Despite a community petition that garnered 473 signatures in a week, three years of our personal advocacy efforts and a council meeting that saw over a dozen community members come out on behalf of the “Halleck-Beach” dog park, the Emeryville City Council reneged and re-appropriated the funds that were intended for the community dog park in favor of a public restroom at another location. The action to reverse course against the community supported project in favor of a restroom was spearheaded by recently elected Councilmember and Vice Mayor John Bauters who had, prior to his election, expressed support for the dog park project.
The project was officially funded nine months ago and presumably city staff was already in discussions with the City of Oakland to address any legal challenges. Councilmember Martinez, who presided as Mayor at the time, was tasked with outreach to her Oakland counterpart to see if they would consider a contribution (something she admittedly never attempted). Drawings for the park had already been approved back in September, 2016 and an IndieGoGo campaign was being created to help fund a public art mural at the space by the L.A. Artist Septerhed (rendering shown below). Ideas had been presented to the Public Art Committee and had received a verbal approval.
The community even helped write a PetSafe grant that netted the city an additional $25K (money they may have to forfeit if they do not proceed). Emeryville Community Services had even gone as far as to schedule a ribbon-cutting event that was abruptly canceled. The project was embraced as a grassroots, community-driven project that would benefit public safety, families, bikeability and, of course, add a lacking pet-friendly amenity to Park Avenue neighborhood residents and patrons of Target (all the issues that politicians verbally supported pre-election). While still on the CIP list, without funding the project will remain in limbo indefinitely.
A partial list of the Halleck-Beach Dog Park Supporters:
- PARC (Park Avenue Residents’ Committee)
- WON (West Oakland Neighbors)
- WOCA (West Oakland Commerce Association)
- Beach Street HOA
- Emeryville Warehouse Lofts HOA Board
- Artist Coop resident and Public Arts Committee Chair Sharon Wilchar
- Little City Emeryville
- Emeryville Parks and Recreation Committee
- Oakland D3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney
- Former Oakland D3 Councilmember and Oakland Chocolate Company owner Nancy Nadel
- Oakland/Emeryville TARGET
- Oakland Dog Owners Group (ODOG)
- PIDO (Point Isabel Dog Owners & Friends)
- Every Dog Has Its Daycare owner and former EDAC member Lauren Westreich
- Unanimously supported by current Councilmembers Martinez & Donahue and former councilmembers Nora Davis & Ruth Atkin
Community Outreach Completely Lacking
The circumstances under which this abrupt shift occurred can only be described at “dodgy”. The city stealthily omitted this item in the eNewsletter communications last July (a way that they have previously communicated Special Study Sessions like CIP discussions). During Tuesday’s meeting, there was no audio available on the video stream and thus the discussion was unavailable to viewers who do not have cable television. There was absolutely zero outreach to community stakeholders that the Council was considering defunding the community’s project in favor of their own.
The lack of leadership, and outreach by the city council as well as the inability of staff to overcome simple and typical administrative challenges continues a disconcerting trend in Emeryville governance. The will of the people, no matter how strongly expressed, is inevitably replaced by the whim of individual councilmembers, no matter how poorly considered.
Vice Mayor John Bauters leads the charge to kill project
Park Avenue District Neighbor and Vice Mayor John Bauters, despite his familiarity with the plight of neighbors and a dog-owner himself, led the charge to deprioritize the park and seemed all too eager to sacrifice it. Bauters relied on a fear-mongering suggestion by animal control that people would “abandon” their pets there and justified his decision with the catch-all phrase that there were too many “unanswered questions”, questions it is his and staff’s job to answer.
Bauter’s decision is especially curious as someone who ran as a candidate under the priorities of public safety, boosting park space and public outreach. All things this project would provide a boost to.
Bauters’ involvement with the project goes back years when he was recruited to be part of the community’s efforts because of his work on another dog park and his ability to address any issues with unhoused community members who might be impacted. In fact, Bauters signed the petition in favor of the park (shown below). That was pre-election. At that time, the community met with Bauters to discuss how to improve the draft drawing, and he provided his input. John was completely on board with moving the project forward at the time. Again, that was pre-election.
“It’s in Oakland.”
