Public Comment

Commentary: Is the West Berkeley Bowl Dead?

By Steven Donaldson
Tuesday June 13, 2006

Well let’s stand up and cheer! The Berkeley Bowl maybe withdrawing it’s application to build a new store in West Berkeley. No fresh organic produce, no great prices, no community meeting rooms, no food court, no quality shopping for West Berkeley. 

Gosh, now we will have preserved a wonderful derelict, trash strewn lot for future generations. What more could we ask for? 

Who do we have to thank? The Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), who imposed an additional $1.8 million traffic “mitigation fee” on the owners of the Bowl for possible but undefined traffic impacts. (This is already beyond significant dollars committed as part of current in traffic mitigations the Berkeley Bowl has already agreed to). 

Yes, let’s cheer at imposing all the costs of change (and new costs we can invent) on to someone willing to take a risk and make the significant investment to open a store in this area. Remember, the Berkeley Bowl is a business built up over 30 years of hard work by a great hard working local Japanese family and they are willing to take this bold step to open a second store, making the improvements, putting in the buildings and attempting to make this all profitable. Oh if this were to happen, the City of Berkeley gets the property tax revenue and sales tax receipts—but we don’t need that, do we? 

Oh, special thanks to those who kept fighting—the inflated fears of the French school, Ecole Biligue and their kids—gosh, do they live in that neighborhood or even walk to school?—no, Zelda Bronstein our esteemed candidate for mayor, who’s been continually fighting this project and also fought the La Farine Bakery on Solano Avenue (and lost)—does she live in this neighborhood?—oh, a no. 

The struggling artisans and industrial works fighting to protect jobs—who’s jobs, what jobs? oh, not the jobs created by the Berkeley Bowl—sorry that’s not going to happen. 

And special thanks to the owners of Urban Ore, the City of Berkeley subsidized business that has put up the good fight to keep their business operating with a positive cash flow from your taxes and who has continually opposed the Berkeley Bowl locating in West Berkeley. 

Lastly, thanks to all the folks who are afraid of anything new in Berkeley no mater who it may benefit as long is it’s not going to affect them. 

I’m one of many voters, residents and property owners in West Berkeley extremely upset at the Berkeley Bowl withdrawing it’s application for a permit to build at the new West Berkeley Bowl site on Heinz near Ashby. This is an enormous blow to Berkeley and in particular West Berkeley residents who have no place of any significance to shop. It also gives the impression this City allows a handful of people (some of which do not live in West Berkeley) with money, time, influence and a personal agenda to stall, restrict and impose additional costs on such a fantastic project from a true Berkeley pioneer, benefiting thousands of West Berkeley residents and, that any other city would welcome with open arms. 

Berkeley should be proud we have examined, commented, dissected, reexamined and treated this project to the most unbelievable scrutiny over two and a half years. It makes you really question the value and purpose of our approval process. What are the roles of the commissioners? Are they not to look out for what’s good for the city and the citizens of this city—as a whole, not one person’s particular gripe or unsubstantiated fear no matter how irrational it is? 

I feel that leadership and action are necessary to benefit the citizens who are direly in need of a quality grocery store in the West Berkeley area. 

If you agree please e-mail the mayor or your council representative with your comments. It may not be too late. 


Steven Donaldson is president of Brand Guidance > Design Intelligence (BGDi).