive-through Voters’ Ballot Drop Stop IFO City Hall every Thursday & Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the month of October. Voters will be able to drive by to deposit their Vote By Mail ballots in the trolley without needing to park and exit their vehicles.
Introduction & Priorities
1). First off, how long have you lived in Emeryville, what neighborhood do you live in and what led you to choose Emeryville as “home”?
I moved to the Christie Core neighborhood in Emeryville with my two sons earlier this year after spending two years on the waiting list for a below market rate (BMR) unit. I’m a native of Oakland and have lived in the East Bay for most of my life. I chose to move my family to Emeryville because of the community, the accessibility of parks and open space as well as availability of truly affordable housing. I love this community and I’m excited at the possibility of working with the community to make Emeryville even better.
2). Tell us what you do professionally and how this could apply to helping govern a city like Emeryville.
I am the current policy and communications director for the Bay Area Community Land Trust. The current Emeryville City Council does an incredible job of creating housing in our city and we could increase affordable housing opportunities by using alternative models like Community Land Trusts. Previously, I was the Homelessness Continuum of Care Specialist for Alameda County and I know how to effectively increase Emeryville’s participation in the CoC to build out partnerships for permanent housing opportunities to those experiencing homelessness in our city.
3). Bullet-point for us what you see as the city’s Top-5 priorities.
- Maintaining a financially solvent city
- Effectively addressing homelessness
- Increasing affordable housing & alternative housing models
- Bridging the gap between law enforcement & our communities and effectively addressing the uptick in property crime
- Promoting active governance of public transit
4). What perspectives can you bring to council that you think are currently lacking from Emeryville’s leadership core?
I bring the perspective of affordable housing tenants, Black residents, and those who have experienced displacement from the area.
5). The Bay Street Shopping Center was on the decline prior to the pandemic due to a multitude of reasons and is in desperate need of revitalization if it is to remain a resident amenity and vital part of Emeryville’s economic base. Do you support the new owners’ current plans for a grocery store that includes reopening a segment of Bay Street to vehicles, adding parking and moving the existing plaza?
Attracting and retaining businesses is important to maintain our economic base. Right now, the lack of accessibility to grocery stores is a huge issue, not just in Emeryville but around the Bay Area. This issue needs to be examined more closely to see what the impacts would be on the neighbors who live near Bay Street as well as the business community.
6). Supporting Emeryville’s small businesses (specifically independent food service and retail businesses) has been a low priority for Emeryville’s current leadership. Is this a priority for you and how can we change this?
Throughout the course of my campaign, I have spoken with many small business owners who have shared their challenges and experiences with me. This perspective is important and I plan to work closely with the small business community to make Emeryville a place where they will thrive. I understand the barriers that make it difficult for our small businesses.
Homelessness & Public Safety
7). Because of our regional failures to address our homelessness crisis through housing, the conversation seems to have shifted to encampment “management,” safe RV spaces and even “zoning” encampments. What policies do you support that will address the desire for compassion for the unhoused and the impact these encampments have on the quality of life of Emeryville residents?
We need to continue to work with neighboring cities and community-based organizations to craft comprehensive plans to prevent homelessness and quickly re-house individuals already experiencing homelessness to permanent housing. RV’s are not permanent housing and shouldn’t be leaned on as an extended solution. Many of the same issues in encampments take place in RV spaces and I would like to see energy and funding put towards developing stable transitional housing and permanent supportive housing.
8). For members of our unhoused community that deem services offered to be personally inadequate, should they be allowed to “camp” on public property despite a lack of sanitation, refuse, etc.?
Public health should be the #1 priority when addressing homelessness and our unhoused neighbors. I also don’t believe that there should be legal consequences to camping on public property. However, we cannot discuss homelessness without talking about access to alternative forms of housing, which includes deeply affordable for our unhoused neighbors to access. We have made great progress with our city’s below market rate housing program and should increase the level of deeply affordable housing to expand more opportunities for families and individuals with fixed incomes to live in our city. In addition to deeply affordable housing, incorporating more alternative housing models (such as accessory dwelling units, cooperatives, community land trusts, efficiency apartments) into our housing stock will provide more access to affordable housing for residents.
9). The latest Police reform efforts in Berkeley involves limiting traffic stops by officers purportedly because of racial disparities in enforcement. Would you support a similar policy in Emeryville despite the large number of handguns seized during these stops?
Racial disparities in enforcement are an ongoing issue that I’m especially concerned with. Any changes made to any practice needs to be reviewed within an equity framework. Emeryville Police have the overwhelming respect of our community and we want to maintain that trust by continuing the level of customer service the police provide to the city.
Resident Engagement, Communication & History
10). What do you glean from the 2020 Census Data in Emeryville and can you point to any policy prescriptions that might address any concerns you might have?
What I glean from this Census data is that our city is growing and becoming more racially diverse. Councilmembers and other elected officials in Emeryville should be reflecting that diversity. Emeryville leaders have been working hard to increase housing availability protect current residents from displacement and that is reflected in our population and diversity growth.
11). Trans-Rights Pioneer Steve Dain was recently honored with a street renaming. ECAP Founder Nellie Hannon’s name could one day adorn a supportive housing project. Are there any other political or historical figures that you’d like to see honored in Emeryville?
12). Despite it having the largest concentrated audience of verified Emeryville residents with over 3,500 members, Emeryville’s current crop of electeds have shunned sharing any information on the Nextdoor platform in favor of Twitter which is regarded as a big echo chamber and has relatively low Emeryville engagement. Will you share views and progress via this platform or others?
