Emeryville Special Election Candidate Questionnaire: Watergate Resident Charlotte Danielsson-Chang
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”?
We’ve lived in Emeryville for just over 6 years at Watergate. We chose Emeryville as home because of how wonderful this city was to our son. While I’ve always worked in the Bay Area, we raised our kids in a suburb of Sacramento because the cost of buying a home here was out of reach for us. During his senior year of high school, our son came out as gay. It was a hard time for him losing friends he’d had since kindergarten, family, etc. When he started at UC Berkeley, we assumed everything would be better for him because it’s such a progressive school and city but that wasn’t the case at all. He had a homophobic roommate and struggled socially to find his place. As a very worried mama bear, I wanted to make sure he had a stable home where he felt safe and truly at home for the remaining 3 years of his time at UC Berkeley. I found Watergate for him and felt like I could finally exhale. He thrived in Emeryville because of the amazing accepting people here and the small-town atmosphere that just feels like home. Since we had found such an amazing place, clearly my husband and I had to move here too.
2). Tell us what you do professionally and how this could apply to helping govern a city like Emeryville.
I earned a Juris Doctorate from Stanford and I’ve been an attorney in the Bay Area for over 23 years so I can easily understand complex law and material from various angles and understand the overlap between local, regional, state, and national regulations and how to best position Emeryville to thrive. I also have a bachelors’ degree in Economics & Political Science from UC Berkeley, I’m a successful small business owner and I’ve worked with entrepreneurship and innovation for decades so I know how to help our small businesses grow, can energize entrepreneurship in our city, and can understand complex financial issues as well as economic trends to make our city financially resilient and strong.
3). Bullet-point for us what you see as the city’s Top-5 priorities.
- Increasing civic engagement: Emeryville hasn’t had a real election since 2016; the city is not effectively communicating with and reaching out to residents and fostering an environment of participation
- Increasing representation: Despite having a very progressive city council less than 15% of our city boards and commissions have BIPOC members even though 55% of our city is BIPOC. It’s not enough to just be progressive, I bring the skill set to actually increase BIPOC engagement on a broad level with over a decade of volunteer leadership in this area.
- Our city faces complex economic challenges that have been amplified by the pandemic: I’m not just a small business owner who was raised by small business owners, I’ve also been part of building technology and innovation ecosystems so much so that I’ve spoken on the topic to members of the California legislature and the European Commission. I was CEO of an international tech nonprofit headquartered in Silicon Valley for 5.5 years. I’ve also been running global startup competitions for Startup World Cup in the US and in Europe since 2018. I have both the skill and the connections to increase innovation and entrepreneurship in Emeryville.
- We are in the middle of a climate emergency: Through my international work, I have the knowledge and connections to cities that have already successfully implemented sustainability policies so Emeryville doesn’t need to keep wasting tax payer money trying to reinvent the wheel
- Homelessness crisis
4). What perspectives can you bring to council that you think are currently lacking from Emeryville’s leadership core?
I bring a business, entrepreneurship & innovation perspective; an understanding of how to build a broad range of collaborations–international collaborations, academic collaborations, public-private partnerships; a diverse immigrant perspective which is important because 30% of Emeryville’s population are immigrants from over 130 countries; an understanding of how to build successful sustainability solutions. Dr Robert Strand, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Business at UC Berkeley stated: “Having spent over a decade doing nonprofit work connecting the Nordics and California on issues of sustainability and innovation, I know Charlotte will bring a unique skillset and global perspective from which Emeryville will greatly benefit. The Nordic cities are leading the world on sustainability issues and we urgently need that insight here locally. Charlotte is an inspirational, collaborative and effective leader with a depth of innovative and practical knowledge regarding how to protect the community and ecosystems it depends on from the imminent threat of climate change. Her vast government, academic, corporate, and startup networks across the Nordics countries and California will be an amazing asset for Emeryville.”
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?
