West Berkeley Bowl Project Moves Closer to Approval

Suzanne La Barre
Friday May 12, 2006

The 91,060-square-foot project that promises to supply residents of West Berkeley with fresh, organic food won a victory Wednesday. 

Members of the Planning Commission voted 6-2, with Commissioner Mike Sheen abstaining, to recommend City Council approval of planning and zoning law amendments that would clear the way for development of West Berkeley Bowl. The commission also accepted a series of overriding considerations that point up the project’s benefits, certified a final environmental report and appr oved other motions.  

The action represents a major development in a multi-year saga to bring fresh fruits, vegetables and other food to a neighborhood with a high concentration of poverty where the closest grocery store is a liquor shop. 

If the City Cou ncil agrees with commissioners’ recommendations, the city’s General Plan, zoning maps and the West Berkeley Plan will be modified to allow for commercial use at a 1.9-acre portion of the proposed site at 920 Heinz Ave. The area is currently zoned for mixe d use/light industrial buildings. 

Opponents of rezoning the site argue that it would open the floodgates for additional commercial buildings, which could devastate light industry in West Berkeley.  

“Approval of this project means that the future of West Berkeley is non-stop gentrification,” said Zelda Bronstein, a candidate for mayor and former planning commissioner. 

Planning staff insists that would not be the case because the new zoning proposal is limited to the proposed supermarket. 

The second run ning point of contention is traffic. West Berkeley Bowl would generate about 600 additional trips a day and would exacerbate traffic at the intersection of Ashby and San Pablo avenues. 

The environmental impact report concludes that additional traffic can be mitigated; however, many residents and businesspeople insist that congestion will increase. This is of particular concern to the French-American School, which stands adjacent to the proposed project and serves several hundred students between 3 and 11 years of age whose safety may be called into question with additional vehicles circulating the area. 

Planning commissioners approved a motion urging the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), which heard the project Thursday after press time, to examine traffi c detriment. 

The commission also expressed concern over allegations that Berkeley Bowl owners would refuse to recognize union representation at the new store. The existing Berkeley Bowl is located on Oregon Street. 

A motion passed urging future decision-making bodies to take up the issue. Six commissioners voted in favor and three abstained because they felt they did not know enough about the allegations to make a decision. 

Wednesday’s approval at the Planning Commission does not mean the fight over We st Berkeley Bowl is finished. 

ZAB considered certifying the environmental impact report and granting use permits last night after press time. If those actions were taken, West Berkeley Bowl moves forward to the City Council May 23, and final approval could be granted as early as June 13. 

However, any stalls along the way could defer a verdict until the fall, when councilmembers return from summer recess.