Public Comment

Commentary: In Favor of Berkeley Bowl West

By Claudia Kawczynska
Friday May 19, 2006

I am a long-time and enthusiastic supporter of the West Berkeley Bowl project, and have attended every meeting on this issue for the past three years. I live a block away from the site, on one of those “alternative” route streets that could experience an increase in traffic. But I am more than willing to accommodate this in order to have such a wonderful and worthwhile project in my neighborhood.  

I think that it behooves us to show support for “home grown” businesses. The Bowl is not a big box store (as some would like to convince you it is), it isn’t even as large as many new supermarkets. Nor do I think that it will have quite the regional draw like an IKEA. What it is a world-class grocery store that has demonstrated its community values by bringing to market the fresh foods grown by California family farmers, and by offering them at prices that are affordable and attractive to the people of Berkeley, regardless of their economic strata. It is a green business in the truest sense of the word. 

Berkeley has a long tradition as a city whose populace cares about the culture of food and how it is grown and distributed, from the early days of the Berkeley Co-op (where I used to sell my organic apples) to Alice Waters with her edible schoolyard to UC’s Michael Pollan with his investigations into the perils of factory farming. We as a community pride ourselves on our knowledge of what good food is and how it is produced, and have long championed the organic farming movement. So I find it ironic that Berkeley is still debating the merits of allowing the Bowl to build a state-of-the-art store—with a much needed community center—on a long-abandoned site in one of the least densely developed or populated areas in the city. Any other city, be it Oakland or Emeryville, would be welcoming the Bowl with open arms. The benefits of this project so outweighs the negative aspects that it unconscionable that this project could have taken so long to win approval. 

With all the concerns about our country’s epidemic of obesity and diabetes (even within the youngest of our citizens) we should be applauding a grocer who provides its customers with the largest selection of fresh grown produce. Some who oppose the size of this project have questioned why the public needs such a wide array of choices—but take it from someone who has a graduate degree in agricultural development from UC Davis and who was one of the first organic apple growers in Sonoma County—that such diversity is vital to the sustainability of a robust family farm sector. And to find a visionary grocer who supports small farmers by showcasing their products and who also forges relationships with them, is truly remarkable. Glenn Yasuda should be cheered as a local hero and not jeered as a Sam Walton. It is important for Berkeley to view this project in a much broader context than knee-jerk NIMBYism, or how it might affect local land values (which are soaring with or without the Bowl), or if we might be inconvenienced a few more minutes in traffic—and to realize that by supporting this project we are also showing support for much larger social issues impacting the lives of so many others, like the small family farmers and the health of our children.  

I do believe that most of the concerns, especially those having to do with traffic in the adjacent neighborhood, are easy to mitigate. But the overriding considerations of what benefits the Bowl will bring to Berkeley should merit approval for the project. We all should do what you can to insure that the Bowl is built, and built soon, to do otherwise would be a disservice to all of Berkeley but most especially to the people of West Berkeley. 


Claudia Kawczynska is a Berkeley resident.