2016 Emeryville City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Louise Engel

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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.

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Emeryville peninsula area of our city could be without representation as Nora Davis will step down from Council. Longtime businesswoman and Watergate resident Louise Engel hopes she can remedy this by throwing her hat in the political ring. Engel notes one of her top priorities as Public Safety. “Society’s foundation stones can enable each of us to move forward to fulfill our human potential.”

Louise Engel: Businesswoman / Urban Planner

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.
Republican – Moderate. No donations received or pledged by a PAC.

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?
Emeryville has been my home base for the past 22 years. Watergate, on Emeryville’s peninsula, continues to be a great neighborhood in which to live as a resident and as a condominium owner.
I’ve spoken before the City Council, and at City Committees, bringing evidence to challenge proposals disruptive to neighborhoods. Examples include: a proposed high rise office structure replacing the Market, the UPS Store and other small businesses that exist on a small developed site along Powell; and, the East Bay Park’s proposal to build another shoreline parking lot. I served as a citizen representative to update the City’s hazard mitigation plan. To understand policing in Emeryville, I joined neighbors in the Citizen Police Academy training.

3). What is your professional background and explain how this is applicable to local government.
Experience: I have been an owner of a small business, as a Consultant and Project Manager, with an Emeryville City license for 20 years. In other jobs, I achieved cooperative resolution on Bay Area developments with land use and environmental planning issues: mixed-use with housing, industrial, airport, and seaport developments. I am a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (A.I.C.P.) and the Association of Environmental Professionals (A.E.P.). My skill sets give me hands-on knowledge for balancing stakeholder interests in civic affairs.

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.
Public Safety: provide funds and resources for safe streets, neighborhoods, and business areas. When we are safe, we can take the next steps to build trust and respect among the various cultures and ethnicities that enrich our community. Society’s foundation stones can enable each of us to move forward to fulfill our human potential. Creation of a safe environment must tackle a root cause – impoverished economic conditions – that contributes to a person turning to crime. City Manager Carolyn Lehr will be pursuing federal funds through Alameda County’s Community Development Block Grant Program to provide a “helping hand” in this region burdened with a high cost of living. When approved, the funds from the program will benefit very-low-income and low-income persons in Emeryville through, for example, technical assistance and financing for affordable housing. Funds can also be applied to preventing or eliminating substandard housing and blight.

Future Objective: I would support policing based on a “guardian” rather than a “warrior” approach. I also support community policing that works with neighborhood residents to identify problems and to collaborate on implementing solutions meaningful to them.

Infrastructure and Environment: provide funds and resources to maintain the town’s services to our homes and businesses, such as streets, water, and sewers. Monitor the safety practices of the private service providers—for example, gas and electric. Combine citywide maintenance with acquiring additional emergency preparedness resources. Build support among East Bay towns to implement region wide measures described within our City’s draft hazardous mitigation plan, which is based on citizen input during the past year.

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?

  1. Safe streets, day and night.
  2. Quality schools, pre-school through high school.
  3. Parks with playscapes and activities geared to families and people of all ages.
  4. A mix of businesses, small and large, which serve local people as well as customers from the larger region.
  5. Industry with a proven market base and connection to growth sectors, such as biotechnology.

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?
I am definitely open to the varied ways that already exist to gather community input outside of city meetings and committees. For example, I value the impromptu meetings that I’ve had with members of the Police and Fire departments, city staff, and council members outside of their offices. Digital media provide a number of forums, such as The E’ville Eye, to express the varied interests of Emeryville’s residents. I favor using existing technology to connect people in “real time” to participate in city meetings from their homes or businesses.

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.)?
Working together as a collaborative committee, PARC, the nearby neighborhood stakeholder group, is achieving changes to the project that are directly meaningful to their daily lives. This citizen initiated committee provides an example of civic engagement that gives them a united voice coupled with leverage to affect the shape of their neighborhood for years to come.

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?
The quality of education provided to students is the essential factor for any school.
A neighborhood school, such as Anna Yates, provides real benefits for our children; for example, participation in after-school activities that enrich their lives. Also, while walking to and from school, kids acquire social interaction skills that reinforce the neighborhood fabric of our community.

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?
I have spoken with several owners of private businesses, who have expressed concerns about being able to afford the current minimum wage mandated by the city.

