Meet your City Council Candidates: Public Policy Director John J. Bauters

Published On September 17, 2014 | By Rob Arias | News & Commentary, Politics

We reached out to our four City Council candidates and they all graciously agreed to an exclusive interview with The E’ville Eye. We established 15 questions that we hope will help you better understand who they are, what they stand for, what their priorities are, and help you make the best decision for your family and our city. We will be publishing these in no particular order over the next two weeks.

First up is probably the least familiar, but a very intriguing candidate nonetheless, John Bauters. I personally met John shortly after he moved from Chicago while walking his dog “King” along Park Avenue. We’ve had long conversations about the needs of our city and the personal need for a dog park in our neighborhood. John is equipped with a law degree and has experience in some of Emeryville’s most needed areas including affordable housing and addressing homelessness.

Additional resources about John can be found at the bottom of the questionnaire including his Green Party Questionnaire, links to his personal site and a gateway to make a contribution to his campaign.


john-bauters-landscape

1). So where are you from originally and what brought you to Emeryville?

I am a native of South Bend, Indiana, but spent the majority of my childhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Prior to living in Emeryville, I spent almost seven years in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois with my partner, Aaron. Aaron was offered a professional advancement opportunity that required him to relocate to California. Although selling our home and leaving a community we were very invested in was difficult, when you love someone you make sacrifices for them. We chose Emeryville because we wanted to live in a community that was closely connected to public transit and a metropolitan environment but small enough for meaningful citizen engagement and civic participation. We have been residents of the Besler Building in the Park Avenue District of Emeryville since moving here two years ago.

2). What compelled you to run for Emeryville City Council? Can you refer us to a specific moment that helped reaffirm your commitment?

I am running because I love living in Emeryville and I believe I have the skills and experience to serve my community. I have spent years engaging in local and state government. The positive feedback I receive from communities around the state who have called on me to assist them in identifying housing and homelessness solutions is the most recent reaffirmation that my service to local communities is positive and I have a lot to offer a place that I love.

3). Being an effective Councilmember can require upwards of 20 hours per week of your personal time. How do you intend to balance this with your career, family-life and do you think the relatively low-wages that Councilmembers receive are a barrier to attracting more qualified candidates?

I put my name forward for City Council because I am confident in my ability to dedicate the time required to doing the job well and believe I have the knowledge, skills and experience required to be effective. As a disaster relief director, we typically received one day off for every ten days on disaster operation, with an average deployment of 40 days. Those days were not your typical workday, often requiring 15-20 hours of labor each day, working with people experiencing crisis under dangerous conditions. As a legal services attorney, preparing for jury trials meant regularly working upwards of 80 hours per week in order to put on an effective case for my client. My high success rate as a litigator is strong evidence of my capacity to balance time effectively to achieve positive outcomes. In my current role as an advocate for sustainable communities I have greater flexibility in how I spend my time on a near-daily basis. Using the time management skills I have honed over the past ten years, I know I am able to dedicate the time and energy necessary to making Emeryville a stronger community.

I know that physical and mental health depend on achieving good work-life balance. I am an outdoor enthusiast and run daily through Emeryville and along the Bay Trail to help accomplish some of that balance. My partner plays in a recreational softball league and I umpire adult and children’s slow-pitch softball on the weekends throughout the year, giving us both time together and with our friends and neighbors.

I think reasonable minds could disagree about whether the compensation associated with this position are a barrier to attracting more qualified candidates. For someone working multiple minimum wage jobs, the compensation available to a councilmember may not be as attractive as the fixed schedule that comes from an hourly wage job. Having held multiple jobs in order to make ends meet throughout most of my career, I appreciate how a lower-income individual interested in civic engagement may be reticent to seek elected office, given the irregular hours and challenges it poses to other permanent employment opportunities. That said, I also believe that the first premise of pursuing public service should be exactly that: to perform a service. I do not believe a city council seat should be seen as a primary source of income for any person who is sincerely interested in public service. People seeking public office should be mission-driven and have the interests of their community, as opposed to themselves, at the forefront of their candidacy. Because our community could be made stronger by including lower-income and marginalized voices on the council, I support exploring opportunities to balance these two principles in furtherance of that goal.

4). How do you intend to finance your campaign and will you be employing a campaign manager? Are there any major contributors that you can disclose ($1000+)? What Political party are you aligned with?

My campaign will be financed primarily with support from my friends, family and neighbors. My biggest supporters, both in life and in this campaign, have been and will always be my family, especially my parents. They are the ones who introduced me to serving others and they have been my greatest source of moral support. When others openly questioned why I passed up high-paying for-profit legal jobs to represent indigent clients, my parents supporting my choice by making a contribution to the homeless shelter my clients lived in. I am managing my campaign with the help of my closest friends and will not be retaining a professional campaign manager for this election. I am a registered Democrat and strongly align myself with the party for the its demonstrated commitment to promoting economic opportunity, social justice and community service.

