The future of the Emery Go-Round is mired in uncertainty as the current funding framework called a PBID (Property & Business Improvement District) is set to expire next year. The City has drafted a new PBID that would fund the Emery Go-Round for the next 15 years and ballots have been mailed to parcel owners within the city and are due to be counted on August 4th. Recently, we reached out to the city to help better understand the complicated PBID language to help make an educated decision on voting. Mayor Ruth Atkin provided answers to these FAQ’s that we published on June 25th. The ultimate outcome of the PBID vote will have an enormous impact on residents, employees, employers and the appeal and reputation of our city.
Leading the opposition against the current PBID language is former Councilmember Ken Bukowski and the EPOA (Emeryville Property Owners Association). The EPOA argues that it does not necessarily want to eliminate the Emery Go-Round, but has fundamental issues with the assessment structure and the shuttle’s governance and in their words “want a fair plan that is responsive to its riders”. It’s hard to argue that those who pay and benefit shouldn’t have reasonably balanced influence over routes, schedules & costs and that the EGR evolve to meet the commute needs of employees and residents. “A no vote will force open debate which we believe will result in reasonable consensus” noted HFH Ltd. partner, former planning commissioner & property owner Andy Getz. “[The results] will yield a stable, responsive oversight structure capable of continuing and expanding this critical transportation service for at least the next fifteen years.”
The postcard above with the American Revolution “Gadsden flag” in the background (often associated with libertarianism and lately with the American Tea Party), was created by the EPOA and mailed to every Emeryville property owner asking for a ‘no’ vote. It should be noted that the 5% annual increase that the card claims is not completely accurate (and even deceptive) as 5% is in fact the cap and expected to be less. The “only elected member of the board” it refers to is Francis Collins who in fact a member and funder of the EPOA.
The E’ville Eye wanted to provide the EPOA and Bukowski an equal opportunity to answer the same questions I posed to the city. This is not an endorsement of their opinions and the information provided has not been independently fact-checked. Bukowski is of course a six-term Councilperson who was defeated in 2011 and made another failed bid for council in 2014. Ken has reinvented himself as a lobbyist/advocate and spends much of his day attending and recording city & regional meetings that he posts on his EPOA YouTube Channel and the EPOA.US website.
Some residents I’ve spoken with have expressed concerns over how city staff resources are being allocated to this important task. Questions have arisen whether the city has indeed put forth its best effort in determining the optimum outcome for residents. Ambiguities in the governance and concerns over the vagueness of the annual increases have also caused pause among some voters. Fueling the skepticism is the fact that the city has not been completely forthcoming with their data as of late. Council has repeatedly “Cherry-Picked” favorable data to garner support for agenda items like Measure V in the last election and most recently with Council’s Minimum Wage Ordinance. This lack of objective information has fueled a distrust with the city and some members of council.
Governance has been a huge concern for me personally as I have continually advocated for an Emery Go-Round route to West Oakland BART based on the overwhelming data that ridership would prefer this (According to our 2013 poll, 73% of riders would use the Emery Go-Round more if this route existed). Despite our advocacy, we’ve gotten nowhere with Council or the TMA. If the objective truly is to get more people out of their cars, than this cannot be overlooked and council should indeed advocate for this. It does seems the current governing body and Council are not incentivized or equipped to implement ridership suggestions.
Emeryville PBID Ballot FAQ’s
Answers provided by Ken Bukowski representing the Emeryville Property Owners Association
What is a PBID?
A PBID is a Property/Business Improvement District. This financing mechanism was created to allow business owners an opportunity to make capital improvements in areas where cities didn’t have adequate funds. The money provides and maintains specific improvements within the district to create an improved business environment. The district is typically created at the request of property owners who sign a petition.
Improvements such as new sidewalks, streetlights, security, etc. are provided. The cost and maintenance of those improvements are paid for by property owners in the district according to their share of the special benefit they receive. That special benefit must be commensurate with their contribution. The benefits are limited to the geographic area where the improvements are made.
