2016 Emeryville City Council Candidate Questionnaire: John Bauters
This 2016 Emeryville City Council election will see six candidates vying for three available seats in what could see a shift in city priorities. The E’ville Eye distributed twenty questions covering a gamut of relevant topics in our city to each candidate. Our hope is to help our readers better understand the priorities of each candidate and see where they align with your own. Candidate Questionnaires will be published daily over the next week in the order they will appear on the ballot which is determined randomly by our Secretary of State (John Van Geffen, Louise Engel, Christian Patz, Brynnda Collins, Ally Medina & John Bauters). Candidates have been instructed to provide answers no longer than 250 words.
After a narrow election defeat in 2014, John Bauters is back and you can say he has completely committed himself to our city over the last two years. He’s joined our Planning Commission, helped PARC negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with Lennar Corporation and made about the biggest commitment one can make to this city … buying a house! Among Bauters priorities for our city is Housing Affordability & Stability. “I will use my expertise on housing programs and policies to help stabilize housing for our resident community.”
John Bauters: Nonprofit Policy Director
1). Please state your party affiliation (i.e. Democratic, Green Party, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, etc.) and please list any campaign donations you’ve received or have been pledged by PACs.
I am registered as a member of the Democratic Party. Over 90% of my financial support has come from family, friends, Emeryville residents or professional colleagues from the social justice advocacy community. This includes more than 30 Emeryville residents to date. I have been endorsed by and received a campaign contribution from the men and women of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 55, which represents our Emeryville firefighters. Likewise, I have been endorsed by the Building Trades Council of Alameda County and received a campaign contribution from a couple of the more than 30 construction trades they represent, including Carpenters and Bricklayers.
2). How long have you lived in Emeryville, what has your involvement been with the city thus far and what compelled you to run for council?
My partner Aaron and I moved to Emeryville with my dog, King, just over 4 years ago. I am proud to be involved in our community. I currently serve our city as a member of both the Planning Commission and Housing Committee. Additionally, I am chair of the Citizen’s Measure K Parcel Tax Oversight Committee at Emery Unified School District. I have volunteered at every shoreline cleanup event the city has held at Shorebird Park for the past three years. I was the first resident member of Emeryville’s all-volunteer Fix-It Clinic team. We hold free clinics and help residents repair small appliances and other household goods in an effort to promote reuse and recycling over landfill waste. I regularly attend community-building events like Movies in the Park and National Night Out and I frequently participate in discussions related to affordable housing, park space development and public safety at City Council meetings. I decided to run for City Council because I believe it is the next step in my evolution of community service.
3). What is your professional background and explain how this is applicable to local government.
I have worked in nonprofit advocacy my entire career – over 15 years. I began as a humanitarian relief worker in East Africa and later led disaster relief efforts for the American Red Cross here in the U.S. through the AmeriCorps Program. My commitment to community service earned me a public interest law scholarship that I parlayed into a career of advocacy for disadvantaged individuals and communities. Seven of those years were spent as a legal aid attorney representing seniors, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities and low-income families in housing, domestic violence and social security disability matters. My housing expertise helped me become one of the state’s leading policy experts on the issues of affordable housing, homelessness and community safety issues. I am now policy director for a state nonprofit, where I fight for greater public investment in community-based mental health and addiction treatment programs as well as greater access to trauma recovery services for victims of violent crime.
4). List your top-5 priorities in order, explain why and list one specific thing you intend to accomplish in your four year term should you be elected.
- Housing Affordability & Stability – We must commit to building affordable ownership housing and to providing legal protections for tenants. I will use my expertise on housing programs and policies to help stabilize housing for our resident community. This is my highest priority for the city and it is the most common issue on the minds of residents I’ve spoken with.
- Public Safety Planning – As we move into a new period of rapid growth, we have to understand how increased residential density impacts our public safety infrastructure. I will put forth a long-term fiscal plan to help Emeryville sustain the same high-quality services we all enjoy without facing sudden costs in future budgets.
