Public Comment

Commentary: Another Berkeley Neighborhood Sacrificed for Greed

By Regan Richardson
Friday November 10, 2006

Halloween may have come and gone, but the sadly misconceived project at 1885 University Ave. still begs the question, Trick, or Treat? The answer, of course, is both. The supposed Treat? Trader Joe’s. The Trick? Trader Joe’s with a four-story, 148-unit apartment building looming menacingly above it, The Hudson-McDonald Tower of Horrors. 

In this election week, Hudson-McDonald’s continuing attempt to manipulate the facts regarding the 1885 University Ave. project can be quite accurately and appropriately characterized as a campaign of deceit and misinformation. 

If they insist on following this tack, we have three words for them: “Four more years!”  

Let’s review the evidence: 

Hudson-McDonald will continue to brazenly and misleadingly claim 1) that they have done everything we asked, and 2) that it is the neighbors standing in the way of this project, because we continue to “change the bar” on them. Correction: We gave them extremely explicit conditions for our approval of this project four long years ago. Apparently they don’t understand basic English and rudimentary math. Those conditions have not changed in the four long years they have been paying us lip service. So, Mr. Hudson, please do not even dare to assert that we have “changed the bar”. We have the original list of carefully thought-out conditions we proactively presented in October of 2002 if anyone would care to review it.  

If you entertain any feel-good fantasies that any of the 11th-hour “concessions” Hudson-McDonald brazenly claims credit for in print and public forum are not horribly mutilated versions of the conditions originally conceived by, proposed by, and fought for by the neighborhoods around this project who are deeply concerned for the future of Berkeley, think again. The painfully incremental Hail-Mary “concessions” they claim credit for have been made only under consistent and unrelenting pressure from the residents of the neighborhood. That they dare in print or otherwise to take credit for any small concessions or dare to assert that they are jumping through our hoops is laughable. They are now, and have been since Day One, the only ones standing in their way.  

Each time Hudson-McDonald pays us lip service, then blatantly ignores our concerns and changes the project design to the further detriment of our neighborhood, we have a legitimate right to respond. That Hudson-McDonald dares continue to claim that we are holding them hostage is sheer hubris, or even worse, delusion. Save your breath-no one is buying your dishonest rhetoric! 

Chris Hudson also recently challenged in the San Francisco Chronicle that Berkeley needs to decide to whether we want to live in the 1950s or the 2050s. I must respond thus: Neither, if your vision of the future is this shortsighted. I continue to marvel that this steroid-enhanced, half-baked, neighborhood-busting development is miraculously being lauded as “progress” by the masses simply because they are dangling a Trader’s Joe’s in front of you. I caution that you Trader Joe’s junkies out there are banking on the shifting-sands strategy of developers Hudson-McDonald, schooled at the hand of Patrick Kennedy, the King of Bait-&-Switch, so believe me when I say there is NO guarantee there will ever be a Trader Joe’s in this building.  

As for you shamelessly-recruited, 11th-hour, interloping TJ groupies, I must ask you: since when, in Berkeley of all places, do convenience, homogenized commerce, and corn chips trump social conscience? Inquiring minds deserve to know! Are you all so hypoglycemic that a single spoonful of sugar from Trader Joe’s helps the medicine of a 148-unit apartment building go down so easily? Have you not yet evolved beyond the stage of cavemen, when the only thing humans could afford to worry about was food & shelter? