Imagine an Emeryville without the Emery Go-Round: A city who already has the second highest level of childhood Asthma in the state and some of the worst bottlenecks in the county and convert those 1.6 million annual riders to car-trips. The price of parking undoubtedly would spike because of supply & demand, the availability of free street parking would plummet and those inconvenient bottle-necks could potentially become full-blown gridlock. Our four major shopping centers that are arguably reliant on the free service to draw shoppers would surely be affected … as would the tax revenue they draw that account for 25% of the city’s tax base. And what about the businesses who chose Emeryville to set up shop because of this free perk? Would they flee or would prospective businesses look elsewhere? It seems unfathomable but it’s not too far-fetched if some property owners who feel they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the cost of running the system get their way.
Francis Collins, one of the primary funders of the Ken Bukowski’s led EPOA group, seems intent on disrupting the status quo of the free service and leading the dissent of other property owners who feel unduly taxed. He overcame resistance from the 10-member ETMA board of directors to win a vacant seat where he can push the agenda of the EPOA. Collins is at odds with the rest of the Board who are mostly representatives of larger corporations like Wareham Development, Novartis & IKEA. Members that take a passive role in governing the agency and basically fall in line with whatever Wareham representative and board chair Geoff Sears recommends (according to the EPOA). Collins even dramatically stormed out of a recent ETMA board meeting prior to a critical budget vote in apparent protest. “I don’t use the dumb thing, much less care about it” he was quoted as saying in a recent Bay Area News Group story by Matt O’Brien. Curious words from a member of the ETMA’s governing body who’s duties are to “to increase access and mobility to, from and within Emeryville while alleviating congestion through operation of the shuttle program” according to the EGR site. “Most people think it’s a public bus system, like someone’s entitled to it. They have no idea where it’s coming from. Now they’re realizing the people who pay for it might not want to pay for it.” Some property owners don’t realize a direct benefit from the convenience it provides to their employees or customers … but more indirectly as a result of the rising property values that the influx in residents and surrounding developments have created over the last 2 decades. Perhaps they’ve forgotten how bad it once was, or perhaps they feel it’s time for the system to stand on its own without private subsidies?
This dissent combined with a recent service disruption to the Watergate neighborhood has put the EGR at the center of conversation amongst Emeryville’s 10,000+ residents. The EPOA claims it would like to loosen control of the ETMA from larger corporate entities like Wareham and put it under control of the city & residents that they claim will better represents the interests of the riders AND smaller & mid-sized property owners. Bukowski also stated that Emeryville is not getting its fair share of the Alameda County Transit budget and that City officials should be lobbying harder to claim a bigger piece of this pie to help supplement the EGR’s funding. There doesn’t seem to be any disagreement that the system is a benefit to most (Residents, business owners and, to a lesser extent, Property Owners). The disagreement seems to be around how this revenue pie should be split. Should the small warehouse owner who’s employees drive to work as part of the job be assessed the same amount per square foot at the Bay Street Shopping Mall?
As we know, Emery Go-Round’s “Growing Pains” came to a climax on December 3rd, when a jam-packed City Hall expressed their frustrations in a 5 hour-long City Hall Meeting. The outcome of the meeting was the assembly of a special committee to get the issues on the table. This “Task Force” of City Committee members, Business Leaders & Property Owners (including Collins) have been hand-picked to try to sort out this complicated issue. These members were proposed by city staff with individual input from each of the five Councilmembers before the list was finalized. “We aimed to get a broad set of perspectives. Even though it is not an official ‘Council Task-force’, we will still be noticing the meetings to the public and they will be open to anyone that wants to attend” replied City Manager Sabrina Landreth through email. Emeryville’s City Manager is faced with probably her biggest test in her new role … although she no stranger to the challenge of sacrifices and compromises in her previous role as an administration for the City of Oakland. Curiously, 4/5 of the appointed residents reside at Watergate (and ALL from “West” Emeryville) which seems to be in the crossfire of this sensitive issue. Many of the heavily senior-oriented population rely on the shuttle for daily tasks. Watergate has a dedicated stop but the 2,500 residents do not directly or proportionately contribute to the systems funding.
The 11 committee members are as follows:
- Mayor Jac Asher – City Council Liaison
- William Reuter – Watergate Resident & Finance Advisory Committee Member
- Lauren Westreich – Small Business Owner (Every Dog has its day care) & Economic Development Advisory Committee Member
- Joyce Jacobson – Watergate Resident, Commission on Aging Committee Member & the City’s representative to the ACTC Paratransit Task-force
- Geoff Sears – Current Emeryville TMA President and Wareham Development VP
- Francis Collins – Small/Medium sized commercial property owner & EPOA Representative
- Betsy Cooley – Watergate Resident & Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Subcommittee member
- Joe Lutz – Watergate Resident & former Planning Commissioner
- John Scheuerman – PPP Resident, former Planning Commissioner and advocate for the proposed EBOT transit project
- Andy Getz – Medium sized commercial property owner representative (General Partner at HFH Ltd. real estate investment, development and management partnership company)
- Rich Robbins – Large commercial property owner representative (Wareham Development Founder & President) and one of the founding members of the Emery Go-Round System
The objectives of this task force are “to work together to develop recommendations & options for further discussion and possible action by the City Council regarding EGR funding options”. The PBID (Property/Business Improvement District) will “sunset” in 2016 if no agreement can be reached effectively shutting down the two decade old system and darling of the free city transit model. Creative ways of finding alternative funding, determining a more equitable way of funding that would assess based on usage & benefit … and consideration of a less popular sales tax funded approach or complicated fare-collection model are all being considered (or even a combination these). The Task force is moving on a very compressed timeline as Council has requested their recommendations by April, so each monthly meeting will likely have a packed agenda. It remains to be seen if they can find a compromise that will save the Emery Go-Round.
Emery Go-Round Poll
Their inaugural meeting is available for viewing to the public and through the privately financed EPOA YouTube channel (Please note that the audio quality is poor and the video abruptly ends)
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