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John Flores To Retire As Emeryville City Manager

John Flores deserves a city-wide party for how he's steered Emeryville, over the years. I first met John when I got out of Berkeley's City Planning grad school and about one-year after I worked at the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. He hired me as a young consultant and I did an analysis for he and the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency.

What I did tell John was that one of my first jobs at the Oakland Redevelopment Agency as an intern was to develop an economic argument for the placement of a shopping mall, rather than an EBMUD wet-weather storage facility, at what is now the East Bay Bridge Shopping Complex in Emeryville, but in Oakland's redevelopment area for West Oakland.

My next times with him were in a different role: as columnist for The Montclarion, and fighting Kaiser's proposed move to Emeryville in 1994.

I wish John all the best. When John started, Emeryville barely had a population -- it was just over 4,000 people and many of them were more in Oakland than that small town. Not any more. Emeryville is now a true city, and that's a credit to his direction.

Emeryville manager will retire

EMERYVILLE — When John Flores left the city of Oakland 18 years ago to take over as city manager of Emeryville, the town was ruled by steel mills and paint factories and the citizenry held lingering perceptions of a corrupt city government.
When Flores steps aside Nov. 1, he'll be leaving behind a very different city.

Gone are the toxic wastelands of former industrial plants, replaced by regional retail shopping centers, hundreds of new lofts, first-class hotels and restaurants, parks, Chiron, Pixar, IKEA and numerous other clean businesses. The city's population has doubled.

Flores surprised almost everyone when he announced in his typical low-key fashion at the Aug. 1 City Council meeting that he plans to retire — a word he hasn't quite gotten his hands around.

He has worked 30 years in public service, the first 11 in Oakland before moving to Emeryville in January 1988. He turned 60 last month and said he's been doing a lot of soul-searching and talking to his wife about what he wants to do for the rest of his life. Recent changes on the council have made the staff's work more challenging. It just seemed time, he said.
"Retirement is such a big, loaded word," he said. "I'm just going to put a little balance in my life. I've been doing this work for 30 years, I've accomplished a lot, I feel good about what I've been doing.

"I'm going to take time to reflect on what I want to do, volunteer, take some classes. I do need a break," he said.

Councilmember Nora Davis had just been elected to her first term when the council selected Flores as the new city manager and they all set about to transform the city. She said he's done a top-notch job of surrounding himself with excellent managers, but his will be very big shoes to fill.

"He has just been an outstanding city manager," Davis said. "He put in 18 years, 24/7 with such attention to detail, just full involvement in the city. With his intensity, that 18 years is equivalent to 50 years somewhere else.

"He turned around one square mile of toxic waste dump into a model city," she said. "One of his strengths was he could bring many differing elements of the community together ... and that's not easy. It's like walking a tightrope, so many competing interests and passionate people."

Flores is the first to point out that the many accomplishments were achieved with a lot of teamwork under the vision and direction of the city's elected officials.

There are several high points, he said.

- The Amtrak station that went up in 1993 was the first new station built in the state in 50 years. It draws 11 million passengers a year and is among the top 10 stations in the country.

- The free Emery-Go-Round shuttle that loops around town, stopping at BART and various points. It serves
900,000 people a year.

- The number of residents essentially doubled since 1990, attracted by a mix of jobs and new housing.

- The city's budget has remained in the black.

- Bay Street, a mix of retail shops, housing and entertainment that Flores calls the "poster child" for successful redevelopment of a former contaminated site.

Some plans are taking longer than others, such as efforts to pump life into the San Pablo corridor with a mix of housing and retail establishments. But Flores has no doubt it will happen one day.

"One thing this job has shown me is miracles do happen," he said.

Bob Canter, president of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, said Flores is at the top of his game and would get snapped up in a heartbeat by several other cities, if he was so inclined. One key is his long tenure in a position that most hold for an average of four to five years.

"He has true appreciation for the business community and ... for the free enterprise system," Canter said. "He understands the importance of maintaining a climate that's conducive to the private sector, that you can't provide services to businesses and to the community unless you do that."

Separately from all that, he's one of the nicest gentlemen you'd ever want to meet."
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