An Exclusive Conversation with 27 year Councilperson Nora Davis

29 mins read

Nora Davis, the six-term, 27 year Emeryville Councilperson and six-time Mayor has presided over a very transitional era of our town. In this exclusive interview, Davis reflects on how she got pulled into Emeryville politics, wins, losses and what the city’s biggest challenges will be in the coming years. Wether you align with her or not, it’s hard to refute that she will be indelibly linked to our city. This interview is one we’ve been looking forward to for a while and we’re honored to have documented it for Emeryville generations to come.

Even at 87, Davis is sharp as ever and tough as nails (although she denies this). Former Councilperson Kurt Brinkman even commented that he’d “put her up against anybody”. “I think the city has been totally blessed to have her on the council all these years.” he added. Of course on the other end of the political spectrum, The R.U.L.E./Emeryville Tattler/Secret News combo have been trying to unseat her for as long as the’ve been around. It appears that Davis will go out on her own terms though as she has conceded that this will be her final term which expires next year.

*Story Clarification* Nora first ran and was elected in 1987 and has been in council for 27 years (originally reported to be 26). Nora ran with a slate of candidates referred to as the “All Emeryville Alliance” alongside Ken Bukowski and Greg Harper according the City website.

Listen to this interview on SoundCloud or read the transcribed version below:

EE: It’s February 19th, Thursday. We’re here at Emeryville old town hall with longtime council member Nora Davis. She agreed to an interview with The E’ville Eye. We’ve been looking forward to this for a while. I gave her fifteen questions that we’re going to try to mow through in hopefully an hour and get your insight and answers …

ND: Let’s have at it.

EE: Let’s do it. First question. Where are you from originally? Tell us a little bit about your upbringing.

ND: I grew up in a little suburb of Philadelphia, Merion. I was a teenager during World War II … so, I’m really old [Laughter]. I really had a wonderful childhood. Left home to go to Duke University, and then marrying my husband who flew us from California, my first husband, left Duke to come out to the great state of California after three years.

So, my first husband was killed in an accident. He was leading a Sierra Club group. I was left a widow with three children and I can fully appreciate a lot of the people that I know in town that are single mothers that have real problems in terms of educating their children. So, I’m very sensitive to those issues. That was my childhood. It was a great childhood. I had a lot of fun and learned a lot.

EE: Oh well, so you’re a Blue Devil? Do you still cheer them on?

ND: Yeah, that’s right. The Blue Devils. Then after several years I went back to Cal State Hayward. Cal State, actually [East] Bay now, and graduated with the Master’s degree in public administration. That was at the same time while I was working.

EE: What year did you arrive in Emeryville? What brought you here? You mentioned that you came here with your first husband …

ND: Well, no. By that time my first husband had been deceased for many years. I married my second husband and we were both sailors. We had sailboat down at the Berkeley Marina. We saw Watergate, fell in love with it, you know, it’s close to the water etc., but, we couldn’t move in at that time because no children were allowed and we still had a young son. When he went off to college we came to Emeryville. At that time my oldest son was living over on Stanford. He was going to Law school at UC Berkeley. So, I had known Emeryville and I thought it was a fascinating little town. And when we had the opportunity, we moved in to Watergate and continued our sailing and other activities.

EE: So, as soon as it was an empty nest you seized the opportunity.

ND: You bet. On to the bigger and better things.

EE: So, what year was that?

ND: It was either ’78 or ’79.

EE: So talk to us about Emeryville. You kind of eluded that you had a curiosity and it had an interesting vibe? At least the Watergate area…

ND: What I was first attracted to was the Watergate area and of course the sailing and the fact that it was an industrial town that was almost crumbling into ruin. You saw big swaths of nothing. In fact I’ve got a picture somewhere here of that particular time. But, it was a small town surrounded by a metropolis. At that time it had a very colorful reputation. There was a real perception of revelry and evil-doing going on. So, it was an interesting town.

