Public Comment

Commentary: Making a Better Berkeley Bowl By BETSY MORRIS

Tuesday March 07, 2006

On March 8, the Planning Commission takes up the proposed Berkeley Bowl project again. More traffic versus better access to groceries; loss of scarce industrial land versus jobs and tax revenue—these are the some of the tradeoffs under consideration.  

Although West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation supports the project, all of us could be much more strategic about it. We have the example of the first Bayer development agreement. Over 10 years Bayer channeled several million dollars into programs for low-income seniors, youth, and families, into Rosa Parks School, a shuttle bus for workers, training and jobs for dozens of Berkeley High School students, not to mention street improvements. Berkeley Bowl is not a wealthy multi-national, but the principles of a good community benefits agreement remain the same. 

It would be a great step forward if stakeholders and public decision-makers were actively negotiating the gray areas to improve the quality of life for the people who live and work here. The neighborhoods surrounding Ashby Avenue in South and West Berkeley include the city’s highest concentrations of youth, youth in poverty, households paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent, the highest high school drop out rates, lowest incomes, and widespread lack of health insurance, with dire consequences for family stability and longevity. 

Here are six ways to make a new Berkeley Bowl a better deal all around. 

1. The Bowl could actively motivate customers to use Pedal Express or other delivery service and to arrive by bus, bicycle, or foot. An example might be a frequent buyer discount for deliveries, or for presenting a valid bus transfer or bicycle parking voucher. 

2. In addition to existing local hiring guarantees, the Bowl could fill a certain number of part-time positions with youth referred through the city’s Youth Works program. Worker benefits could include introductions/vouchers to local urban farming, culinary arts, and self-employment and financial training programs already operating in Berkeley to help them build careers out of their experience. 

3. The Bowl should minimize the amount of space that is nonconforming to MULI standards. The proposed 3,000-square-foot “community room” proposed in the café/food preparation building, could be more economically productive if it were instead rented as light industrial space. Licensed kitchens for full-time or hourly rental are in high demand by small East Bay caterers and specialty food manufacturers. Such businesses could benefit from the connection to the Bowl’s food sales. There are several non-profit business development and micro-enterprise training agencies who could partner on this. 

4. The Bowl should actively sell and promote products made by companies licensed in Berkeley. Whole Foods has a Berkeley section, for example. We need more places to showcase the “Made in Berkeley” brand, for both local and regional shoppers. 

5. The city and the Bowl’s ownership could agree to set aside a portion of new revenues to increase funding for economic development and affordable housing projects with priority for the residents and workers of West and South Berkeley.  

6. To minimize the amount of square footage out of conformance with MULI standards, the Bowl should be asked to forgo any further subdivision of interior space or expansion of the non-grocery, non-industrial uses of the site in the future. Once the walls go up, so do the costs of space for other users in the future. No further upscaling of retail use should be permitted without further review, and capital gains on resale of the property should be recaptured all or in part by the city. 

Some of these are easy and low-cost, others will require planning and expense. But I encourage all stakeholders to do more to fulfill the spirit of economic equity in the West Berkeley Area Plan, and take the practical steps toward long-term health of our West Berkeley community. 


Betsy Morris is president of the West Berkeley Neighborhood Development Corporation.›