- Parks and Open Space – We have a serious shortage of green space. Civic engagement comes from making communities livable and enjoyable. I am committed to taking action to significantly increase the amount of useable park space in our community.
- Transit Infrastructure – As we grow, we must plan for the future of transportation. We must do this with the environment and public safety in mind. I will initiate a community conversation aimed at planning for the future of growth and development in Emeryville with an emphasis on green and mass transit.
- Small Business – An important element of livability comes from supporting small, local-serving businesses that give our community character. I would like us to leverage the fees gathered from the development process to help us support and grow small business.
5). You hear people’s desires for a “vibrant community” thrown out a lot in political discussions. What does a vibrant community mean to you?
When I think of the term “vibrant community” I think of a “strong community.” Communities are strongest when they celebrate their uniqueness and diversity of the people within them. This is reflected in some of my most important values; values such as inclusiveness, collaboration and respect. Communities where these values are nurtured thrive. For me, a “vibrant community” is not something government creates – it is something we must nurture for ourselves, both by celebrating that which brings us together but also by protecting those things that keep us diverse and unique. That spirit of respect is what makes us “stronger” or “vibrant.”
6). Will you gather community input outside of the dais and if so, how (social media, your own blog, guest posts on The E’ville Eye)? Would you be supportive of a neighborhood council to better understand the perspectives of the different neighborhoods and demographics of our city that don’t always have time to attend council meetings?
As a planning commissioner, this is already my standard practice. I regularly meet with neighbors, applicants, and community members to discuss the impacts that proposed development has on all of us. This process is educational and guides decisions I make on behalf of our community. I strongly support the neighborhood council concept. I was part of my neighborhood council back in Chicago many years ago. Our group worked together to develop a plan to convert an unused softball diamond in the corner of our neighborhood park into a dog park. We met with city staff, park officials and our local alderman. We held informational meetings to gain public input and support. That support enabled us to obtain the permits, funding and approvals necessary to convert an unused community space into a community asset. Civic engagement is the heart of a strong community and I will promote opportunities like neighborhood councils that empower residents to serve as the leaders in shaping the future of our community.
7). What do you think the most important outcome of the Sherwin Williams project is for our city (i.e., the inclusion of ownership housing, maximizing the percentage of “affordable” units, Parking & Traffic Mitigation, etc.)?
The most important outcome for Sherwin-Williams is that we get it right. This project will very likely be the last large residential development in the city for many years. As a member of the Park Avenue Residents Committee (PARC), I’ve had the amazing privilege of working with residents who had the shared goal of helping make sure we get it right. Our collaboration revealed to me that “the most important outcome” for this project was different for each and every person who calls our neighborhood home. Ownership housing, vehicle trip reduction, parking management, improvements to bike/ped infrastructure, tree preservation and many others – all are important outcomes for Sherwin-Williams. I am proud to have sat at the table with my fellow members from PARC to negotiate terms for a Community Benefits Agreement with the developer. In working to “get it right” we fought to ensure our community got as many outcomes as possible that were important to our neighbors and friends. The final product was an agreement that captured many of the things people envisioned for our future and was a first-of-its-kind agreement between residents and a developer in Emeryville’s history. As your councilmember, decisions I make that will impact our community’s future and livability will not be limited to my own ideas and vision – they will be the product of the community’s vision for itself.
8). The ECCL finally opened its doors after being in the works for more than a decade. Would you (theoretically) have any reservations sending your children to a K-12 school? Will you fight to retain Anna Yates Elementary as part of the EUSD?
While the ECCL is a joint venture between the school district and the city, the primary purpose of the ECCL is to serve as an education center for children. With that in mind, all other functions of the ECCL must be responsive to the needs of the children who attend school there each day. Although we have cut the ribbon at the ECCL, the partnership between the city and the school is not over. We must continue to work together to fulfill the vision of a school supported by the broader community where students and community members can engage in the exchange of ideas and skills. My focus will be on ensuring the safety of our students and helping the district develop robust student learning opportunities and community services programming. As chair of the Parcel Tax Oversight Committee for Emery Unified, our committee has called on the district to increase art and music opportunities for students, programs that promote creativity and personal harmony in young people. Work is still needed to fulfill the vision and promise of the ECCL to our students at EUSD. I will work to support fulfillment of our community’s obligation to these students first and foremost.
