Two hot-button topics were on the agenda at a planned ‘community meeting’ at the Watergate Clipper Club last week. The Measure C $50 million ‘Affordable Housing’ Bond and the City’s Parking Management Plan have both garnered intense resident interest and we were tasked by a resident to provide broader coverage of them to the city to encourage voter education and discussion. Watergate is the largest complex in Emeryville accounting for over 1200 housing units and roughly one-fifth of our city’s population.
While there has been ample opportunity for public discourse regarding the city’s Parking Management Plan (and more to come!), Measure C has been ushered through without similar discourse. The Measure has been placed on the June Primary Ballot giving residents little time to understand the issue and the personal financial impact to them. The Primary Election also sees significantly lower voter turnout (only 3,263 registered voters or 52% participated in the spring 2016 presidential primary vs. 5,533 or 79% in the fall 2016 presidential election).
The measure has been ushered through so rapidly that there has been no organized opposition, and, in fact, there is no ‘argument against’ it on the voter information guide.
Mayor Bauters showed up and seemed visibly annoyed at the presence of reporters in attendance including myself and videographer/former councilmember Ken Bukowski. After some huddling and whispering between Bauters and the organizers, they emerged asking for non-residents to leave. Nowhere in the flyer did it state is was for residents of Watergate only.
Some attendees expressed concern of being video recorded while others stepped up to defend the rights of the media to be a part of this important conversation. Neither journalist was given the opportunity of staying on the condition of ceasing recording and no other members of the audience of approximately fifty were asked about their status as residents. At no point did Bauters request that the journalists be allowed to stay or attempt to defend the presence of those documenting the meeting for the larger community.
While I personally left willingly, Bukowski refused and the complex management called the nearby Emeryville Police to settle the dispute. EPD sent three squad cars to deal with the situation, consulting the on-duty sergeant of the legality of enforcing a meeting noticed as a ‘community meeting’ with a public official present, but being held on private property.
The 66-year-old Bukowski was ultimately ejected after recording about 30 minutes of video. He can be heard arguing the decision prior to the video abruptly being cut off.
Bukowski, a five-time Emeryville Mayor turned videographer, has captured hundreds of scarcely attended local government meetings on his EPOA YouTube Channel. “This was the first time I’ve been kicked out of a meeting in the four years I’ve been doing this,” noted Bukowski who acknowledged he’d previously recorded meetings at Watergate without incident.
“I record these meetings as a service to the public for accountability. I’m sorry that there are those who don’t want to be on video. The open meeting laws of the state are important for the conduct of public business,” Bukowski later noted via email. Bukowski has filed a complaint with the ACLU of Northern California.
Measure C $50 Million Affordable Housing Bond
“The truth is that a lot of people do not currently have housing they can afford,” Bauters explained in a recent article justifying the need for the bond. “… seniors, veterans, working families – they all need affordable housing and they are here today.”
Seniors (many on fixed-incomes) will not be exempted from the bond that will cost most property owners between $150 to $500 annually and thousands over the 27 year repayment term. This meeting was an opportunity to understand the sentiment from a population that leans heavily senior.
Confusion about the issue and how individuals will be assessed was apparent in the 30 minutes of discussion that Bukowski was able to capture.
Things got testy during the discussion as several in attendance expressed confusion over how they would be assessed. “If I did rent [my place] and I had to pay this bill, I would actually raise the rent on my tenants just to make up the difference. No one cares about the fact that my HOA is going up every year, my property taxes go up and I’m now a senior … so what about me? Are you going to care about me too as a senior living in Emeryville!?” Mayor Bauters responded that he did in fact care and downplayed the individual cost.
“Ethical Conflicts,” Lobbying & News Puffery
Bauters has vested a considerable amount of his time lobbying the measure and has submitted opinion pieces in The East Bay Express, The East Bay Times and lined up the standard endorsements. Bauters has also created a campaign committee to collect donations and lobby for the measure.
Bauters’ ‘day job’ is as a Sacramento Lobbyist for the organization that helped pass the controversial Prop. 47.
One piece written by former political consultant turned journalist Diego Aguilar-Canabal in the The Bay City Beacon is particularly favorable to Bauters. A journalist The SF Examiner reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez noted ‘may face serious ethical considerations come November 2018’ in regards to his coverage of issues he previously was paid to advocate for.
