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.