EE: Okay, maybe that will lead us into our fourth question was that evil-doing, you know. What wrong-doing you even observed or that you heard about? Is that, maybe, what pushed you into Emeryville politics?

ND: I was very concerned, not only with the sailing, but with the environment. And that time we were out collecting signatures for the Eastshore State park. So, there was a group that coalesced around there that I began to be engaged with. Up to that time I hadn’t gotten involved in politics at all. But, this group was very concerned about the shore line, especially the Crescent in Emeryville, which at that time was owned by Santa Fe. In fact the whole shoreline was owned by Santa Fe.

There was a perception that skullduggery was taking place. They were running a slate of candidates for city council. And the one woman who was on the council, Laura Davenport, she was a strong vote-getter. They were relying on her to participate in the Emeryville alliance. When she dropped out in June and they looked around, they were looking for somebody to run. I said I will step up for one term and see if we can get the Crescent taken care of, which eventually we did. We exercised the public trust over the Crescent.

So, at that time Santa Fe wanted to build this huge mega hotel, you know. Right across from the Shell station, you should see the plan … they had this plans for a huge hotel. And this little group, again, this shows you how it doesn’t take a lot of people. At the most, I think they were 8 or 10 people. But, they had a clear vision of the shoreline and how they didn’t want Santa Fe to be building these big honking towers on the shoreline. They wanted to preserve the flyaway.

So, that’s kind of what drew me into politics.

EE: So, the Crescent you’re referring to that was …

ND: You know, as you come off the Bay bridge you see that little curve? That’s the Emeryville Crescent. That’s where they used to have all the artwork.

EE: One of my favorite subjects. The Mudflats. Maybe after this you can turn me on to somebody who I can interview about that because I’m fascinated and the people of Emeryville are as well.

Do you consider anybody to be your political mentor in this? Maybe somebody that you were influenced by, as far as your political…

ND: I very much appreciated Laura Davenport who had been on the council. She was a very strong woman. She went head to head with John LaCoste. In fact, she went over there one night when he was trying to take stuff out of the police station, lots of good stories about that. But, anyhow, I think it was not just one person. It was the fact that there were so many individuals in this town, at that time there were only about 3000 people that really cared about the town.

They kind of went together and coalesced and tried to change the direction in the town.

EE: So where do you align in the political spectrum? Moderate? Liberal? Do you say, hey, I’m Nora Davis and these are my beliefs? Some people consider themselves pragmatist. Some people consider themselves liberal. Is there a label for Nora Davis?

ND: I don’t, actually, I’m not really big on aligning with large groups, because I think you get that groupthink operating. And there has been a lot of psychological studies on this. You get the pressure of the group and you don’t have the ability to step back and really think logically.

Say, you’re taking a policy action and you want to think about, who is this going to benefit? Who is it going to harm? What would be the ramifications, the implications of it? Not just today when you pass it, but in the future. It’s very difficult to do that if you are surrounded by the noise of a group. There’re real strengths to be in any group, don’t get me wrong, but, there’s also downsides. And I happen to be someone who, kind of, does not align myself.

EE: You’re a bit of a lone wolf and you make your decisions based on…

ND: It’s not that I’m a lone wolf. No, I listen to as many people as I can. And that’s the beauty of a small town. Because you can pick up the phone, you can walk into some place, or you can meet with somebody in the park, and you get this input and you’re able to sift through, as opposed to going to, say, a meeting of the Democratic Party and hearing the party line. I know what the party line is. Some of it I agree with, some of it I don’t, So …

EE: Well, so politics it’s not for the timid. You know. You’ve had your critics …

ND: Oh, I have lots of critics.

EE: A lot of critics. So, you talked about being a single mother. You know, maybe that leads into this. But, what do you attribute your thick skin and your resilience to? What makes Nora Davis so “tough”?