Bauters’ was roundly criticized on social media for his involvement in the incident. In a time when journalists are being consistently attacked by politicians, other news organizations were quick to condemn the act including SF Chronicle Editor Audrey Cooper.
While the optics of the incident looked questionable, Bauters denied he had anything to do with the decision to remove the journalists and a Watergate boardmember vouched for him that the decision was ultimately theirs. Bukowski has inquired with the Emeryville City Attorney if they had the legal right to do so and we will update this post if/when he clarifies.
Mayor Bauters also noted later through email that he would have been OK with media questions related to Measure C but not the Parking Management Plan as it had not been brought before council and concerns with The Brown Act. The Brown Act is generally applied when there is a quorum of councilmembers present (in this case, Mayor Bauters was the only councilmember present).
The issue is a complicated one that touches on the issue of media access and transparency among our leaders as well as the personal privacy of the public.
The positive outcome of this incident is the city, presumably with Mayor Bauters’ involvement, has agreed to answer questions that we have provided to them. We should have these published within a week.
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How many journalists were kicked out in total?
Two including myself. The other was videographer Ken Bukowski who volunteers a considerable amount of his free time documenting meetings for the public and reporters. Ken’s help pushing transparency by our local governments cannot be understated. So many of these meetings happen at awkward times with nobody present. I wish we had a team of “Kens”!
The 95-page long form of the Brown Act can be found at: http://caag.state.ca.us/publications/2003_Main_BrownAct.pdf
The section on Serial Meetings could possibly explain some of the issues that had been presented at the meeting if this meeting were to be recorded and published since this had not been discussed by the City Council at a public meeting. Your observation that “The Brown Act is generally applied when there is a quorum of councilmembers present (in this case, Mayor Bauters was the only councilmember present)” ignores the vast majority of The Brown Act.
There is zero chance that a public presentation and Q&A is a serial meeting.
Serial meetings are private meetings that circumvent the public’s right to access the decision making process by essentially holding a meeting involving a quorum in private but in which a quorum is never present, for example, by having pairs of people communicate with each other to arrive at a position.
Bauters’s reference to the Brown Act as justification for kicking reporters out of a meeting is really obscene double-speak. The whole point of the Brown Act is to give the public access to the decision making process.
From the introduction to the Brown Act:
“The people of this State did not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which served them. The people, in delegating authority, did not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insisted on remaining informed so that they could retain control over the governing bodies they had created.”
Read all 95 pages of the Brown Act and you won’t find a single recommendation that journalists be kicked out of public meetings.
If the meeting was a violation of the Brown Act (and it’s not), it’s still a violation of the Brown Act regardless of whether or not cameras were there. The only difference is whether you are committing the violation with or without evidence of the violation.
John wasn’t visibly annoyed, that’s just his RBF. It’s on his face whenever there isn’t a camera present.
Thanks for keeping us updated! I gues Emeryvilles leaders aren’t that progressive after all.
Bauters is a professional politician. To his credit, he knows how to sell.
Unfortunately most voters in this town are 1) aligned with his Progressive wishful thinking, 2) easily sold on whatever flashy object he schleps at any given point, or 3) not interested in local politics.
Expect to pay your hard earned tax dollars on what will surely be another Progressive pet project money pit for the next 30 years.
They should at least list the line item on your property tax statement as the “Bauters Tax”. You should get to think of him fondly every time you get your checkbook out for the next 30 year.
He will make sure his name and photo are splashed all across whatever he buys with your $100 million dollars, so his name should definitely be on the bill.
The next generation, when they whip out their checkbook to pay for those 80 some units of housing that the private sector would have happily built for free, should get to remember John Bauters, the cost of his political career, and who is stuck paying for it.
Measure B for “Bauters” would be more appropriate. Doesn’t he live in a million dollar condo? I’m sure this is a drop in the bucket for him and others without kids.
I’m seeing this more and more of a political ploy rather than a social one. The information you can glean from the brochures, mailings and how the members talk describe it, makes it out to be a cure all. Far from it, it’s short sighted, poorly executed economics. You think the five members would have some idea of how economics work and not squander the public money.