Since PBID Assessments were meant for business improvements, the law did not allow residential property to be assessed. However, a court later decided residential property in a PBID assessment district does receive a special benefit, and such property may no longer be excluded from future PBID assessments.
A PBID is not a model for a bus system. The benefit provided to an individual property owner for a bus system is difficult to quantify, and is subject to constant change. Accordingly, there is no other PBID in California used to fund a bus system. Clearly, the property owners in the existing PBID have unfairly paid for benefits far beyond the specific benefit required by law.
Why not just continue the Emery Go-Round as is?
The Emery Go-Round service should continue the way it is with the current service provider. However, the non-profit corporation which manages and controls the service, (Transportation Management Association) needs to be restructured or eliminated entirely. It seems the TMA was created by City Staff. It confers disproportionate power and control of the service to the seven largest corporations in the City.
The EGR bylaws establish four classes of Members and a ten member Board. The seven corporate property owners who pay the highest assessment each have one “assigned seat” on the Board. Among the approx. 320 other commercial properties paying the assessment, there is only one elected seat to represent them.
Residential Members: There has been two types of residential members, those who pay the PBID, and those who pay per condition of approval. There is one elected seat, which is vacant. The rules for that seat were recently changed. The eligibility requirements may be unreasonable,
Public Member: One seat reserved for the Chamber of Commerce. There is no good reason a member of the public should have an assigned seat on the Board of a Private non-profit Corporation. The City provides the Chamber with free office space, and up to $25,000 each year for services. Some say, the seat is considered to be controlled by the City Manager.
The collective contribution of all seven corporate members is less than 40% of the revenue collected, yet they control all the decisions. The Business Members have witnessed expansion by most of the corporate members and increased public use of the system at their expense. Past City Managers provided extraordinary benefits to major developers with redevelopment. The corporate structure of the Emery Go-Round could be a part of it. Once the TMA was created, it appears the staff imposed the by-laws without a vote of the TMA members. They simply required property owners to participate in the conditions of approval.
For renewal of the PBID, City staff is saying they will change the unfair governance if the new PBID is approved. The existing by-laws of the TMA say any substantive changes or attempt to dissolve the corporation requires unanimous approval of the TMA members.
If the PBID is approved, we may soon discover the city has no real power to change the governance structure of a private non-profit corporation. Why do we need the TMA? If the Emery Go-Round continues to be operated by a private corporation, it is not eligible to receive public money for transit. The City is giving Alameda County $7 million each year of Emeryville sales tax money, and we want our fair share of that money back for Emery Go Round operations, at least $2 million each year. Over the last 15 years, Emeryville contributed about $3.5 million annually but has only received about $500,000 annual benefit The expenditure plan for the first tax measure did not allow shuttles to be funded. The new Measure BB also did not allow shuttles to be funded.
The EPOA decided that was unacceptable. We informed the Chair of the Alameda County Sales Tax Commission of our intent to create a competing local sales tax measure for the Emery Go-Round to be on the ballot at the same time. We complained the city has not been getting our fair share. We approached the county at the last-minute and the threat of a competing ballot measure was successful. The expenditure plan was modified to provide up to $300 million over the next 30 years for shuttles. The Chair of the Board noted, it’s a great day for Emeryville.
A different assessment district could be created. The city can collect the money and then contract for services with the existing provider of the service. Why do we want our bus system controlled by the largest corporations in town? They could make decisions to provide service for their benefit at the expense of smaller property owners. Those large corporations also provide most of the taxes to run the City, but we don’t allow them to control the city government, and likewise they should not control the essential service provided by the Emery Go-Round.
The staff has indicated they have no intention of being responsible for the Emery Go-Round. They are determined to maintain the status quo. That is reflected in the way the Staff mailed out surprise ballots to renew the PBID. Property owners had no advanced knowledge of the ballot, and no opportunity to comment on the proposed assessments. Even the property owners on the TMA Board had no chance to look at the ballot before they were sent.
