A week after Nestle USA-owned PowerBar announced its move from Berkeley to Glendale, Calif., rival company ClifBar confirmed on Wednesday that it will be moving its Berkeley headquarters to Alameda, when the company’s current lease expires in July 2008.
David Jericoff, executive vice president of human resources for Clif Bar & Co., said that the move is the result of the company outgrowing its existing facility, occupied since 1994, and not because Berkeley zoning laws made it difficult for them to construct a day-care center at its current West Berkeley location, as reported elsewhere.
“The day-care center was a project I worked on almost two years ago. Unlike what has been reported in the media, it not being built did nothing to trigger our move. In fact our current Berkeley location featured in the top two of the 14 sites that responded to our RFP. As our business has expanded, we could not find a space large enough to suit our current and future needs. The City of Alameda provided a unique waterfront site with an opportunity to employ green building and energy practices. The abandoned warehouse gives us ample opportunity to build it out as an environmentally-focused building. We also have the choice of purchasing it if we want to. All this made the entire package very attractive.”
The proposed site is a waterfront location at the Navy’s former Fleet Industrial Supply Center across the estuary from Jack London Square which is part of the 777-acre Alameda Landing Project. A letter of intent has been signed and the Alameda City Council is scheduled to vote on the development at its Sept. 5 meeting.
Founded in 1990 by bakery owner and avid rock climber Gary Erickson, this privately owned, California-based company, known for its all-natural and organic energy snacks for athletes (such as Clif Bar, Clif Shot and Luna), began its “ecological expedition” in 2000. The company went on to create quite a buzz in the community with athletic and environmental events such as Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon and the Green Festival in San Francisco.
“What makes us different from other profit-driven companies is that we work towards a balanced community, brand and business. Our commitment to the environment is one of our fundamental principals. We are careful to use mostly organic products so as to not leave any footprints on the earth,” said Jericoff.
Jericoff added that Berkeley had been like a home to Clif Bar’s 150 employees who had been very tied into the Fourth Street shopping district. “We have very much enjoyed and valued being a part of the vibrant Berkeley community. The city and Mayor Tom Bates were very responsive to our RFP and we would have been happy to stay back. However, business turnovers can change a lot of things as happened in our case. It’s just natural evolution.”
Councilmember Linda Maio, in whose district the West Berkeley business falls, expressed her disappointment at the news.
“It will definitely mean a loss for the city. They are a Berkeley company, they grew up in Berkeley and are wonderful community-minded people. It’s always difficult to see this kind of a great business, a green business, go.”
Maio recalled how she had worked with Mayor Tom Bates to adjust the city’s zoning laws so that the day-care center could be built at the company’s west Berkeley location. “We would have done anything to keep them here. They are the perfect kind of business for Berkeley. But around the time we were working on the zoning laws they found this perfectly lovely spot by the water in Alameda which was just too attractive to give up. Berkeley is a very built-up city and we don’t have a whole lot of space for expansion. I am really sorry to see them go but understand why they are doing it,” she said.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington echoed her thoughts. “Berkeley unfortunately has lost a lot of these businesses over the years. It is troubling that we have so many businesses leaving all over the city. There are vacancies not only on Telegraph Av. but in other areas as well. We need to look at what can do to help businesses succeed. The city’s Department of Economic Development is currently understaffed and they are having a hard time trying to retain businesses.”
Dave Fogarty, the city’s community development project coordinator, told the Planet that the main issue with expansion was that the Clif Bar headquarters was located at a site which was zoned for manufacturing, not offices. “We would have changed our zoning laws for an existing business in an existing building such as ClifBar to expand. But in the end Alameda with its promises of renewable access energy, ample parking, and a building large enough for an extensive solar-panel system was the ultimate choice.”
Fogarty added that this kind of a move for a growing company was inevitable in a regional economy, and although Clif Bar was an environmental business that Berkeley would have liked to retain, their move would not prove disastrous for the city.
Cisco de Vries, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates, told the Planet that although the city would have wanted the office to stay, land in Berkeley was relatively scarce and expensive. “It’s a great company and we made every possible effort to keep them here but I guess Alameda won in the end.”