Wrong Report Derails Berkeley Bowl Progress By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Friday March 10, 2006

Progress on the West Berkeley Bowl project has stalled due to a case of mistaken identity—of a traffic report. 

Two draft environmental impact reports for the 90,060-square-foot supermarket plan were accidentally released to the public, Planning Department staff announced Wednesday, though just one paints an accurate portrait of projected weekend car congestion.  

The official traffic report was posted on the city’s website, in public libraries and delivered to the state clearinghouse. It logged traffic patterns in January surrounding the Heinz Avenue site, where the marketplace is slated for development. 

The other report, circulated to the Planning Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board and members of the public, tracked December traffic. Staff said it is not applicable to the study at hand.  

In a letter of explanation, Principal Planner Allan Gatzke claimed that holiday shopping skewed traffic counts in December, and because alas, it isn’t Christmas all the time, staff omitted the data from the final report.  

Such an omission is consistent with traffic impact analyses in California and the United States, he said. 

The reports follow up on a traffic analysis presented in October that failed to account for Saturday peak-hour jams.  

The major difference between the reports is in the marketplace’s maximum square footage allowance if traffic is to maintain current flow. 

In December, that amounted to 5,474 square feet for a grocery, 2,881 square feet for a warehouse and 412 square feet for an office. In January, the figures more than doubled: 15,325 square feet for the grocery, 8,642 for the warehouse and 4,120 square feet for the office. 

By comparison, the proposed grocery measures in at 83,990 square feet, including a dual-level marketplace, storage space and offices. A neighboring food service building tacks on an additional 7,070 square feet.  

The reports further disagree on traffic buildup at the intersection of Seventh Street and Ashby Avenue, two blocks from where shoppers would predominantly gain access to the compound. In December, the traffic impact would be significant but open to mitigation. In January, it would be less than significant.  

Both December and January reports agree on one point: The project at its proposed size cannot avoid traffic buildup at the intersection of Ashby Avenue and San Pablo Avenue. 

But shrinking the new Bowl could do the trick, the report says. 

Some speakers at Wednesday’s regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting agreed downsizing is the way to go. 

“I’m appalled by this project, as an architect and builder since 1960,” said Edward Levitch, 81. “To see a project of these proportions—it’s unconscionable to me. This is a small neighborhood that needs to be preserved in the nature it was intended.” 

The West Berkeley district is a melange of residences, artisan lofts and light industrial buildings.  

Others said size isn’t much of an issue, so long as West Berkeley reaps its long sought-after grocery store. An existing Berkeley Bowl on Oregon Street offers fresh, inexpensive food. Its popularity is evidenced by constant gridlock in the parking lot and surrounding streets.  

“Please build the store for the good of our neighborhood,” resident Christine Staples entreated the Planning Commission. “And please, build it to size.” 

Planning commissioners will hold a hearing for the recirculated draft environmental impact report April 5. The public viewing period for the report, initially scheduled to end March 17, has been extended to April 24.