A Solano Avenue Vacancy

John Kenyon
Tuesday June 22, 2004

Editors, Daily Planet: 

David Trachtenberg’s handsome new building at Solano Avenue and Colusa remains ominously empty, its elegant storefront windows waiting to come to life. By now, many people are puzzled by this seemingly paralyzed project. 

Months back, we were promised a perfect starter occupant in the form of La Farine bakery, a proven success up on College Avenue near Claremont, which, after a protracted battle with the city over two traditional tables and missing parking, was finally given approval. 

Now, one lone letter of protest received on the last day of the objections period will extend further the already absurd wait for this ideal use of the new building’s dramatic rounded corners. Now the City Council cannot review this matter until late July, or if that date is missed, in September after the council’s summer recess. Maybe we can have it for next Christmas! 

Parking is no longer the issue. Neither are the “occasional” short-stay tables. The real argument seems to be that there are too many eating establishments on upper Solano. Too Many? Who says? How arbitrary can we get? 

For better or worse, upper Solano has evolved somewhat into another Fourth Street—dedicated to book-browsing, coffee-sipping, greeting-card-buying and movie-going. There are also banks, a supermarket and a post-office, so the area does have its workaday use, but it would seem perverse, if not stupid, to put, say, a bike-shop, and appliance store, or even a real estate office in this inviting new building. 

Such obsessive control of the commercial/leisure environment makes living in Berkeley a bit like living in Oliver Cromwell’s England. Emeryville looks more attractive every day. 

John Kenyon