Public Comment

Commentary: West Berkeley Bowl is Out of Scale with Neighborhood

By Bernard Marszalek
Friday May 19, 2006

My workplace is located one block from the proposed West Berkeley Bowl. It’s a unionized enterprise and an Alameda County-certified Green Business. 

We take seriously our commitment to sustainability both for the environment and for our community. 

Our firm is also an active member of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WeBAIC) and as such endorses WeBAIC’s call for an economic impact report on the repercussions for the current businesses of situating a 91,000-square-foot retail store (over twice the size of the current Bowl) adjacent to a residential area and near an already impacted freeway exit at Seventh and Ashby. 

Sad to say, the City of Berkeley is promoting this out-of scale project. The city administration has not been able to walk its green talk—or to  

promote a sound democratic process. 

A regional shopping “experience” is neither what West Berkeley needs nor what was proposed in the bold and well-crafted West Berkeley Plan. That  

plan was ahead of its years, envisioning a human scale community with a rich but delicate diversity of uses. Its “green” vision will be trashed by the scope of this project. There is nothing green about encouraging extra freeway auto traffic or clogging the narrow side streets around the store that are vital to keep accessible for the established businesses in the area. And, as many have said, putting a project on this scale up against a semi-residential neighborhood without due consideration of the traffic and economic impacts is simply irresponsible. 

Yes, this project will serve the neighbors, but it is self-serving for the Berkeley Bowl to take credit for that when we know from their poor labor relations practices that their concern for stakeholders is a decidedly secondary consideration. 

As for democratic process: What has stalled this process is the bungled environmental process and the unbelievably poor traffic reports. The first report (the Initial Study) was so misguided that the West Berkeley Traffic and Safety Coalition had to hire its own consultant to set it right and get the city to require an environmental impact report. It is outrageous that local businesses and residents had to pay to correct the errors in an official city government report. Subsequent reports on the part of the traffic engineers hired by the city contain serious flaws. 

I personally would like to question the professionalism of these consultants. Businesses I am familiar with may be able to retain a customer if they “drop the ball” once, but if they do it twice they lost a customer. Why does the City of Berkeley have such tolerance for questionable professional opinion? It doesn’t reflect well on the criteria the staff uses for its selection of expert opinion. 

As a result of these missteps and the resulting delays, we find ourselves being rushed through hearings that are established to give some validity to democratic process but cannot possibly do so at bullet train speed. 

So much for a reasoned consideration of one of the largest projects on the city’s agenda. 

So much for the concern of the local businesses and the neighbors. 

And so much for democratic process. 

I was born and raised in Chicago and what I sense here, in this process in Berkeley, is a whiff of a familiar smell. 


Bernard Marszalek works in West Berkeley.