Public Comment

Commentary: Supporting the Bowl ... with Reservations

Tuesday April 11, 2006

Steven Donaldson’s commentary piece in this paper (“West Berkeley Bowl: Community Needs vs. Power of the Wealthy”) has unfortunately lowered the discourse on an important community issue through unnecessary personal attack, name calling, and by portraying misinformation and innuendo as truth. We feel it is necessary to offer objective information so that Berkeley citizens are able to make an informed decision. Mr. Donaldson asserts that those expressing their opinions and concerns about the Bowl (which he terms opposition) are “a small cadre of political ideologues” who are “ignoring the needs of the neighborhood, do not care about the working families of the neighborhood,” and are “funded by someone living in the Berkeley hills.” 

The simple truth is that there is no opposition to the Berkeley Bowl. There are only local residents, institutions, and businesses who believe that an appropriately sized grocery store (similar in scale to all Berkeley supermarkets) can fulfill the acknowledged need for good, reasonably priced food for West Berkeley without needlessly endangering safety, degrading quality of life, or threatening the economic viability of local businesses and their hundreds of workers. These residents, institutions, and businesses are from the Potter Creek neighborhood, the area immediately adjacent to the north of the project, and from businesses on both sides of the lower Ashby corridor. Individuals and two community organizations made up of various members of these groups are involved in the discussion. A number of the local business are working with WEBAIC (West Berkeley Artisans & Industrial Companies) to ensure that traffic and land use issues that may affect their continued economic viability are not overlooked. These businesses have joined together with residents of the Potter Creek neighborhood to form TASC (Traffic and Safety Coalition) to find reasonable solutions to traffic, safety, and economic concerns. These longtime West Berkeley families and businesses are the people Mr. Donaldson calls “a small cadre of wealthy ideologues who don’t care about working families in the neighborhood.” In a community as committed to intelligent, peaceful solutions as ours has historically been, and in an effort that asks for respect on all sides, Mr. Donaldson’s poisoning of the well of public discourse surely has no place. 

As to Mr. Donaldson’s claim that the property “has been vacant for over 50 years,” and that “the loss of industry has been going on in West Berkeley for 40 years,” the facts are that half the Bowl’s property was a functioning manufacturing facility until they purchased the land, and the other half was most recently an organic farm until the owner got caught with his coffee beans mislabeled and lost his business. Of course companies come and go and some larger ones have left only to be replaced by many that are smaller and mid-sized. There are upwards of 300 of these industrial companies providing 5,000-6,000 well-paying jobs in West Berkeley today.  

When the Bowl originally came to the Potter Creek neighborhood with a proposal for a 41,000-square-foot grocery store plus 14,000 square feet of warehouse for the Shattuck store, there was unanimous approval coupled with an awareness of potentially significant traffic issues. (The existing Berkeley Bowl is 42,000 square feet including warehouse, and all other Berkeley supermarkets are between 26,000 and 30,000 square feet.) After hiring a consultant from Los Angeles, the Bowl then declared that the project would be 91,000-plus square feet, two to three times the size of all other Berkeley groceries. Once Potter Creek residents understood the ramifications of the largest supermarket in the near East Bay locating on a small urban lot immediately adjacent, the vast majority signed a petition asking for traffic relief. The reasonable hope was that the local streets would not have to become congested freeways, endangering ourselves, our children, and degrading the air and quality of life. 

On the basis of the Bowl’s own traffic study (which calculated that traffic in 2004 at San Pablo and Ashby was less than in 1993), the city promptly gave the project a “negative declaration,” meaning that no environmental impact report (EIR) would be required since the project would create no “significant environmental impacts.” The conclusion that a development generating over 42,000 trips a week (TASC engineer says 56,000) through intersections already highly stressed would create no impacts worthy of study was a slap in the face of common sense. In order to determine the facts, several local businesses, institutions, and individuals joined together to hire an independent traffic engineer. Doing empirical traffic counts and analysis, this highly respected engineer identified the objective situation: a project of this magnitude would create “potentially significant environmental impacts” and clearly required an EIR. Faced with the facts, the city was forced to agree. If, in its rush toward approval, the city had not ignored common sense and standard procedure and had begun an EIR immediately, the entire process would be behind us. 

The latest version of the EIR identifies 13 “Project Objectives,” the main objective being to fulfill the West Berkeley Plan’s goal of “improving the level of neighborhood serving retail” by providing a supermarket with a range of fresh produce and groceries at competitive prices to West Berkeley. The EIR shows that two smaller versions of the project (both larger than the existing Bowl) would meet all thirteen objectives, while easing traffic. The folks down here would simply like a supermarket on a scale similar to those that work for all the other Berkeley neighborhoods. If the City and the Bowl want a regional megamarket and are willing to sacrifice local businesses and residents on that altar, then be honest, call it what it really is and make the decision consciously. But please don’t call it “neighborhood serving retail,” the stated goal of the West Berkeley Plan. The two EIR solutions, Alternatives C and D, would satisfy all the objectives of the city, the neighborhood, local business, and the larger community. They would likely have the added benefit of not requiring the planned underground parking and second story, the high costs of which are will undoubtedly make the food more expensive. But the Bowl has never been willing to negotiate this solution with the other stakeholders, and the city has never attempted to facilitate mediation. 

We strongly feel that in the spirit of community harmony, if all parties truly consider their neighbors’ needs, we can find a solution that works for everyone. Not perfectly (this is Berkeley after all, not heaven), but well. As we all heard it said so honestly and elegantly in a much graver situation, “Can’t we all just get along?” 



Rick Auerbach, resident/business owner (Grayson Street) 


John Curl, Heartwood Woodworking Cooperative (Eighth Street) 


David and Barbara Bowman, residents/business owners (Tenth Street) 


John Phillips, business owner (Grayson Street) 


Jeff Hogan, Ashby Lumber 


Susanne Herring, business owner (Grayson Street) 


Sarah Klise, Byron Delcomb & and Milo (Eighth Street) 


Mary Lou Vandeventer, Urban Ore 


Bob Kubik and Carol Whitman (Pardee Street) 


Morgan Smith, Tracy Schrider, Natalie and Ben, residents/business owners (Grayson Street) 

Maurice and Ed Levitch, Architects & Builders, residents/business owners  

(Heinz Avenue) 


Sally Swing (Grayson Street) 


Richard Finchm (Eighth Street) 


California Rose Catering (Grayson Street) 


Norman Potter, owner, The Tubmakers 


Barry, Donatella, Christoper Wagner,  

residents/business owners  

(Ninth Street) 


Rosa, Anette, Tom Mendicino (Grayson Street) 


Laurie Bright, D& L Engines 


David Snipper (Grayson Street) 


Andrew Fischer (Pardee Street) 


Dan Zemmelmen (Grayson Street)