ND: Well, I’m really not tough. I’m really kind of wimpy. But, you know when you get to be old. You’ve heard a lot of stuff. You’ve had a lot of attacks. You’ve had a lot of tragedies. You’ve had a lot of good things happen, you’ve had some tragedies. And you take a longer view, which is funny you know, for somebody who is 87 to say you take a longer view. Because you know you could be falling off the desk right now. But, you do have to. You take a longer view and these slings & arrows of outrageous fortune seem to bounce off. They don’t have the power that they would have had to a young person.

You know, when you’re young, I mean, somebody looks at you cross eyed and you think, ‘Oh my God, it’s all my fault. It’s all my fault’. Baloney! You know, you just have to keep going.

EE: So, it’s age and wisdom, you know that just kind of fortify…

ND: I do not say that I have any wisdom. I continually learn.

EE: So, it seems like from what I can tell, your political career may end in Emeryville? I mean, did you ever consider pursuing politics outside of Emeryville? It’s not too late for you to run for senate, but…

ND: Rob, let me tell you something in the first place. I do not perceive myself as having a “political career”. I’m a council member in a little one square mile city that I care very much about and that is enormously complex. People don’t understand how complex this one mile city is. So, my focus has been entirely on Emeryville. I’ve served on some of the regional boards and they are very important.

We have the other members on the council. We have good representation on there. Ruth Atkins has done a marvelous job on the transportation committee. Jennifer, when she was on the council, she did a very good job on Waste Management. Those connections are very important to this city. But, my bias, specially now, is to focus on this one square mile.

EE: Okay, well, we heard that, I think Barbara Boxer is stepping down and Kamala Harris I think, and Gavin Newsom, they’re throwing their hats in the ring. So, maybe [laughter] it’s not too late? I’m just saying.

ND: Bite your tongue … bite your tongue.

EE: Looking back on 30 years at least if you can clarify that number for me …

ND: Actually I was elected in 89. So, what is that? 26 …

EE: Okay, 26. It’s good to know that number and how many terms. Looking back on your career in Emeryville politics, 26 years, victories and defeats, are there certain highlights or even the opposite in your career that you can look back on that stand out?

ND: When I look back on, you know at the first place I don’t consider it as a political career. But, in my involvement with the city of Emeryville I think if you look at things that we have accomplished. It was the people of this city and the staff, the workers in this city that have accomplished this.

It has taken a lot of people, very serious people who devoted a lot of time to it. Some of the outstanding things that have happened, happened because of this coming together of some really intelligent, hard-working people is certainly the cleaning up of what used to be a city that glowed in the dark. The toxics here … it was like one big Superfund sight.

So, just the fact that we worked, we developed a relationship with DTSC, the department of toxic control. At one time we had a staff member who almost devoted his entire time to the Brownfield. He has since gone on to national recognition, just a wonderful fellow. But that alone, cleaning up those toxics is one of the most important things. And we have, with some very few exceptions, cleaned this square mile up which had been horribly polluted over a period of hundred years or more. So, that’s significant.

And then some of the other things, again, I go back to the public trust over the Crescent and the creation of the Eastshore state park which took hundreds and hundreds of people to come together to make it happen, because Santa Fe had total control of the shoreline. So, that is significant.

People forget all those things. And then, of course the Greenway. I still remember we had a group. We were out in the rain and we were walking along the Doyle street railroad tracks. Doyle Street used to be terrible. It had the railroad tracks going right through it.

This is a group that came together and coalesced, said we can do better than this. We can make the Greenway. We were only part way done. We were only down from 67th to Powell Street. But, the anticipation is that we’ll go all the way to the Mandela Parkway, that’s really substantial for a little town like this.

Then the building of the Emery Go-Round, again, residents and businesses coming together to create this PBID. That has been absolutely outstanding. You know, a lot of shuttles have been tried around the bay area and countrywide. The Emeryville Emery Go-Round is probably the most successful. Over a million and a quarter rides a year. This is phenomenal. This is a one square mile little town!

You know, you have to think these are really exciting things that have happened. Again, it’s because people came together. The city staff, the people in this city, the businesses, that’s the key to having things happen in this city.

