Interview: Retiring City Manager Patrick O’Keeffe

5 mins read

Patrick O’Keeffe will retire after seven years as Emeryville’s City Manager (replacing John Flores in 2006) and eleven years as the city’s Economic Development and Housing Director. There is a public reception to honor his eighteen years of service to the city on Tuesday April 16th from 5 – 7 p.m. His tenure as City Manager was a tumultuous time for Emeryville spanning massive growth for the city as well as the 2008 economic crash and the dissolution of Emeryville’s Redevelopment Agency that had spurred its growth over the last two decades.

The City Manager is responsible for policy implementation and management of all city operations and advises and makes recommendations to the City Council concerning any conditions or situations which require Council direction or policy determination and prepares the recommended budget for consideration and approval by the City Council. The City Manager position is a not elected but appointed by the City Council and is not subject to term limits. The city is currently conducting an on-line survey profiling what residents want from what is expected to be a redefined role in the wake of losing the vital redevelopment resource.

City Manager O’Keeffe’s legacy on Emeryville will surely be debated for decades but it cannot be debated that he presided over Emeryville during a critical juncture of its history and rebirth and his name will forever be tied to its boomtown reputation. Mr. O’Keeffe graciously agreed to an interview with the E’ville Eye news blog about his tenure, what lies ahead for him personally and the direction of our city.

1). So what were the ultimate factors in the decision to retire for you and was it a tough decision?
I turned 60 this year which is when I am eligible to receive retirement benefits combined with the loss of redevelopment due to the State killing it. I stayed for 18 years because of all the public improvement projects and public private partnership projects that we were able to accomplish with the redevelopment tool. With the loss of that tool it is time to move on.

2). So what will retirement bring for Patrick O’Keeffe? (Travel, Hobbies, Passion-Projects, etc.).
I will be doing consulting for local government. A combination of filling in as an interim manager where needed, economic development, and affordable housing. So a continuation of my career with less time spent in night meetings, more freedom to schedule my day, a bit more time to work on my tennis game.

3). What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during your tenure as City Manager and do you have a biggest regret?
Bay Street, advancing the ECCL project through the design and finance stages, and emerging from the Great Recession with a balanced budget and an increase in our credit rating from BBB to A. No regrets.

4). Emeryville had a reputation as being “Pro-developer” under your tenure. Do you think this is justified and do you think this ever comes at an expense for residents?
Pro-business and pro developer is a reputation I am glad to wear. 70%  of the cost of the services the residents enjoy are paid for by business. Tax revenues from new development are the reason why we are in good financial condition. We could not have built parks, ECDC, Senior Center, Civic Center, Fire station, and rehab of the Police Station without the revenues that resulted from new development. New development has generated funds for our art programs, contributions to the Emery Education Foundation,  and volunteers in our school system. New development has not occurred at the expense of the residents, quite the opposite – new development has increased the quality of life for residents. The residential population has increased by 45% while I have been here as a result of new housing development, 20% of which are permanently affordable to lower income households. Many  people throughout the Bay Area marvel at the transformation of Emeryville. This transformation resulted from supporting new development.

5). Do you think Emeryville gets enough press exposure and what do you think of the role of news blogs in covering Emeryville and holding the City Council accountable for its actions?
There is an unfortunate lack of main stream press coverage. The blogs are mixed in their impact. Blogs have credibility when there is some editorial discipline of double checking facts and looking for and reporting on both sides of a story. This standard is unfortunately absent in some blogs and they lack credibility with decision makers as a result. I personally am turned off by the acerbic ranting that goes on about government in the blogs (in general, not just Emeryville). As Scoop Nisker used to say (back in the early 70’s on a radio show):  “If you don’t like the news go out and make some of your own”. The same holds true for the city government: If you don’t like how the City is being run get away from your computer screen and come to City Hall and participate directly in the governmental process. We have 25 committees covering every aspect of our city services. Residents are welcome and have many opportunities to become involved and make a positive contribution. It’s a lot easier to throw uniformed electronic grenades than it is to roll up your sleeves in a series of committee meetings and deal face to face with real people with strongly differing opinions and create consensus and recommendations for the Council. Governing is hard work. We are fascinated to watch and enjoy being critical, but few take the responsibility and make the commitment to be part of the decision making process in a positive way. Those who do not only make a very rewarding contribution, they learn a lot, and a few become our future leaders.


6). What can you tell residents about helping guide the city in hiring its next City Manager and would you change any of the responsibilities of the job to make it more effective for the city?
The City Council has  provided opportunity for public input and are listening to what residents express as their desires for the next City Manager. But of course not everyone agrees with what the new City Manager should be, so the Council will have to sort that out as they do with all of their decisions. The current responsibilities of the job are appropriate and do not require change. The City is operating as most Council – Manager governments operate. It is a proven model that works well, particularly in small and medium sized cities.

7). Do you think living in Emeryville Day-to-Day would be a criteria that would benefit the perspective of the incoming City Manager?
No. It is not required, cannot be imposed and is not needed. As long as the Manager is active in community events and gets out to meet residents and businesses in a variety of ways the information flow from the community to the Manager will be strong.

8). If you were a resident of Emeryville, what amenities would you like to see most for yourself and your family and which pending projects do you consider the most vital to our prosperity (ECCL, Bay St. Bridge, etc.)?
My response to this question is the same if I were a resident or not. The answer is what are the elements of a strong and desirable community ? Improving the schools is at the top of the list and ECCL and other collaborative efforts between the City and EUSD are a top priority. We have made progress in creating new parks but have more work to do. It is expensive to buy in Emeryville land and losing redevelopment was a major blow to this effort. The residents will need to work with the Council on developing alternate sources of funds for parks and recreation.

9). What do you think the biggest challenge for the incoming City Manager will be over the next few years?
Creating financial resources to fund the Capital Improvement Program (for projects like new parks) to replace redevelopment funding.

10). So any predictions for Emeryville over the next 10 years and do you have any parting thoughts, wisdom or good-byes to the residents and staff?
If you want to glimpse at the future of Emeryville in the next 10 years look at the new General Plan. It is the guide we will be following. I appreciate all of the support I received from  many residents I have met and worked with who choose to become active in civic affairs. Their willingness to volunteer their time to make the City a better place is awesome and gratifying.  Emeryville is known as the “Little City That Could”. I hope it never loses that spirit. It is why I stayed for 18 years and devoted much of my career here.

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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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