5). Community engagement in Emeryville has historically been abysmal. Any ideas on how we can further engage Emeryville residents and even increase civic participation and voter turnout?

Successfully increasing community engagement requires a holistic approach to expanding community. To that end, I believe we can help improve how people identify with our community in a variety of ways, including one I identified in my answer to question 12, below. Once people identify as part of a community, they invest their ideas, time and energy in maintaining a place where they feel safe and included. Communities are strengthened when their members engage in acts of civic participation that reinforce and defend their common identity.

As a resident of the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago for many years, I lived in a community that had a very high level of civic participation. One example of civic engagement I want to introduce to the residents of Emeryville is a process called participatory budgeting. The local alderman who represented our ward on the Chicago City Council turned over decision-making authority for local infrastructure expenditures to the residents. A steering committee comprised exclusively of residents was formed. Neighbors formed groups called assemblies or cohorts and developed local, grass roots ideas for our infrastructure planning. Resident proposals included designating new bike lanes, commissioning local artists for pieces that told the story of our community, and the creation of a dog-friendly area at a community park, among others. Residents navigate the proposal and budget submission process with the help of the steering committee. In the end, all residents attend a community fair that showcases the various proposals. After presentations, questions and answers,all residents above the age of 16, regardless of voter registration status, are invited to cast votes in favor of their preferred proposals. The process successfully integrates the ideas of young people, people who often do not participate in formal government elections and neighborhood groups into a single transparent, credible process. The community benefit of a unifying, civic experience brought us closer together, kept people rooted in the neighborhood, and gave us a unique identity. I believe that some version of this is possible for Emeryville.

6). One of the major agendas that the city has been trying to solve is getting families to root in Emeryville by incentivized developers to include family-friendly housing in new projects (Generally, units larger than 2 bedroom). Do you think this is important to the maturation of our city and the right approach?

Family-friendly housing is a very important part of building community but, as stated above, needs to be part of a holistic approach. The truth is that incentivizing housing developers alone does not make a community inviting to families; good schools, pedestrian-friendly streets, neighborhood parks and accessible civic centers are all part of what make a community attractive to families. Developers typically generate proposals that are a reflection of what the local market dictates. In order for family-friendly housing to be more attractive to developers, we need to do more than just incentivize specific project proposals. Creating an environment that will make Emeryville a place families want to call home requires improving upon the recent steps our Council has taken. The ECCL is a good example of a community feature that will make more families interested in Emeryville and help increase market demand for the development of family-friendly housing.

Portions of any new revenue generated from transfer taxes levied with the passage of our local ballot measures and reductions in the recently-passed developer fee are specific ideas for incentivizing developers. Additionally, new pots of state funding were made available this year for the development of affordable homes for veterans and formerly homeless families. Working closely with developers to integrate some of this funding into future developments is a very worthwhile policy aim for the city going forward.

7). Many existing Emeryville residents, lower AND middle-incomes, are getting pushed out by rising rent costs with absolutely no course of retribution. How can we help solve this? Is pursuing any rent-stabilization measures or alternatives even viable?

In my work as a legal advocate for lower and middle income residents, I have worked with a number of state and local laws that provided rent stabilization protections like rent control and other occupancy protections to tenants. There is no question that the demand for housing in the Bay Area has driven the cost of housing to a point where it is displacing lower and middle-income families. While rent stabilization metrics would be wonderful, they are not likely to be effective in Emeryville given the current status of the law. The 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act prohibits instituting rent control onto new construction residential units that obtained a certificate of occupancy after February 1, 1995. The law likewise prohibits rent control from being enforced against condos, regardless of when they were issued certificate of occupancy, as well as all single-family homes. Given these restrictions, the vast majority of Emeryville’s housing stock is ineligible for the typical rent stabilization measures, making traditional rent stabilization impractical in our city. Additional tenant protections are warranted, but none of them will actually serve to stabilize rent – they would simply provide additional levels of due process to tenants.

8). Do you think we need to incentivize developers to build more for-sale, affordable units while discouraging all-rental units? If so, how can we do this?

A major component of developing community comes through the creation of both affordable for-sale and rental units, an issue I am very experienced in and strongly support. The loss of redevelopment money, coupled with the decision in Los Angeles v. Palmer has made it difficult for places like Emeryville to continue their prior good work in developing affordable homes effectively. Although developers are still required to contribute a set-aside under local ordinance for the future development of affordable homes, there are several problems with that development model. First, by opting-out and choosing to pay the fee as opposed to build the units, we lose precious space for the development of those units within the tiny geographic space Emeryville occupies. Second, although money for the future development of affordable homes is set aside, it is largely useless until we have accumulated enough make the funding of an affordable project viable. Consequently, we first wait to cobble the funds together to make a development possible, then begin the long process of approving a suitable proposal.