EE: So The Greenway, protecting the Crescent like you said, the Emery Go-Round, no defeats? No things like, ‘if only we could have gotten that done, you know, this town would have been amazing’?

ND: The other thing I want to focus on, you know Emeryville takes a lot of heat and a lot of bad press, bad remarks about the big-box stores at the East Bay Bridge, and IKEA etc. at Bay Street, but the thing is, hearing you had a one square mile that all the, not all the industry, but a majority of the industry had moved out. That was your tax base. It was gone and your ability to have Police, Fire, and Public works was minimal.

So, building back the economic structure of this city, critically important. Some mistakes were made there. Hopefully they will be changed around. But, rebuilding the economic base with this city was critically important. And that’s again, people in the city and businesses coming together making it happen. It wasn’t one person or 4-5 people. It was a lot of people.

EE: Okay. So, let’s fast forward to 2015.

ND: I just have to add one more thing to the successes as we look back is the Center for Community Life. This is something that will get national recognition. Part of that is the cooperation between the school district and the city. Traditionally, historically, and actually almost countrywide, school districts are separate and to themselves and have a culture that resists really opening up their doors to people and letting people know what’s going on.

That’s not the case here. We’ve been working with, having regular meetings with the city council and the school board for I’d say at least 6 or 7 years. These are important steps to, you know, we serve the same people, we should be working congruently, not head-to-head.

And what hasn’t happened? The bridge from Novartis to Bay Street hasn’t happened. And I blame Jerry Brown for that [laughing]. That’s a real loss, that’s a big connector. So, that’s one that I hope we are going to prevail with the Department of Finance. But, who knows it’s in the courts …

EE: We’ve done everything we can and now we need to kind of hope…

ND: Now, what do you think Rob? Can you think of something that should not have… We have to do the dog park …

EE: Yeah, that bridge is definitely a critical one … 

ND: And the whole continuation of the Greenway down back of Novartis and down to Park [Avenue]. That’s important. Again, I blame Jerry Brown. What can I say? I have a great deal of admiration for Governor Brown. I think he does spectacular stuff but, what he did with Redevelopment, I know a lot of people love that, but it really gave us a sock in the chops.

EE: Yeah, well my understanding is, you know maybe some other communities kind of gave redevelopment a bad name, where Emeryville was doing that right. You know, it really it hurt us more than the people that he intended to.

ND: Oh, no doubt in my mind about that.

EE: So, Emeryville in 2015 you know, 26 years later after you stepped foot into Emeryville politics. Does this city reflect your vision for what a vibrant city, is at this point? Are we there yet? What would complete this?

ND: No, I really have to say [laughing] when people use terms like ‘a vibrant city’, in my mind the direction I was always moving in, vibrant city is one thing … but a city where you can feel safe. That you know you pick up the phone and you call the cops, you got a cop on your door in 5 minutes.

Unlike across the street, in one of our neighboring cities, you can pick up the phone and call the cops. You may get a cop in 24 hours, you may not. So, public safety is a really high thing for me. and I think, and I’m joined in this opinion by over 80 percent of the people in Emeryville given the latest polls that they place a high value on public safety.

So, that’s part of the vision. The other part of the vision for me is a clean city. Public Works, a clean city, and a city that the internal infrastructure is maintained and works well. We have a program that we’ve had for probably 20 years. These are the traffic offenders from the County that have to do their release time worth picking up trash.

EE: S.W.A.P.? [Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program]

ND: Unbelievable. Fantastic. We do the best we can to clean city. I think if you just walk across the street then go to our neighboring city you begin to appreciate how much we do with a clean city. So, Police, Fire, Public Works, that’s the basic.

If you don’t have that, you can have all the whip cream on the top you want, all the galas you know, the festivities and everything but the basics is Police, Fire, and Public Works.

