ZAB Approves Pacific Steel Casting Air Filter, Says No to Quiznos

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday May 16, 2006

Zoning Adjustments Board members said no to Quiznos Thursday, and yes to a $2 million air filtering system designed to halt the obnoxious odors emanating from Pacific Steel Casting. 

Foes of the sandwich shop turned out in numbers to say that the proposed shop in the new Southside Lofts condo complex on Telegraph Avenue would place an intolerable strain on an already parking-depleted neighborhood. 

Quizno’s foes had the advantage over the opponents of the Pacific Steel installation because the sandwich shop appeal was heard early in the evening while the air filter issue didn’t come up for discussion until 1:14 a.m., thanks to a lengthy hearing on the Berkeley Bowl planned for West Berkeley. 


Quiznos complaints 

Southside Lofts—a just-completed mixed-use development with 10 two-story loft condos above ground floor retail at 3075 Telegraph Ave.—already has one eatery, the Mokka Cafe, and with fast food establishments nearby, neighbors said they feared Quiznos would be the proverbial last straw. 

Another food-related tenant has also signed a lease in the building, though Edible Arrangements would be offering ornamental offerings, strictly on a take-out basis, said developer Sam Sorokin. 

“Parking has gotten really bad,” said Wenceslas Abeyta, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1962. “Owning a house there is a pain in the neck. I can’t invite guests because the parking is so bad.” 

“We didn’t agree to a food court, which is what I’m afraid we’re getting,” said Frank Daar, a neighbor who also served as a ZAB member for six years. 

Neighbors said parking is scarce in part because of the presence of Summit Alta Bates Hospital, Whole Foods Market and other fast food eateries in the immediate area. 

Gary Bell, the consultant hired by would-be franchisees Etenesh Benti and Bethenu Temesgen, insisted that parking wasn’t a problem and urged the board to waive two of the parking spaces required under city zoning codes. 

Three stalls had been reserved for the eatery on site, two fewer than mandated by code. Parking wasn’t the only concern of neighbors, however. 

Henry Sobel, a Prince Street resident, said the area is already plagued by trash from the existing eateries, and said he wanted an agreement that the restaurant’s owners would clean up the street one block in either direction along Telegraph. 

ZAB member Dave Blake said he wasn’t convinced that customers would use the parking lot spaces assigned to the store because the lot is hidden behind the building and not visible from Telegraph Avenue. 

“Whole Foods has started valet parking at peak hours,” he said, “and it’s getting to be as much a problem for short periods as Alta Bates.” 

Blake also faulted the city for allowing the building to be created “with minimal amounts of parking” and moved to deny the waiver, which would either force the franchisees to give up their plans or settle for a smaller shop. 

Sara Shumer seconded the motion. 

The measure passed on a 5-4 vote, with members Bob Allen, Jesse Anthony, Rick Judd and Andy Katz in opposition. 


Pacific Steel 

ZAB almost didn’t hold a hearing on Pacific Steel Casting Thursday night, voting unanimously at 12:42 a.m. to delay the hearing until May 18 as their session on Berkeley Bowl dragged on. 

Minutes later, representatives of the company insisted on being heard, and ZAB rescinded their vote, enabling the hearing to commence at 1:14. 

The hearing began with a statement from Tom Mitchell, the energy consultant hired by Pacific Steel Casting (PSC), a firm which has operated in Berkeley for 72 years and currently runs three plants on Second Street. 

The firm manufactures steel parts for industrial, construction, military and mining applications. 

Neighbors have been complaining about odors for at least the last 30 years, with the most common description offered of the malodorous aroma being “a burnt pot-handle smell.” 

The new filtering system ZAB approved Thursday is part of the latest settlement between the company and the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District (AQMD). 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates was elected to the AQMD’s board the day before the ZAB vote. 

Under the agreement approved in December, PCS is to install a carbon filtering system designed to remove the offending particles from the air leaving Plant 3 of the complex. The other two plants already have similar systems. 

David and Janice Schroeder, Curtis Street residents who have been at the forefront of the odor battle, weren’t happy with the proposal. 

“The information is incomplete and there has been no CEQA process,” said David Schroeder, citing the review process of the California Environmental Quality Act. 

Schroeder said the settlement came at a time when “there has been a massive increase” in use of the plant, which will be a supplier of the new Bay Bridge project. 

“I urge you not to just shuffle through this at 1:30 in the morning,” he said. 

Toni Stein, a Menlo Park consultant with a doctorate in environmental engineering, testified for the neighbors, alleging that the carbon system posed a potential dioxin threat from the element’s interaction with some of the chemical being filtered. 

Two AQMD officials—Director of Enforcement Kelly J. Wee and Director of Engineering Brian Bateman—said dioxin wasn’t a threat because the system didn’t operate the high temperatures required to spark the reaction. 

At the end of the hearing, the board voted unanimously to approve the system. 


Tattoo approval 

Despite the fact that members Bob Allen and Dean Metzger declared it another step in the degradation of Telegraph Avenue, ZAB members approved a use permit for a new tattoo parlor on Telegraph Avenue. 

“I think we may be seeing a generation gap in the way we are considering this,” said Chair Chris Tiedemann. “Practically everyone I know under the age of 25 either has one or wants one.” 

Mark Freitas and Howard Falvery, the owners of Dark Sun Tattoo Company of Vacaville, had applied to operate a new piercing and inking salon at 2599 Telegraph Ave. When the discussion ended, only Allen and Metzger voted no.