But in the end, it will most likely pass since there’s a majority of renters in Emeryville and will vote this because they think it will help them or at least make them feel good about doing something about a problem.
Nothing about this from the other blog. Just trees and anti-school district stuff.
The two topics citizens would want to hear about at that meeting, especially Watergate residents, are the proposed large increases in parking fees on their street and what they are getting for the $90 million increase in taxes, including debt financing for the housing.
What were the organizers expecting when they agreed to host the public meeting? Questions on trees and bike lanes?
It was a private meeting on private property. The purpose of the meeting when it was initially organized (I was not one of the organizers) was for residents of Watergate to comment and ask questions about Measure C. After the details of the parking proposal became clear, some of the Watergate residents also wanted to talk about parking. There were posters in the buildings on the Watergate complex that referred to residents (meaning Watergate residents, although not specifically stating that it was only for Watergate residents); however, it was not a public meeting and the posters were not distributed outside of Watergate (Rob has subsequently posted copies of the posters in a number of forms of social media). A resident did invite Rob and someone told Ken Bukowski (we don’t know who told Ken about the meeting although he does live in the same building that Rob does so there may or may not be a connection there). Ken was videotaping the meeting. The General Manager asked the Watergate residents if it was alright with them to be videotaped and a number of residents said they did not want to be videotaped. The end.
Betsy, I had NOTHING to do with Ken being there but I’d be happy to reach out to him and ask him how he found out about it. When you invite 2000 people to a meeting, chances are it might get some exposure outside of your complex. Pretty much everything else you stated I included in the article.
*Update: Apparently it was announced at a RULE meeting.
Not really. That explains why it wasn’t videotaped. It does nothing to explain why the journalists who were there were asked to leave.
The topic was of city-wide interest. The journalist was an invited guest. You were taking the time of a city official and getting his responses on two important topics.
Why would Watergate say “we only want OUR people to get the benefit of the Mayor’s answers”? And why on earth would a public official allow that?
It speaks poorly for your organization and it speaks poorly for John Bauters. In the future, political figures should refuse to speak or meet at the Watergate because of its policy of denying the media access.
It’s a really bad look. It seems to say “we are special, secretive, and want special access to political figures behind closed doors because we’re up to no good”.
“a number of residents said they did not want to be videotaped.” What number? Was it more than the amount of people who were for it being recorded?
Great coverage. Thanks for getting the truth out!
The state is getting into the affordable housing movement. Our own state representative, Skinner has co-authored a bill to provide $2 BILLION in taxpayers money for affordable housing. It’s a private-public partnership. Emeryville could easily be eligible for a portion of that funding. Rather than specifically have the property owners of our city pay for a program to the tune of $50 million, have the entire state pay for it. This way, owners are not paying for a disproportionate amount of a STATE-WIDE issue.
Sure, but how would this help John Bauter’s political career?
To further the ill-fated progressive agenda. He along with the entire council can lay claim to implementing “progressive” policies. The problem is that it has been a go-it-alone strategy. Major items have or will be enacted that disregard facts that go against these policies (see minimum wage ordinance, where the city ignored their own findings in order to enact this). The original plan was to enact a region-wide policy. Emeryville disregarded that and now you see the results of their decision (Bucci’s, Commonwealth, Farley’s, etc.).
Oh and I can’t wait to see the results of the new parking plan.
Exactly. The only way to help John Bauters’ political career is to cough up the cash he needs to supply developers to get the kickbacks, funding, etc in the future. There’s nothing “progressive” about giving developers an interest free loan/handout which is all this is. Bauters is counting on people being idiots that are young and stupid enough to imagine an office where nurses and veterans walk through the door and someone says, “ hey, welcome to your new home in Emeryville-the city of compassion, where you’ll be living next door to an artist, poet, and a quiet old lady” and somehow forget that Emeryville is actually in a budget deficit with strained police and mushrooming violent crime and homeless camps.
[…] Mayor Bauters, who created the campaign committee to support the measure and has been heavily lobbying the initiative through the larger Bay Area media, has gone dark on any inquiries from us. At one of the few opportunities for the public to ask questions directly to him, the media was subsequently ejected. […]