Scores of residents, hotel and construction workers, local artists and small business owners rallied in front of Emeryville City Hall Tuesday evening to protest the preferential treatment of D.C.-based developer Madison Marquette. The Council took a four to one vote to approve a “sweetheart deal” with Madison Marquette, the fifth consecutive extension of an exclusive agreement to develop shopping complex Bay Street Site B. Among the speakers at the public hearing was Maha Ibrahim, Field Representative for State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner in whose district the Bay Street project is located.
“I support collaboration between all parties as they work to ensure that the character of Emeryville’s development reflects the interests of the residents and workers who are the backbone of its success,” Assemblymember Skinner said in a written statement.
In a surprising twist, Merlin Edwards, a member of Federal Oakland Associates, which recently competed for the Oakland Army Base redevelopment bid, spoke at the meeting. Edwards said he was offering no opinion on the exclusive agreement with Madison Marquette, but “simply [wished] to offer an alternative.” Federal was one of the two top contenders for redeveloping the massive former Oakland Army Base, a high-profile process in which his company proposed a retail and hotel project for the site; the project would have included connections to local training programs to put residents to work.
“The City council majority, and a handful of developers have had a run of the city for years, and we want it back,” said Tracy Schroth, seven year resident of Emeryville and member of Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE)—one of the organizers of the rally.
Madison Marquette received the extension from the City even as they insisted they had “no plan” on the table for the Bay Street project, saying previous plans submitted for Site B have been since abandoned. The developer representative, Anna Shimko, was asked repeatedly why they have shunned requests to meet with community and yet were still meeting with tenants and operators including hotel operators. Shimko responded that meeting with the community “would not be fruitful at this time.” City councilmembers repeatedly told Madison Marquette that they expect the corporation to work with the community and address community concerns. “I’ve been told by residents that you won’t meet with them,” an exasperated City Councilmember John Fricke said to Madison Marquette’s legal representative at the council meeting. Underscoring the need for community input, he continued, “If you don’t have community support, you won’t have a project.” Fricke was the lone vote against the extension of the Exclusive Right to Negotiate, the special agreement the City of Emeryville has extended to Madison Marquette for 5 years in a row.
“These issues need to be worked out before tenants and operators are chosen,” said Wei-Ling Huber, President of UNITE-HERE! Local 2850. “What if the operator chosen is Sam Hardage?” Hardage, owner of the Woodfin Suites Hotel, is in a protracted legal battle with the City over wage theft of hotel housekeepers in Emeryville amounting to nearly $200,000.
Community members, under the banner of the “Coalition for a Better Bay Street,” has vowed to continue to push for a more inclusive and livable Bay Street project that provides family-supporting jobs for residents, affordable housing, and vital neighborhood services such as a stronger education system and more local-serving businesses. The Coalition wants to work directly with the developer to reach a formal agreement that will benefit all parties.
Reem Assil is Community Benefits Organizer for East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, 1814 Franklin St., Suite 325, Oakland.