EE: That’s the infrastructure of a vibrant city you’re saying …

ND: Right. That’s the basis you stand on. I think the whip cream type … I think the Recreation Department has just done an outstanding job in terms of you know, providing programs for the young people not just in Emeryville but surrounding cities. And the Senior Center is perceived to be the best Senior Center in Alameda County. It runs the best trips. It’s unbelievable. This tiny little town here …

What we don’t do a good job at is we don’t really beat our chest and talk about these good things. Lots of people don’t know about the Senior Center, they don’t know about the Rec. programs but they are there and they’re established and they’re functioning well.

EE: And you think a part of that is because of city funding to support these things…

ND: Oh absolutely. The city, there’s minimal funding from Alameda County and from the area agency on ageing. But, the city general funds, the people of this city, are the ones who are supporting that. When I say the people in this city, I don’t mean just the residents. The residents pick up about 20 percent of the tab, business picks up about 80 percent of the tab.

So, when I hear people banging on business and you know making really nasty remarks about business I have to sit back and think, do you really understand how this city runs and how without business, if you drive business away you’re going to have to pick up a pretty hefty tab and you’ll never be able to do it.

You can’t do it on real estate taxes. That’s what less than 8 percent of the general fund. It’s ludicrous.

EE: I tend to agree with some of it, some of the ideas seem … some of it, you know, seems a little idealistic in certain regards. Anyway, we’ll see how that plays out.

So, I’ve noticed, a lot of people have noticed, that you are sharp as ever. You know, you are sharp as a tack and many people have pointed this out. I’m not trying to massage your ego. But what do you attribute this to? What’s your secret to mental longevity? How does age change your priorities for this city?

ND: [Laughing] Actually, I still consider myself to be about 18. You know, I really don’t think much about age. I think you have to pay attention to your health and I’ve not done a very good job at that, because I’m distracted by other things that are more important to me.

Nothing should be more important than your health. But, hopefully I’ll learn that lesson … if I have time.

EE: So you’re saying it’s just genetics? You’re lucky? Maybe just being tuned in and engaged the way you are, it has just kept your mental focus …

ND: I know a lot of elderly people, even unbelievably I’ve seen people that are older than I am that are very sharp but they keep involved. But, they keep doing things, thinking things, learning. You keep your mind alive, which doesn’t mean that you can’t fall over dead, you know, the next minute [laughing]. But, who cares, live while you can. Seize the day.

EE: Now we’ve identified that you’re 87. But, your priorities do change over the decades. You know when you moved here, you know when you were … you know 78-79, so you were in your 50s versus being in your 80s … your priorities changed. Does being now, 87, has that shifted your priorities?

ND: It’s not a matter of age shifting my priorities. But, when I move to Emeryville the whole idea, the operation of this city or what the city was doing was minimally important to me. I was, kind of, dragged into this election thing kicking and screaming. I didn’t really want to do it but I was adamant about the shoreline and I knew how important …

We had to get the Emeryville alliance in there so that we could push that forward. But, what happens, to change your priorities, is you start becoming involved, as you know Rob, with this little town and it has infinite variety and complexity. Every day is a new challenge. Every day is a new opportunity and that’s the way your priorities change, I think.

EE: Yeah, I’ve definitely been sucked into Emeryville politics.

ND: It’s irresistible [laughing].

EE: So, I created The E’ville Eye, part of it was my perception of lack of transparency and…

ND: Let me talk to you about that, because that has always … I hear people saying that over and over again, that there’s a lack of transparency or that it’s difficult to determine things. I don’t think there’s any great cabal that’s trying to keep information away from people. What I do think is that this is a very complex town and a lot of stuff is going on.

A lot of moving parts to watch. I think this city can do, they struggle mightily with getting information out. It’s kind of like the white rabbit [laughing] running to catch up with time. I believe city staff is doing the best they can to get information out in a manner that will be received by the public. That will be easily accessible to the public.

I don’t think we’re there yet, But, I have never seen on the part of the staff or the city council, especially in the last 10 years of any attempt to conceal anything from anybody.