The Staff has determined they will not accept any responsibility for providing the service. We have to ask: who is running the City? I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t matter how much money may be available for the Emery Go-Round from outside sources, the Staff doesn’t want any responsibility for it. The existence of the TMA allows the staff to brush off any complaints about the service. Look at the problem we already have with AC transit where we pay for service and have no meaningful input with the AC Transit Board. Let’s not make that mistake with the Emery Go-Round. Let’s get our fair share of the county sales tax money.
Was a ballot sent to everyone in Emeryville? How many total?
The assessment district is supposed to include all the property in the city, yet all the property in the city won’t be assessed. This election provides every property owner with one vote for each dollar of assessment. If a ballot is mailed to property owners who are not being assessed, they would not have any way to vote against it.
Emeryville is only 1.1 square miles. Are there any parcels outside of the .25 mile assessment boundary?
Are there any residents that are exempt from paying the assessment PBID?
A PBID assessment is only paid by property owners. According to state law, no exemptions are allowed. The City could create a program to reimburse resident property owners who have a hardship, but that has not been considered or developed. Such exception should be identified before voting for the assessment
How will individuals pay their assessment?
Only property owner must pay the assessment. It is included as part of the annual tax bill sent by Alameda County Tax Assessor.
So if I’m paying, does this enable residents to have more control including better routes like to West Oakland BART?
NO. If the TMA continues residents will only have ONE elected seat on a TEN Member Board Residents have asked the existing TMA Board for service to West Oakland and it continues to be ignored.
What percentage of the $3.5 MM budget will residents pay and what percentage will business pay?
If the PBID is approved, It appears the residential property owners will pay about 20% Commercial Property Owners about 68% and the City about 12%. If any grant funds can be accomplished the existing plan says that money will be used to reduce the city’s contribution.
What is the role of the Transit Management Association (TMA) and how are board members picked?
The TMA controls all aspects of the service, and they make a recommendation to the city council each year to levy the annual assessment. The city council is supposed to follow the recommendation of the TMA Board. The TMA operates the bus with no service policy. They are not required to make any announcements or hold hearings before service changes are made and implemented.
Who opposes the PBID?
- A number of smaller property owners who disagree with assigned seats and a corporate controlled Board.
- Property Owners who question a board seat for a non-paying public member
- Property owners who question operating the Emery Go Round as a “private” service and thereby lose county sales tax and other State money which could likely be obtained for Emery Go-Round Operations as a public system.
- Community Members who feel the TMA managing the service creates an unnecessary barrier for suggestions, ideas and concerns.
- Property Owners who feel a fifteen year assessment is too long. In the case of the exiting PBID, The unfair assessments have just been ignored. Five years would seem appropriate.
- Property owners who object to the mailing of a surprise ballot to impose a 15-year assessment. The Emeryville PBID ordinance removed the requirement for property owner petitions before an assessment district could be created. This gave Staff the power to develop their own language and just mail out ballots for approval. It denies those may be adversely impacted any ability to influence the language of a final and binding decision. This is a dangerous precedent, which should not be ignored.
Who is in favor of the PBID?
I can only guess those are not familiar with the above information. People who are afraid of losing the service. History shows that failed tax measures are usually improved the second time around. Property owners who have not been subject to the TMA governance.
Where can I get more information?
The EPOA web page provides lots of history and information, including video recordings of TMA Board and City Council Meetings.
How are votes tallied?
The ballots are mailed to the city clerk and on August 4th, they will be opened and counted at the council meeting. Beware, this is not a secret ballot. The public will know how everyone voted.
If the voters (property owners) reject the PBID, does this mean the end of the Emery Go-Round?
No. The existing funding lasts for another year. The city won’t allow the Emery Go-Round to stop running. A failed vote the first time usually results in a better decision the second time around.
Parking & Traffic are already big problems in our City. Can you project how eliminating the EGR would impact this?
I can’t project this scenario, because I know the Emery Go-Round won’t be stopped. The service brings 5500 paying customers each day to BART, (25% of all passenger boarding at MacArthur Bart are from the Emery Go Round. The region can’t afford to stop this service.