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?
Retaining and growing Emeryville’s base of small businesses is important to me. Small businesses often provide jobs to family members, enabling them to “stretch” their budgets. I will draw upon my 20+ years of small business experience to effectively tackle issues before the city that affect business operations.

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?
In the business community, I am hearing about the immediate negative impacts on the particular circumstances of some small and medium size businesses. The owners want to provide a “living wage,” but need time to phase in the financial consequences. The rapid implementation of the new minimum wage, several years ahead of surrounding cities, means that Emeryville’s businesses are facing the reality of potentially laying off people. A regional approach would reduce such impacts.

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?
In my experience, I’ve balanced labor and management interests from “both sides of the table.” I managed a coffee farm, with seasonal labor, for a Hawaiian client. At one job in Oakland, my labor union elected me to their team negotiating contract renewal. These experiences equip me with a unique perspective to this difficult issue weighing on the minds of business and labor. I urge that we “step back” from the rigid “us/ them” corral that surrounds the discussions. Our businesses and jobs are here among people whom we know, whom we work alongside daily. We can work through this toward outcomes beneficial to us all, if we have the fortitude and will to do so.

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”?
The business marketplace in this region is fiercely competitive. A company looking at a city considers a number of factors during the siting evaluation process, such as: whether or not the labor pool specific to its business is available in the town or nearby; having short commute times; having a range of property costs through buying, renting and leasing; and the town’s sentiment toward business as expressed in rules and ordinances. Emeryville’s City Council made a decision through the wage legislation recently adopted that affects all businesses in town.

I value the varied businesses here, big and small. Emeryville’s multi-ethnic population possesses a prime employment segment, a median age of 33 years old: experience tempered by maturity. More than half of us are college educated coupled with close to 40 percent with graduate degrees!! Working together we can build upon our existing positive traits to retain and to attract business and industry.

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?
Affordable housing is a regional issue in the Bay Area. Each town can pursue a multi-prong approach to achieve success tailored to its community circumstances.
Providing multi-family homes clustered around transit nodes is one way to achieve this. For example, new affordable and market rate apartment homes in the Marea Alta development in San Leandro are under construction near their BART station.

In June, the Emeryville City Council directed staff to prepare an ordinance to provide tenant eviction and harassment protections. If it passes, this ordinance will be a protective tool for residents who wish to continue to live in Emeryville while at the same time respecting the business rights of landlords.
The city recently approved a capital improvement program from 2016 to 2021, which includes adjustments to the timing of funds earmarked for the Below Market Rate Unit Acquisition Program. That action will create a more “up-front” critical mass of funding to get the revolving loan fund started for homes

15). Which intersections do you think deserve the most attention in regards to Traffic Mitigation and Bike/Ped safety?

I understand that, in past years, bicycle and pedestrian collisions in Emeryville occurred along the Horton Street bike corridor, especially near 40th Street and the Amtrak station.

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?

In August, I met with Chief Tejada. Over the past year, she and her police force have been implementing ways to enhance operational resources and professionalism, such as: training that incorporates recent California State mandates; and integrating the six pillars of President Obama’s “Task Force on 21st Century Policing” to build trust between the EPD and the community.

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?
Working regionally with neighboring cities will enable Emeryville to pool resources toward step by step actions. It is important for representatives of homeless people to sit on the teams which propose short and long term solutions. San Jose’s community plan for temporary homes, trailers, may be one means. “In-law” units may provide another alternative, particularly with homeless students.
We can look to solutions that exist in other US cities. Dignity Village in North East Portland, Oregon provides an example of the homeless empowering themselves. The Village emerged from a “tent city” in 2000. The Village has a contract with the city to use city property as a campground providing temporary, transitional shelter in safe, sanitary conditions. The Village is a financially self-sufficient enterprise with micro-enterprises: seasoned hardwood and “fire starting buddies.” The contract maintains general liability insurance.

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?
Transparency is essential in all City actions to maintain trust between elected officials and citizens.

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?
A current Emeryville City objective is to establish Neighborhood Councils and a Neighborhood Watch. These are two positive ways to engage civic participation. As described above to another question, it is important to fund ways (Community Block Grants) to improve resident retention and home ownership to keep our neighborhoods safe.

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?
The challenge with differing opinions is that we to continue to talk with each other even when we “don’t like what we hear.” Working together, sharing each of our unique skills and perspectives that is a way to build a strong community – Emeryville – a community of people, you and me.

E’ville Eye Preliminary Readers Poll:

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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