Not exactly. If you were only lazy enough to look at Google Maps, you might think so. The 40th/Shellmound was a project initiated and built by the City of Emeryville and the 1994 Memorandum below seems to clearly indicate the the land underneath was intended to be maintained by our city. Specifically:
“In light of the above, the City of Oakland staff has agreed that Emeryville should retain ownership of the real property involved” (Page 1)
“the City of Emeryville also agreed to maintain the Bay/Shellmound Street Project in the City of Oakland in perpetuity;” (Page 2)
TARGET is in fact entirely in Oakland yet Emeryville still collects nearly half a million dollars in sales tax dollars per year. TARGET management has already verbally agreed to help coordinate employee cleanups of the space, security walkthroughs and replenish supplies. It’s worth noting that land underneath Caltrans structures are typically considered Caltrans property and fall under their jurisdiction. Emeryville seems to want to absolve any responsibility for the blight that they created.
Further undermining Council and Staff’s “Oakland vs. Emeryville” argument is the fact that Temescal Creek park, where council wants to instead use this money, is actually half in Oakland but was built and is maintained by The City of Emeryville.
“Isn’t the Sherwin Project earmarked to have a dog park?”
The Sherwin developers have expressed interest in including a dog park among the many amenities that residents would like to see included in the 2+ acres of open space required for the project. Keep in mind that there are still so many things that could derail this project including economic uncertainty. Timing for Sherwin’s dog park would be in the 2020 range and “potentially longer depending on how the market shapes up in the near term” according to Lennar Multifamily representative Kevin Ma.
The presence of the Halleck-Beach dog park would lessen the demand for this dog park or at least the amount of space dedicated to it in lieu of another amenity such as a very desired community garden. It became abundantly clear to me personally how useful a sheltered, off leash area for our dogs could be during the recent deluge. Sherwin’s park would not of course address the issues of blight, thoroughfare and safety that currently exist at this space.
“It’s too expensive”
“Every time we’ve put in some quality of life amenity, it’s paid off in spades in terms of that sense of the building community” noted former councilmember Ruth Atkin expressing her support for the project back on May 17th. Activate this space, activate the community. It’s that simple. The City of Oakland is slowly realizing the benefit of activating spaces vs. maintaining them. The cost of cleaning the dumping and tagging is considered an ongoing maintenance cost comparable to any created by a small park.
Emeryville is a well-funded city which in fact has a current budgetary surplus. If you listen to the Public Works Presentation, the current backlog of projects has more to do with the City’s inability to fill three vacant staff positions [8:10] (Do people not want to work for the City of Emeryville anymore?).
If our council wanted to create a more scaled back, or phased project or even build a children’s play structure or other amenity, I think the community might support this. At its heart this project is about reclaiming public space for the community and combatting the blight that is encroaching on our neighborhoods.
“People will abandon their pets there”
This is actually a better outcome according to 17 year resident and Berkeley Humane Board of Director Romy Harness. “People who abandon pets in Oakland do not do so in dog parks, but if they did that would be better than the street. Dog parks are filled with people who would ensure that the dog was handled through the appropriate municipal shelter- which is the best outcome for the dog and the community.” No one decides to abandon their dog because a dog park happens to be conveniently available.
Attempted Outreach with John
On a personal note, when I reached out to John inquiring about his change of position on this issue and asked him to help the community find a compromise to save the project he had previously supported, he became combative. “Write whatever you want to write. I’m filing a police report.” Vice Mayor Bauters then went on a “Trump-esque” tirade of aggressive personal text messages which, for his benefit, I will not reproduce here. This response was surprising not only because John and I have had a personal relationship that goes back two years when I was personally supportive of his 2014 candidacy, but because his actions were so completely at odds with his carefully crafted public persona.
Mr. Bauters’ actions left me questioning what the role of a City Council member is if it does not involve open and sometimes argumentative discussions with the community. If threats of police action are what members of our community should expect from Mr. Bauters, then I regret my prior support.
How you can help:
The CIP discussion can be reopened according to City Manager Carolyn Lehr. It will require one councilmember to move this forward and require support from a majority of the council. The E’ville Eye is asking that the community (once again) either sign our petition below or express your dismay personally by emailing the city with the contact form below. Community supporters are planning to be present at the March 7th, 7 p.m. Council Meeting to address council during the “Citizens to be heard” portion of the meeting. The community could use your support.
1). Sign our Petition:
2). Send Council a Personal Email:
3). Turn Out!
Voice your dismay in person at the 7 p.m. “Citizens to be Heard” portion of this Tuesday, March 7th Council Meeting.
1333 Park Ave, Emeryville, CA 94608