EE: Okay, I should qualify that, as I’ve got to know city staff, Charlie Bryant, Nancy Humphrey, and Maurice Kaufman. They’ve all been very forthcoming with information so …

ND: We have superb staff here. Our management staff and the city workers, they’re really on board. They’re really performing public service, which you don’t find in many cities. Some cities close to us.

EE: For me, it’s more just about bubbling the important stuff to the surface a little bit better. And also I’m scratching my head why the mainstream media kind of ignores Emeryville, you’d maybe get an article out of them for every month …

ND: The Oakland Tribune did not even cover the wage issue. Now, the San Francisco Business Times covered it but the Oakland Tribune had nothing about it. They had a very small one on the moratorium.

EE: Yeah, so I mean a big part of what I’m trying to do is get more residents engaged and hopefully, like I said, bubbling that information to the surface. More people pay attention and we’ll have more resident engagement. So do you have any advice for somebody like myself to work better with the city and get the city to advocate for us?

ND: Well, I think the perfect example of how effective you are, Rob, is the Dog Park. I mean, you’re the one that saw the opportunity there. You’re the one that brought it forward to the Park Avenue Committee and subsequently to the Public Works and then to the council.

That’s how a little town works. That’s one of the aspects of this town. But, you have to get off your rear end and do it and get involved. Fortunately, I think, Vicky Joe [Sowell]. I think she gave her remarks before you came in, but this is another perfect example. She is the one that had created the idea for that art garden down at 36th and Peralta.

She has come in now with the idea, the underpass that leads on to the freeway has a couple of empty holes in it. It’s an underpass. Her suggestion is to cover those over, it’s CalTrans’ property. Have CalTrans cover it over and make small green areas there. Serves two purposes, gets more green in the city and secondly those fences there where the underpass is we had a fellow that jumped or was pushed over that and was killed not too long ago. There was no determination whether it was you know whether he was drunk or what happened, but that’s the kind of creative idea that comes forward.

We had another citizen over on 48th street. There’s a segment of the Temescal Creek undergrounding that’s right away for The Flood Control District. They own it. But, this citizen on 48th street came forward and said we can make a community garden out of that, if the city would pop for a small amount of money for boxes.

So, that worked its way through. That was created. Same thing with the community garden at 59th and Doyle. That’s the beauty of a small town.

EE: These are all the examples of items that the inception was through the community?

ND: Exactly.

EE: And what I’m learning is, and I said in public comment, you need to get at least one Councilmember in your corner and hopefully that builds momentum. But, yeah I agree that you can … It’s a grind. You’ve got to be in it for the long haul.

ND: That’s why, you know, when you say the low community spirit. If you’re measuring community spirit by lots of bodies out in the parks or the streets … that may be right, but there is certainly the opportunity for community members to bring forward their ideas.

First at a committee level and then move it forward. Again, we don’t communicate how you can do that as effectively as we should.

EE: Well, hopefully the blueprint I’ll help map that out. A). Get on a committee and hopefully Council doesn’t eliminate all our committees [laughing] That’s another discussion …

ND: That will be very helpful if you really want to inform people to just use the dog park as an example of how things really go through.

How you can have an idea. How you can gather adherence. They get behind it and push and there you go. Much easier to do in a little town than in say, Oakland or Berkeley.

EE: I’ll definitely be documenting this along the way. So, there’s been some conversations about raising the salaries of our council…

ND: We raised it two years ago.

EE: Like incrementally, nominally …

ND: They can only raise it at a council election. So that means every two years. That’s state law.

EE: Now, we’re a Charter City, I think, we have a little more flexibility to do that.

ND: Well, the way we wrote the charter, we would have to change the charter to do it. Have to be a vote of the people to raise the salary.

EE: So we have to go through with the election in order to do that. Well, what are your thoughts on that? I mean, I know council doesn’t make enough money to really make a living that’s why it seems like …. It’s hard to be the bread-winner and be a council person.