9). Can you reference any conversations you’ve had with the owners of any non-publicly subsidized businesses in our city and do you get the sense that they’re thriving or struggling and what their sentiment toward operating in our city is?
From the many conversations I’ve had with local businesses, the response they provide varies. Managers at Bay Street report that sales are doing very well and that the vacancy rate for retail space is below 5%. By contrast, the Bread Project, a small business that provides culinary training and job placement assistance to formerly incarcerated people, had to move to Berkeley due to an exorbitant rent increase here in Emeryville. While I am aware of several local-serving food establishments closing in the past year, several others have opened. Many of the business owners I’ve spoken with state that they love doing business in Emeryville. Some smaller businesses have indicated that they feel left out of important decisions being made that impact their livelihood. There are a variety of factors impacting business growth and development right now and we need to remain in conversation with all of our local business stakeholders to ensure that we are responsive to factors that impact the strength of our local economy.
10). Is retaining and in fact growing our base of small businesses important to you and what will you commit to doing to help small businesses thrive in our city if elected?
Small business growth has been, and remains, a priority for me. As planning commissioner I called on the city to engage in a listening session to learn about the needs of small businesses here in Emeryville. Small business owners in Emeryville treat their employees well and have been working hard to implement the city’s minimum wage ordinance. We have opportunities to improve small business growth, but it requires us to review the tools and resources available to us and understand the needs, challenges, and barriers facing small businesses today. We can begin this process by listening and learning about these things. Our development bonus system provides an option that allows developers to contribute to a local Small Business Fund. To date there has never been a single contribution to this fund and it is unclear what the money could be used for if it were funded. I commit to identifying the needs of small businesses in our community and making our Small Business Fund into a viable program. My goal is to help our community plot a trajectory where both workers and small businesses can thrive.
11). Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a $15 minimum wage into state law that includes gradual increases and “off-ramps” in the event of economic consequences. If the impacts of our local MWO are proven to have the negative impacts that were predicted by business, would you be willing to “pause” ours and defer to the state model? Do you see the advantage of a regional approach to passing economic policies?
It is always helpful to periodically review laws we adopt in order to ensure that they are fulfilling the policy goals they were designed to achieve. That said, many policies create “negative impacts” of some kind or another for a community stakeholder. For example, market rate housing developers lose some profit when a portion of their project is earmarked for the inclusion of affordable housing units. The developer might reasonably say that mandating the construction of affordable units in the project is a “negative impact” on them because of the lost profit opportunity. That impact does not negate the community value in having affordable housing built alongside the market rate units. Thus, the evaluation I would undertake is not whether “negative impacts” are coming true as predicted by some stakeholders. The proper evaluation of any law involves assessing the net impact on the community as a whole. We must innovate to meet the needs of both business and labor. There are other opportunities to assist stakeholders in the business community who are complying with Emeryville’s new labor laws that do not come at the cost of workers. I am committed to identifying and exploring those so that all members of our community can benefit from the success of our economy.
12). Our current council is looking to implement a scheduling & employment ordinance being referred to as “Fair Work Week”. Do you support this ordinance? Do you foresee any unintended consequences that could come from this?
I support the discussion the City Council is having around Fair Work Week. The council has not brought the ordinance back for review since they provided initial feedback at the August study session. They proposed making changes to the types and sizes of businesses that would be covered by the ordinance. A revised draft is not available for review so I cannot comment on the specifics of the proposed ordinance just yet. That said, I have found the discussion around the relevant stakeholder interests illuminating. Schedule predictability is critical to helping working families with multiple jobs plan their lives. Many workers must plan for their childcare, transportation and education, among other things. Predictable scheduling will help many plan for their future while promoting better work-life balance. Likewise, employees of some smaller businesses are grateful for the opportunity to earn additional wages on short notice when there is the chance for additional work. The opportunity for additional income is an equally important objective for some workers in the same way predictability is for others. Creating a flexible ordinance that reflects all the ways in which working people can obtain success is challenging. I support a deliberate process that incorporates the needs of all stakeholders carefully to ensure we promote opportunities for everyone.