Yes, Bay Street has been in decline with more and more tenants leaving and this is a wonderful solution. The new plan will revitalize and modernize the center and bring in the foot traffic needed to support the retail and new dining establishments. The plan includes increasing security including in the current parking structure which has become a public safety issue for our city.
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?
Yes, increasing entrepreneurship and small business is a very high priority for me. I’ve been a small business owner for 23 years and my parents were small business owners throughout my childhood so I know personally that being a small business owner is a 24/7 all-in endeavor that consumes all aspects of your life and being able to feed your family is tied to how well your business does. My husband’s family have food service businesses and my family had a retail business. We can help these businesses by (1) marketing to increase their visibility through eat and shop local campaigns, highlighting their histories and importance to the community, (2) making sure our public transit plans and parking work to increase traffic to these businesses, (3) helping them to connect with resources that can help them, (4) designing to increase foot traffic where these business are, (5) making it easier for our small businesses to keep up with technology changes and predict upcoming shifts earlier through education events and networking events. It would be amazing if Emeryville could have an innovation center like many cities do to promote entrepreneurship and innovation (such as at ECCL) where we teach entrepreneurship, provide temporary startup space for new ventures, maker space, etc. so that we have a constant flow of new businesses starting and growing in our city.
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 cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”—Albert Einstein
These are equivalent to putting contaminated band-aids on a gushing wound to make ourselves feel like we have control of the situation. We have lots of commissions but nothing for homelessness, behavioral health (mental health and addiction), the overlap of the two and studying where the gaps in the systems specifically are (ie which are city, county, state issues) for which levels/stages of homelessness so we can come up with a true matrix of solutions that will work together to fix the situation in Emeryville. We are a small nimble city full of really intelligent, innovative and compassionate people and we need to tap into that instead of just accepting failure and managing it.
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.?
This is obviously a complex issue so it’s impossible to address in a few sentences but no the answer is not that. The conditions are inhumane for the unhoused. We need to do better and we need to do it faster.
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?
I would not. We aren’t Berkeley. Our police department is run by a proud black man who is making sure his officers are receiving training in unconscious bias, de-escalation procedures, etc. If any racial disparities in enforcement were to occur, I’m confident he would address and correct the situation immediately. The police department already practices community policing. In speaking with Chief Jennings, he seems open to new ideas and suggestions; transparency, communication and collaboration are the keys here not city mandates.
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?
We maintained our racial diversity which implies that gentrification is not leading to the level of displacement sometimes suggested. In terms of population growth, we significantly outpaced the Bay Area as a whole with Emeryville growing 28% while the Bay Area grew by only 8.3%. The disparity indicates that it would be prudent for us to evaluate our growth going forward to make sure our city’s livability doesn’t suffer as a result of the growth and that our city infrastructure is keeping pace with the growth that has happened and is planned going forward.
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?
I would like some of the early Chinese contributors to Emeryville’s history from the 1800s to be honored because that history is invisible here (at most, we hear about the early Chinese in a negative way as part of the rotten city’s gambling history).
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?
Effective communication is essential for resident engagement and both are severely lacking in Emeryville. This is especially outrageous considering how small our city is! We need to go where the residents already are so yes I would share information on Nextdoor or any other platform with a high concentration of residents. The best part of this campaign has been how many incredible new people I’ve had the opportunity to connect with because I haven’t been running a traditional political campaign; there are so many people who have amazing talent and ideas for their neighborhoods and the city as a whole…and we’ve been missing out on so much knowledge as a city because there are too many barriers to engagement and not enough communication with residents. I’ve been running my grass roots campaign with the same principles I would use as a city council member (1) ongoing transparent email outreach to our community members asking people to give their input on what’s needed in our city (2) meeting as many members of the community personally as possible…meeting in person, on the phone or via zoom, at my community park events and general city events, etc. As a city council member, you are supposed to represent all the residents of the city–not represent yourself—and clearly communication with residents is essential for that.
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 really because we are in a highly desirable location and land is very limited.
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?