I would propose several incentives to help encourage developers to include affordable units in their development proposals:

  1. Reduce timelines, fees and bureaucratic processes for affordable home projects. Time is money for developers. The average timeline for getting a residential development approved and built can be 4-5 years. Reducing pre-approval timelines is a cost-savings mechanism that allows developers to realize earnings faster while also giving a quicker boost to our affordable housing stock.
  2. Give developers the option of financing a higher set-aside rate closer to 20%, or allow them to avoid the set-aside fee altogether if they include a smaller percentage of affordable units (10-15%) in the project design, which helps us build a substantive set-aside fund faster or alternatively ensure we are getting units online as we go.
  3. Reduce or waive impact and development fees for projects that develop affordable units, either above a specified threshold or at a tiered rate based on the number of affordable units created as a percentage of the entire project.

Additionally, we need to protect our existing affordable home-ownership stock. During redevelopment, funds were set aside for the construction or rehabilitation of affordable homes for low and moderate income families. Their affordability was protected by restrictive covenants placed into the deeds, ensuring that the units would remain affordable when they were sold at a future date. By dismantling redevelopment agencies, the state left something called “housing successor agencies” with the task of monitoring and enforcing these affordability covenants. In Emeryville, the City Manager is charged with this task. Although we no longer receive any funds for the administration of this task, it is imperative that we continue to protect our existing stock, which can be done by developing a public monitoring metric for those units. If elected, I would help the city and the City Manager ensure that we do not lose any of the units developed by state redevelopment funds.

9). Traffic, Parking, Bike-ability & Public Transportation are becoming a greater issue in our city. Tell us one thing we can do to make the biggest impact on these.

Identifying transit solutions for our community is a major issue we struggle with. As a long-time public transit patron, I know what the personal and community benefits of public transit are and I appreciate what they could be at their full potential. Public transit systems are intended to reduce the impact that mass transit has on our communities and our environment. Improving the connectivity of our local community with our regional transit system is perhaps the most important thing we can do to make a bigger impact. I discuss one such idea I am particularly fond of in greater detail with my response to question 14. Additionally, I think we should investigate traffic mitigation options for improving how people commute through and across Emeryville. Synchronizing lights along some of our major thoroughfares, increasing the number of stop signs along interior streets and bike boulevards, and helping better interconnect Emeryville across the I-80 and Union Pacific corridors for bikes and pedestrians are all ways we can make a bigger impact on our transit efficiency.

10). Homelessness is a regional issue and pushing them across our borders isn’t helping solve the problem. What should the city do and what approach should we take with “Camp CalTrans” (The homeless camp next to Target)?

Homelessness is an issue where I have a great deal of substantive experience. In my seven years of service as a legal aid attorney, I provided legal assistance to over 3,000 individuals and families experiencing homelessness on issues related to housing, public assistance, disability benefits and health care. Emeryville’s neighbors have been in the news recently for literally paying people to relocate to other communities in the East Bay. I believe we are better than that. While there is no doubt that homelessness is a complex problem, the fiscal and social costs of doing nothing is much greater than the cost of providing meaningful assistance.

The city has several things it can do to help address homelessness. Partnering closely with the county is the most important of these things. The county receives funding to provide mental health, behavioral health and other social services to people experiencing homelessness. In visiting local communities around the state that are working to address homelessness, I have seen what effective solutions look like. In Fullerton, for example, the county mental health department has one licensed professional who rides along and is available to the local police department full time. When law enforcement is responding to a situation involving a person believed to be homeless, the mental health worker is an additional tool for the police officer. This also reduces the common perception among homeless individuals that law enforcement is only designed to punish them. Partnering with the county and neighboring cities is the only way we can develop meaningful solutions to homelessness.

I have spoken with the people encamped at the back of Target on several occasions. I would really like to see us get together with Oakland pursue a socially progressive approach to providing assistance. This would involve building a relationship with them, helping ascertain their needs, and then offering them services that will help end their homelessness. While this takes more time and energy than shipping them elsewhere, it delivers actual social solutions, is humane, and reflects well on the city and our outlook on community – making Emeryville a more attractive place for progressive-minded people.

11). In regards to the ECCL, tell us one thing that could have been done better to make the project more beneficial to students, parents and the community. If you had school-age children, would you have any reservations about sending them to the ECCL?

