Public Comment

Commentary: Bates and the Bowl: Some Inconvenient Truths

By Zelda Bronstein
Friday August 04, 2006

Tom Bates is telling people that I tried to stop the West Berkeley Bowl. Once again, he’s spinning the truth like a top.  

Fact: My position, repeatedly stated in the press and at the Planning Commission, the Zoning Adjustments Board, and the City Council, has always been that the people of West Berkeley want, need and deserve a neighborhood grocery store. 

Fact: The new Bowl is not a neighborhood grocery store. At 91,000 square feet, it’s over twice as large as the existing Bowl. It is the size of a Wal-Mart. 

Fact: The Bowl’s permit process was delayed by the Bowl’s owner, Glenn Yasuda, and by the city’s planners and consultants.  

In July 2003, when he was trying to crush the union drive at the existing Bowl, Mr. Yasuda withdrew his application for the new store. It wouldn’t have looked good, after all, to be seeking big favors from the city while trampling on workers’ rights to organize. When he (wrongly) thought he’d beaten the union, Mr. Yasuda resubmitted the application. 

City staff and consultants also had a hand in the Bowl’s lengthy approval process. As the city’s planning director wrote to the Council: “The unusual duration is due in part to the city’s decision, relatively late in the process, to prepare an environmental impact report, and also to oversights and errors by the applicant’s traffic consultant and the city’s environmental consultant, which necessitated recirculation of the EIR and the extension of the review period.” 

Fact: What finally got the city to require an EIR for the Bowl was the report prepared by the independent traffic engineer who’d been hired by the West Berkeley Traffic and Safety Coalition (TASC). 

Fact: TASC consisted of the new Bowl’s near neighbors, West Berkeley residents and businesses. 

Fact: I, a north Berkeley resident, worked with TASC, in part by paying for legal advice. 

Fact: The EIR said that the new Bowl will generate 50,000 vehicle trips a week.  

Fact: The intersections at Seventh and Ashby and at Ashby and San Pablo are already jammed with traffic. 

Fact: An elementary school with 400 children is across the street from the new Bowl’s site. 

Fact: At the council in June, I supported TASC’s recommendations for:  

• A 62,000-square-foot store (the EIR’s Alternative C, half again as large as the existing Bowl). 

• Traffic barriers and other traffic mitigations. 

• Maintaining the property’s industrial zoning so as to prevent the further gentrification of West Berkeley. 

I also supported the petition signed by 27 businesses, including Ashby Lumber, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, Inkworks Press and Urban Ore, that asked the city do an economic impact report before moving forward with the project. And I endorsed the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s appeal for a card check union election at the new store. 

Fact: On June 13, Tom Bates ignored all of these requests and voted with the Council majority (Councilmembers Anderson, Spring and Worthington abstained) for a 91,000-square-foot store, no traffic mitigations, no card check election, and a zoning change from industrial to commercial.  

Tom Bates advertises his environmental credentials. So he ought to explain why he chose not to require traffic barriers around a project that will generate 50,000 vehicle trips a week in an already congested area with an elementary school. If he thinks that Wal-Mart-sized projects should not have EIRs, he should explain that, too. 

Tom Bates talks about the city’s need for sales tax revenue. So he ought to explain why he ignored a petition signed by 27 West Berkeley businesses asking for an economic impact report on the new Bowl. Does he really think that a grocery store (there’s no sales tax on food) will yield more taxes than those 27 businesses?  

Tom Bates says he’s promoted inclusiveness in Berkeley political life. So he ought to explain why in the matter of the Bowl, he ignored all the stakeholders but one: the owner of the business.  

Mr. Bates touts his progressive character. So he ought to explain why he failed to support the union’s request for a card check election at the new store, even as he handed the Bowl’s aggressively anti-union owner a zoning change worth $10 million.  

Mr. Bates does not talk about the need for honesty in government. Nevertheless, he ought to explain why he keeps spinning truths he finds inconvenient. 



Former Planning Commission chair Zelda Bronstein is a candidate for mayor.