Emeryville’s percentage of owner-occupied units has been low for a longtime because it was marketed as a cheaper rental market for young professionals that want to work in San Francisco…that’s a legacy we need to change so that young professionals feel rooted here and stay here long-term. We do that by expanding our civic and community engagement, increasing local volunteerism and effectively marketing Emeryville’s rich history and uniqueness as a city of art and innovation. As an economist, I look at trends on a larger basis and the increase of rentals over owner-occupied units in construction is a pattern that is happening across the US not just in Emeryville. I’ve seen these trends flip back and forth over the decades. The most important thing is that we require the rental buildings to be built according to the requirements for owner-occupied units so that it is easier to convert when the market dynamics flip.
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?
I don’t like labels or generalizations because there are usually a lot of different factors involved so I can’t answer this question definitively. In deciding on any course of action, I look at the facts and circumstances of each individual situation from all sides, then do extensive research, think through different options, collect feedback and ideas…think some more, try to come up with solutions that can merge differing sides together and then decide on what I think is the best course of action.
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?”
Inclusionary housing projects are better in general because they merge our society together and blur class lines. I don’t like 100% affordable housing projects in general because they do tend to result in segregation and a concentrated poverty but for specific limited purposes they can be good (like the development where we are combining seniors and LGBTQ+ youth aged out of the foster system); a teacher housing project would be great as well because none of the teachers in our school district live in Emeryville.
As a side note, I would remove the provision in Emeryville’s BMR rental program that allows people to qualify even when they own residential property because this prevents these units from going to people who genuinely need them: “You may own other residential real estate as long as you occupy the below-market-rate unit as your principal residence.”
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?
It will increase our housing stock which is positive. Properties listed as historic landmarks or those located within a historic district are off-limits for new development under the new law so we should be looking at our historical designation policies to avoid losing important parts of Emeryville’s history.
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 don’t typically agree 100% with any movement because things are always more nuanced than they are presented. Yes, we need more housing and supply and demand works in the long run but it doesn’t come out evenly in every location (ie so it may or may not have an equalizing effect on rents and home values here in Emeryville and we really can’t predict that). It assumes demand remains constant as supply goes up which is why the prices go down but demand could go up as supply goes up because you could have more people coming to the Bay Area–especially as prices drop which would push prices back up. Also, nothing happens in a vacuum so even if it does have the effect of lowering prices overall we still have to look at the cost to the community of rapidly increasing housing production in terms of infrastructure costs, impact on school systems, livability costs, etc.
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?
Emeryville has a strange dynamic where many people who live here work in other cities and people who work here live in other cities. We have great jobs here and a well educated workforce so we need to shift that pattern for a variety of reasons. First, Covid made people realize that they waste a lot of their time commuting and their quality of life would go up if they could work near where they live. Second, if more people could work and live in the Emeryville, it would have a very positive environmental impact because of the reduction in transportation emissions. Third, if people live and work in Emeryville, the community would be less transient and more rooted. How do we do this? (1) better connect the companies here with the residents here via job fairs and local recruiting initiatives (2) encourage local entrepreneurship so residents start and build businesses here (3) increase community engagement with the city and our schools so our residents feel more connected to Emeryville and see it as a long-term place to live and put down roots.
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?
I agree that parents want good schools and safe streets but not that single-family homes are an essential element to Emeryville being family-friendly. We do need more family housing but that doesn’t need to be single-family homes on large lots. We can create homes for families that take up less land than single-family homes but still incorporate the elements families need in those homes. We need more open, safe spaces for kids to play, places for families to socialize, bike paths that kids can use, playgrounds, and more kids activities in general.
We have amazing tech, science and art talent in our city…not to mention our proximity to UC Berkeley! I would work to engage our companies in our city and our schools so that we have the best STEAM programs in the region so more of our Emeryville families want to send their kids to our public schools. I would also work with companies to have them use their philanthropy, social impact funds and volunteer programs in Emeryville so that we strengthen our schools and community programs. We need to build more engagement and more collaboration.
Learn more about Danielsson-Chang’s campaign on charlotteforemeryville.com.