13). Do you feel being the “model city” for new legislation by labor groups puts our businesses at a competitive disadvantage? Do you have any concerns that businesses will choose neighboring cities instead of settling in Emeryville or of our city developing the stigma of being labeled “Anti-Business”?
Cities watch what each other do all the time. Historically, Emeryville has compared its development impact fees to those of Oakland and Berkeley; we’ve monitored rent control efforts in Richmond and Alameda; and we’ve compared how everyone from San Francisco to Piedmont regulates Airbnb. Ideally, policies with regional benefit would be adopted regionally. While there is some truth to the argument that moving ahead without our neighbors may create disadvantages for local business, the reality is that other local governments are facing the same pressure to make their community more affordable. Communities are approaching this challenge differently. Yes, a local minimum wage ordinance might be the reason why a business owner chooses against locating here. Business owners develop business plans based on location, local fees, customer base, profitability, competition and many other factors. They also evaluate a litany of non-labor issues in choosing location, including the cost of commercial rents, the adequacy of affordable housing for their employees and the strength of the city’s small business programs. Local governments need the ability to make decisions that may depart from a preferred regional approach in order to respond to the unique and diverse needs of their own community. While I support regional solutions to regional issues I also recognize that this is a complex issue and support improving local dialogue between all stakeholders for those issues we choose to address locally.
14). I think a lot of us would like some form of “Rent Control” but achieving this in actuality is complicated and limited. How can we maintain affordability in our city and protect existing residents from getting priced out?
This is an excellent question and an extremely difficult issue for Emeryville. Our ability to effectuate meaningful rent control in Emeryville is severely limited by a state law called the Costa-Hawkins Act. Because of this law, only about 10% of all housing in our city is even eligible for rent control if we adopted an ordinance. Implementing rent control can have high fiscal and administrative costs for a city of our size. While it is an important protection we should evaluate more thoroughly, it is not the only way to protect housing affordability and stability in our community. I serve on the Housing Committee, which sent the City Council drafts of both a Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) and a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance. The former provides tenants in our community with a number of rights against unsavory landlord practices and can even impose financial penalties on landlords who violate those protections. The Just Cause Ordinance provides additional protections for Emeryville’s long-term residents, seniors and other people who are particularly susceptible to displacement. These are important tools for our residents to have at their disposal and I promise to ensure they are implemented.
15). Which intersections do you think deserve the most attention in regards to Traffic Mitigation and Bike/Ped safety?
While I am willing to bet that everyone in Emeryville has an intersection they like least, the truth is that we need to engage in a longer discussion about comprehensive traffic mitigation and bike/ped infrastructure development. After public safety, the primary responsibility of local government is to provide for the adequate delivery of public services, including transportation. I support improving traffic flow on designated corridors that carry transit services like AC Transit and Emery-Go-Round. If we want fewer people to drive cars we must make mass transit effective. Mass transit is effective when it is dependable and accessible. Synchronized traffic flow on streets like San Pablo and 40th increase the reliability of our public transit options and will help keep vehicles on those routes. Coupled with bicycle and pedestrian improvements to our neighborhood streets, we can discourage commuter use of our neighborhoods, making transit more efficient and our community more livable. I support comprehensive transit infrastructure review for our growing community and will help us move forward on this issue if elected
16). Emeryville is consistently listed as one of the statistically most violent cities in the Bay Area and crime in our city is on the rise (Much of this crime is petty theft attributed to our shopping centers and auto burglaries because of this and our base of hotels). In terms of public safety, what resources or legislation will you be supportive of to allow the EPD to do their best job keeping our residents safe?