I am active on both platforms. Accessibility to the community is important to me and I anticipate remaining active on these sites.
Housing & Affordability
13). We’ve recently seen plans for two large housing developments (the 54 story Onni Tower and 5850 Shellmound Way) along with the 149 combined inclusionary affordable units withdrawn. Is it plausible to you that all the recent tenant & rent protections might ultimately discourage builders from building homes as the developer of the Shellmound Way project implied?
Not necessarily. During the course of the pandemic, many of our neighbors experienced a loss of income or loss of their jobs. Tenant and rent protections are in place to ensure that neighbors don’t lose their homes and will prevent homelessness, which is exactly what our community needs. While we are still in the midst of this pandemic, I support any and all efforts to keep our neighbors in their homes. That has to be a simultaneous priority in addition to continuing to add units to our housing stock.
14). Emeryville’s percentage of owner-occupied units is less than 35% and likely to drop significantly with every significant housing project slated for rental units. Does this concern you and if so, what can we do to incentivize developers to create more ownership units?
This does concern me, especially as the costs to purchase a home continue to increase. Homeownership should be an option for neighbors who want it. We can encourage development of ownership units by displaying the built in clientele that is looking to buy in Emeryville. Also, outside of developers, the city can use Measure C funds to purchase affordable ownership units at risk of being turned to market rate, adding to the supply of affordable homeownership options.
15). Powerful labor unions have been one of the biggest impediments to building affordable housing in our region, not necessarily “NIMBYism” by neighbors. Do you agree and if so, will you support housing projects that labor unions might organize to oppose?
In my experience working with labor unions, they want to build more housing. I believe that we should have strong Project Labor Agreements while building housing, as labor unions employ local residents and support diversity hiring of their workforce. Our city needs to continue to be an economic engine in our region, and that includes supporting our working families. I’m proud to have the support of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council and the Alameda County Central Labor Council because their members value my experience and my ability to be an effective leader, especially in housing.
16). 100% Affordable Housing projects are expensive, take a long time to build and can lead to segregation and concentrated poverty. Do you think pursuing these projects as we’re doing with the Measure C Housing Bond is the right approach or would we be better off using the $50M to incentivize and support inclusionary housing projects/BMR’s for the so-called “missing middle?”
The voters decided to pass Measure C with the expectation that it would be used to build 100% affordable housing projects. I support this. I’m also proud to be part of the “so-called missing middle” as a BMR renter myself. Expansion of different forms of affordable housing isn’t a zero sum game. We can explore all options with the bottom line of creating truly and deeply affordable housing in our city in the most feasible and equitable way.
17). California SB 9 & 10 were recently signed into law by Governor Newsom which removes some local zoning controls. What are your predictions for what the impacts will be on Emeryville and do you share any concerns that some of Emeryville’s older, historic homes will be demolished in favor of smaller apartment complexes and duplexes/fourplexes?
Emeryville has been up zoned for some time now. We do not have any single family zoning in the city limits. Our current council does an incredible job at ensuring that we build up in Emeryville, not out. Several homes in the previously single-family zoned neighborhoods have accessory dwelling units, multiple homes on one lot, or have been converted to multi-family housing which adds to the housing stock. I do not anticipate SB 9 & 10 to have a significant impact on our city simply because we’ve been able to create density housing without the need to demolish.
18). YIMBYism, which has grown in influence recently, points to supply-and-demand as the primary reason for our regions’ high rents and housing prices (not necessarily greed by landlords & Realtors) and that addressing this demand by rapidly increasing housing production will ultimately reduce prices for all including those of lower incomes. Do you align with YIMBY views and isn’t this fundamentally a free market/trickle-down/libertarian principle as it’s been described?
I reject the premise that “YIMBYism” is a trickle-down/libertatian principle. The organizations I am familiar with that identify as “YIMBY” based groups are not “free market”, they support building new housing at all income levels, fight displacement, support tenant protections, and support alternative housing models such as community land trusts. Simply put, we need to build housing because we have not kept up with demand at all income levels, however, this is not the silver bullet. Building new housing must occur alongside preservation of existing affordable housing, renter protections, and equitable homeownership opportunities.
19). Emeryville’s proximity to major job centers is one its greatest regional attributes. Do you have concerns about the longterm impacts a permanent shift to remote work might have on a city like Emeryville?
Our proximity to Oakland and San Francisco is a reason why some neighbors move to Emeryville, even as the shift to remote work continues to happen. I think that attracting and retaining our community members is a multi-pronged approach. We need to keep housing affordable and plentiful, we need to retain our business community, especially Bay Street businesses to keep Emeryville as a destination for shopping and dining and we need to ensure that we have adequate public transit accessibility. These are the reasons that residents should want to move and stay in Emeryville and these are all priority areas for me.
20). Parents overwhelmingly want good schools, single-family homes and safe streets. Do you believe Emeryville’s trajectory is compatible with what families want? If not, what should be done?
As a working parent, I believe that Emeryville is on that trajectory. I moved here because Emeryville’s practice of building denser housing allows for more housing to be built and more opportunities for affordable housing which is essential for families. As we build out more effective transit services, we become less dependent on cars, and less traffic means less pollution and possibility for accidents and safer streets for our kids. To continue on this path, I believe we need to keep developing new housing for all income levels, increase transit equity and services that effectively service residents and employees and design bike lanes that are safe and complete.
Learn more about Welch’s campaign at courtneyforemeryville.com.