ND: I’ll tell you, Rob. I’m not a big fan of professional politicians. I’m a big fan of public servants, people who will dedicate their lives or a portion of their time to helping their community. In the case of Councilmembers, if you really do the job, read the packets, study the issues, listen to people, weigh everything, you’re talking about easy a 40 hour week and many times more than that, and Saturdays and Sundays. But, I don’t think you can pay people for dedication.

So, I’m ambivalent on this whole thing. Do you want to raise salaries so that you attract people who just want to do it because they can make a living? Or do you want to attract people who have real dedication? Like the founding fathers when they talked about people not being professional politicians but stepping up and doing their job for the community.

There’s a term for that but I’ve forgotten what it is.

EE: [Laughing] Well, I’ll use the example of Jennifer West. You know, somebody, I mean most people would say that she was committed and…

ND: Oh absolutely. Dedicated. Wonderful.

EE: Totally dedicated and well-liked …

ND: Oh, absolutely

EE: But balancing family life, for her, along with her profession and all the reading you have to do and the committees you have to serve on, you know. I’m speculating, but, it proved a little too much for her and raising kids. Is there anything we can do different about our city to offset that?

ND: It’s not clear to me that the dollars would have changed Jennifer’s… I have no idea. I don’t have any information but, people make choices all the time. Where do you want to put your energies? Where do you want to focus? How much will it cost me in time? Can I afford this and still take care of my other responsibilities?

I don’t think money is the basic criteria here, but I’m ambivalent about that. It’s certainly nothing that I would fight one way or the other.

EE: One person I spoke with mentioned having more available staff resources, even an assistant to help them pour over the dockets and all the copy. Instead of money, maybe there is a little more support for council … Because then also we want to retain the best and the brightest right? What can we do besides money, to help council members that …

ND: Now that is interesting. That is interesting. That’s something that really we should take a look at. But, quite frankly, the way it is set up now you know very few people use hard copy anymore. I’m probably one of the last remaining because I really like to tear up, you know, back and forth on it. Besides, I don’t completely trust the electronics [laughing], but I know if I’ve got paper in my hand and a pencil in my hand I’m alright. That’s an interesting idea and it’s something that if the council ever has another retreat they should probably consider.

EE: What can we do more to help you do your job better and help you with that work life balance you know? Because, again, we want to retain the best and the brightest and we don’t want you guys to be stretched too thin and focus on getting things done in our city.

ND: That’s a very good thought.

EE: What will Emeryville’s biggest challenges be over, say the next 5 years? And if you can forecast Emeryville in 20 years [Laughter]. 2035. What do you see? Look into your crystal ball here and tell me, Emeryville in 5 years, Emeryville 20 years.

ND: [Laughing] let me tell you something, I’m not a big crystal ball fan because most of the prognostications that people have given in my lifetime, and I’ve lived long enough to see hundreds of people dead wrong in what they prognosticated. But, I think the challenges for this city in the next 5 years.

We have a very good council. Very dedicated people, very well-meaning people, What isn’t clear to me is when I came into Emeryville it was in pretty bad economic state. We have built a very strong economic… a good tax revenue, variegated revenue sources, they’re all in flux.

Let me give you an example of this. Retail which is very strong. The advent of shopping online is growing and growing. What will happen to shopping centers and even big box centers is not a given. So, I think one of the things we have to focus on is maintaining our economic base. Critical to all the good things that flows through this city. That’s what I see as an important aspect in the next five years.

I would hope that we would duke it out with the State of California & The Department of Finance, beat them to their knees and win [laughing] but I can’t say that will happen. If we win, many of the things that we want to happen, like the bridge over the [railroad tracks] will happen. So, that’s a biggie and it’s an unknown.

But, in the next 20 years, rise or fall, it is still location, location, location. This is always going to be prime land. It’s how you administer it and how you provide the services. To do that you have to have revenue.