While I appreciate your reliance on statistical data indicating a high rate of “violent crimes,” these statistics without additional information can paint a misleading picture of the status of public safety in Emeryville. On a practical level, Emeryville is one of the safest communities to live in, thanks in part to our small size and the incredible public safety personnel who serve us daily. The growth of our resident and commercial base has increased the demands on our police department. The City Council prudently recognized the need to account for that growth during their review of the city’s two-year budget in June. We added five new positions to assist with dispatch, records and bike patrol, among other things. The department will fill these positions in the coming months to help us address the gradual increase in minor property crimes that we have experienced over recent years.
17). Homelessness is a regional and very complex issue. Encampments continue to pit neighbors against the unhoused and create quality of life issues for residents. We know “kicking them out” doesn’t solve anything … but neither does the status quo. What solutions are you most supportive of and can you commit to working regionally with neighboring cities to help alleviate this humanitarian crisis?
The solution to homelessness is housing. I have worked on this issue for over a decade and have directly served over 3,000 people experiencing homelessness. The causes of homelessness are as diverse as the people who experience it and we must tailor solutions to reflect the needs of individuals. There are several types of housing interventions that can end homelessness for people with varying levels of needs. Permanent supportive housing provides wrap-around services and is best suited to help individuals with significant barriers to self-sufficiency. Supportive housing has been shown time and again to dramatically reduce criminal activity, improve public health and promote positive social outcomes for the population it serves. Additional, shorter-term housing assistance models that can bridge a person from homelessness to self-sufficiency are also effective. Our only opportunity to deliver meaningful results requires coordination across jurisdictions and service agencies. I am not only committed to helping our city and region address this issue but hope to help lead us forward in identifying our local solutions. I am grateful to the many people who attended my June screening of the documentary film Dogtown Redemption at the AMC Theater Bay Street. Together we began a conversation around understanding the root causes of homelessness and what we can do as a community to help.
18). We’ve often advocated for a “resident first” approach to policymaking meaning resident considerations should come before outside special interest groups (such as Oakland-based labor organizations) or at least negative impacts on residents should be divulged and communicated. Do you agree or disagree with this and why?
As discussed in some of my prior answers, I have always worked with residents to build the community they want for themselves, first and foremost. I encourage all stakeholders to participate in the process and I hold government transparency as an important value for any elected official. I commit to being a transparent and accessible leader for our community.
19). Civic participation and community spirit in Emeryville is sadly lacking. Do you have any ideas to further community building in our town? Do you think resident retention and ownership opportunities are important components to this equation?
Resident stability impacts community engagement and civic participation immensely. Large rent increases have displaced some of our most talented and engaged residents. Clearly, developing additional ownership housing would help stabilize our resident base. Civic participation is not measured by that lone metric, however. We need our schools to be successful. We need to develop park space and civic facilities that make our city an attractive and desirable place to be. More important, we need to give our citizen’s a greater voice in determining what makes it desirable to begin with. When PARC negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement with the Sherwin-Williams developer, we included a provision that requires the developer to host facilitated workshops to gain community input for the design and programming of the large park that will be built within the project. As a planning commissioner and an active community member I have worked to bring residents together with developers and civic leaders so that the community’s voice is heard. When residents become invested in the city’s future they will take greater pride and stock in the daily functions of the city. I will champion this issue and work to make Emeryville an inclusive place where all people who wish to participate in their city have that opportunity.
20). A huge focus of our site is civic transparency and oversight. We’re in a unique position to facilitate communication with our residents as Emeryville’s largest media outlet with an estimated quarter of the population visiting our site regularly (and growing every year). Can we get your guarantee that you’ll be responsive to our inquiries even in the event we disagree on something?
I believe that disagreement is often the most useful tool in civic leadership. Ideas get better when they are touched and changed by those who disagree with them. Policy is strongest when it is built by consensus. There are few things I can be surer of than the fact that others will disagree with me at some point. I view those disagreements as opportunities to exchange ideas, strengthen outcomes, learn, and to educate hearts and minds. So long as the community discourse is rooted in respect for all ideas, I am excited to have those discussions. Local government should be a marketplace for ideas, not identities. I appreciate the opportunity you have provided me to share some of my ideas with your readers and I look forward to hearing the ideas of everyone else here in our community. We are stronger together.