In reviewing the process by which the ECCL was created and how it stands in its final design proposal, I support the final proposal that was adopted after many stakeholder meetings and hours of public comment. The diversity of opinions that the proposal generated was a sign that there is a strong base of resident interest in the future and well-being of our community. The fact that the school bond measure passed with over 80% support from voters is a further indicator of the desire to improve our community for families. The state of the art features the Center will include, along with its multipurpose spaces make it a true pioneer for the future of education. My primary concern for any project or program that has children as its primary consumer, is the safety of those children. After their home, no place should be any safer for a child than their school. The incorporation of public space into the plan is positive and I remain confident that the City and School District will share a strong partnership in creating an environment where all members of the public will feel welcome while protecting the safety of our children who attend the campus everyday as students. I am a strong supporter of education and community building and would send a child to ECCL.

12). We’ve observed how creating Pet-friendly resources like dog-parks and trails can create interaction amongst residents and further engagement. Do you think this should be a higher priority in the city?

I am a strong proponent for the creation of dog-friendly areas. As both a current and long-time dog owner, I know how pet ownership and pet-friendly public spaces build community. When I was a resident in Chicago, I was part of a group of neighborhood dog owners who got together to engage the annual participatory budget process, discussed above (question 5). The project was approved at our community vote and a year later we constructed new large and small dog-friendly areas on a unused portion of a community park. We were looking for a way to relieve the occasional tension that exists when individuals with children and dog-owners with their pets tried to share open spaces at a community park. Dog walkers are the “silent” eyes and ears of our community, walking our own “beat” 2-3 times a day. We share information about community activities, discuss solutions to blighted areas, report suspected crime against people and properties to local law enforcement as we see it happening and we are extremely well-networked and resourceful as a community. Having a common place or two for pets to play is part of the holistic approach to making Emeryville a family-friendly community. I will be working very hard for this as a member of City Council.

13). The E’ville Eye is committed to promoting civic transparency and engagement through technology & social media including accessible city videos, Crime-statistics & the status of Public Works projects. Do you support this and will you commit to working to improve this for the media and our city?

One of the things I have always loved about our dedicated community bloggers at the E’ville Eye and the Tattler are their commitment to civic transparency. I am particularly fond of the public works reports and status reports that the E’ville Eye updates regularly. All local government should be accountable to its resident base for the safety and services it is expected to deliver. I think that the city should be providing this information to the public directly. Think about how many residents turn to the E’ville Eye and the Tattler to report issues with their streets, sidewalks, trees and other typical public works needs. The city should provide this type of service directly to residents through the city’s website. Doing so would bring more residents directly in contact with the city government’s information sharing center, exposing residents to the issues in the city and helping improve community connectedness. I understand firsthand that younger people do not pursue civic engagement in the same way as residents traditionally did in the past. In order to serve them, we have to reach out to them where they are. I would commit to advancing common sense means for enhancing transparency and engagement between residents and the city through technology and social media.

14). One of the agendas we’ve been promoting on The E’ville Eye is getting a pilot Emery Go-Round route to West Oakland BART as we’ve found roughly 3/4 of ridership is commuting to/from SF and would offer time-savings of an estimated 30-45 minutes roundtrip. Will you advocate for this or do you think this is a bad idea?

Promoting the Emery-Go-Round route to West Oakland BART is what first made me a loyal follower of the E’ville Eye a couple years back. As a public transit customer, I love the Emery-Go-Round. At the same time, I am always looking for ways to make public transit more efficient so it will be a more attractive option for non-riders. So many of my friends who work in Emeryville live in San Francisco and drive to work here. The reason given to me time and time again is that taking Emery-Go-Round to and from the MacArthur BART station makes the trek longer than if they drive across the bay. I not only support this idea, I would like to see the city work with the EMTA and our current partners in Oakland, Berkeley and the private sector to seek grants and private funding sources to try out a 12 month pilot to West Oakland to assess the viability of this proposal. Improving public transit yields massive environmental benefits to our community, reduces traffic congestion and brings neighbors together through the shared experience of a commute.

15). Can you commit to accomplishing just one thing over the next four years that we can hold you to should you be elected?

Emeryville will have a dog park before my first term is up, if elected. I know how valuable social spaces like this are for building community. We share ideas in places where we can interact openly. Building a family-friendly community doesn’t happen overnight and it is rarely the product of one or two brilliant people working in isolation. People sharing ideas is needed to build community and everyday people are the real generators of solutions that matter to everyday people. I am committing to the dog park because I identify with the issue, have prior experience working with it, can say I have personal interest in its success without any shame and know it is project that is feasible within the four-year window of the term.

Read John Bauters Green Party Questionnaire → [PDF]

John Bauters’ Website →

Contribute to John Bauters’ campaign through Democracy.com →

Follow John on Twitter →

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About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

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