EE: So as long as an earthquake doesn’t take us out or one of the railroads with Bakken crude running through our town,  20 years from now …

ND: Listen, the railroads issue is very important. We’re working with the league and we’re working with other cities up and down the corridor. But, what they’re proposing here to run through is ridiculous.

EE: They’re in for a fight.

ND: Oh, you bet.

EE: I find what you say about the shopping malls to be pretty interesting. I didn’t think about forecasting that. But, we see in other cities, they have a lot of dying malls. You know, malls that are neglected, they’ve turned into more or less eyesores.

ND: I’ve been fighting for years for these guys that own East Bay Bridge. As far as I’m concerned, it’s [obsolete]. It should be totally redone. Parking lot should be converted into buildings. Retain the parking but have structured parking. They have an asset there that they are allowing it to decline. It’s an asset that can only be better if they would improve it, because once the port, and once that whole area there is retrofitted and that’s in the works now, it’s rolling.

Not just the port but the other, what do they call that? Oakland owns it …

EE: The Army Base?

ND: The Army Base. Once that starts to run, that center could be just a wonderful revenue producer but, not in the way and the shape it is now. I’m very disappointed with those guys.

EE: Adapt or die …

ND: Yeah, exactly.

EE: Who knows in five years what challenges a shopping center like Bay Street is going to face, Theatre sales may go down. They may have to look at…

ND: Well, if you look at the young people, say from 14 to 25, which is you know usually the big people, the population that goes to films, they’re all online with their games and stuff like that. Their participation in the movies is going down and down. That’s serious.

EE: It is

ND: So we’ve got to stay on our toes about our revenue to the General Fund.

EE: We’re winding down here. Anything you want to say to the residents of Emeryville at this point about what we can do to make Emeryville the city we want it to be?

ND: Well, it’s the same old mantra. You get what you participate with. If you participate and you get involved, say like on the Park Avenue Committee, or come to City Council member or just review, understand what it is about your city you like. If there’s something you don’t like, speak up.

Participate. That’s all I’m saying.

EE: Yeah, well, pay attention and participate. You know, that’s the running theme in any dialogue or participation.

ND: I’ll tell you in terms of elections, you get what you vote for. So, you better understand who’s running, what they stand for, does it jive with what you want? If you don’t participate, you’re not going to be in the game.

EE: Last question. So when Nora Davis finally decides to retire, you know I’m putting that in quotes …

ND: It’s already decided for me. I only have two more years.

EE: Well, are you saying you’re not going to run again?

ND: Definitively I am not going to run. Definitively.

EE: Really? okay. I haven’t heard that before so …

ND: That’s really not breaking news [laughing]

EE: Are you sure?

ND: I mean, come on.

EE: I thought you were giving The E’ville Eye an exclusive here …

ND: Well, it is exclusive [laughing].

EE: So, when you retire, and I guess it would be 2017?

ND: No, 16 I think. November ’16.

EE: How do you want to be remembered by the residents of Emeryville?

ND: Let me tell you something. That is a question I have totally no interest in [laughter]. I have been so fortunate to be involved and to participate in what this city has done and grown into, that I just tip my hat to the people in the city to say ‘thanks for the ride’. It was great.

EE: Well, one thing that for sure will live on is the city is literally dotted with plaques that have your name on it. You’ve been instrumental …

ND: I was never a big fan of plaques [laughing].

EE: But, you’ve been instrumental in the growth of this city

ND: Again, I cannot emphasis too much. It was a number of people working together. None of this would have happened without a coalescing of residents, business, you know city staff. One person doesn’t do that much. Just part of the whole … what can I say?

EE: On that, we want to thank Nora Davis for participating in this exclusive interview with The E’ville Eye. A 26-years council member, and as on record, that she will be retiring at the end of this term. So, thanks so much.

ND: That will be good news for a lot, to R.U.L.E. especially … who consider me to be the Darth Vader of Emeryville [Laughter].

EE: Thanks again Nora.

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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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