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Council goes to bat for grocer

Matthew Artz
Wednesday September 18, 2002


With state plans to turn the East Bay’s shoreline into a new state park, Berkeley’s Seabreeze Market is optimistic that it won’t get blown off the map.  

“Well, it certainly doesn’t look grim,” said Dottie Radcliffe, co-owner of the 23-year old fresh foods market. Located between Interstate 80 and a heap of dirt at the mouth of the Berkeley Marina, the grocery is in the heart of the planned 8.1 mile Eastshore State Park. 

City Council, however, was not as confident as Radcliffe that the market would remain when state officials begin developing the park next year. During last week’s council meeting, the council unanimously passed a resolution pleading that state planners keep the Seabreeze. 

City Council cannot alter the state plan, but it could influence its design. Council has criticized planners for banishing an independent art group from planned park space and for advocating the construction of sports fields near the Albany coastline. 

Council is now concerned that despite park plans calling for a market, restaurant and deli in roughly the same place as the Seabreeze, the plan doesn’t mention the market by name.  

But the state’s Chief Planner Don Neuwirth said the plan is written to preserve the Seabreeze at its current site. 

“We’re not allowed to lock a specific concessionaire into the plan,” said Neuwirth, adding that he included an identical style market to give the Seabreeze an advantage when the parcel’s contract is open to concessionaire bids. 

The Seabreeze is not a typical state park vendor. While most food operators at state parks sell packaged foods and sandwiches the Seabreeze sells fresh produce, baked goods, smoothies, gourmet seafood and deli sandwiches. 

But Ron Schafer, district superintendent of the state Department of Parks and Recreation, said a competitive advantage the Seabreeze might have over other bidders would stem from its experience, not its food selection. 

The parks department judges concessionaires on a point system, and an incumbent concessionaire gets additional points, Schafer said. “From a management perspective, we know visitors already like their service.”  

Although state officials agree the market is likely to remain at the park, some environmentalists want to see its operations scaled back to better resemble a traditional park concession stand. 

Norman La Force of the Sierra Club thinks the park concessionaire should not double as a produce market. He said the current market, after the park is established, would attract regular shoppers as well as park patrons and thereby crowd the park’s limited parking facilities. 

The environmentalists may get their way in scaling back concessionare operations. Park officials said the Seabreeze’s current home, built from shipping containers, might be razed to build a parking lot. In this case, the market would be moved to a nearby park headquarters building and there may not be room for the Seabreeze to sell produce. 

Shop owner Radcliffe said she is willing to eliminate her market to stay in the park, but doesn’t agree with La Force’s position. 

“If you’ve been stuck on the freeway, you’ll see that most cars aren’t coming this way,” she said. Besides, she added, most of the produce sold at the shop is fruit: “It would seem a shame to stop selling fruit to the kids at the park.” 

Radcliffe’s customers agree with her. Since the East Bay Regional Park District became the Seabreeze’s landlord two years ago, she has collected more than 9,000 signatures from customers asking that the deli continue to sell the same goods at the same location. 

Although he didn’t sign the petition, Radcliffe has a powerful supporter outside City Hall. “They make a really good salmon sandwich,” Neuwirth said.