Public Comment

Commentary: West Berkeley Bowl: Community Needs vs. Power of the Wealthy By Steven Donaldson

Tuesday March 28, 2006

The approval of the West Berkeley Bowl has turned into an absurd saga, strung out over two years by a hand full of people with the money and time to use the system for their own personal agendas completely ignoring the needs of the local community. It’s the power of the moneyed few over the working families of West Berkeley. 

The real question—is this an autocracy funded by wealthy political ideologues who want to shape Berkeley in their eyes to meet their needs? I thought that era ended with the kings and queens of Europe in the 18th century and, oh wasn’t that the reason the United States was founded—for the people by people—to escape the tyranny of the few? 

There are two big issues with the Berkeley Bowl Project. Traffic and land use. The traffic studies required by the Environmental Impact Report have shown the project to cause additional traffic congestion not mitigated by project alternatives. Yes, there’s no question that the Berkeley Bowl will generate additional traffic and may cause some additional congestion at peak hours on Ashby Avenue. I say so be it! That is a small price to pay for a much overdue grocery store to serve South West Berkeley and West Oakland neighborhoods. 

This community includes a wide-ranging population of younger new homeowners, lower income working families and older retired folks—many without transportation who often use the local liquor stores as their main source of food. In addition, this area of Berkeley has the highest number of children per household, again, with no convenient option for groceries and fresh produce. And let’s not forget the dramatic development changes coming. There are numerous new housing projects already approved or under construction right on San Pablo, within blocks of the site and one right next to the proposed project–hundreds of new households all with the common need of accessible fresh groceries. 

The other issue is land use and the loss of industrial land. What does this really mean? It means that disused, undeveloped property that has been vacant for over 50 years cannot be used to serve the community. The loss of old manufacturing and industry in West Berkeley is a regional trend that has been going on for 40 years. The best use is for zoning that supports community needs. Not the perceived needs of a small cadre of political ideologues who do not care about the working families of this neighborhood. 

Community needs, desires and issues come first. We should thank the owners of the Berkeley Bowl for proposing such a great project that any nearby city would want. One that includes meeting space for the neighborhood, an eating court, an outdoor pedestrian area and provides not only good food but great affordable organic produce for the local community of West Berkeley. 

Lastly, let’s take a closer look at the opposition to this project. It’s primarily funded and supported by someone not living in the neighborhood, living in the Berkeley Hills, who can afford her own traffic engineer, her own lawyers and to put other individuals on her payroll to stop what she personally considers against her desires for the City of Berkeley. Is this democracy? The power of the few over the needs of the many? 

You decide. Come to the next public meeting and get this project approved. 


Steven Donaldson is president of Brand Guidance Design Intelligence.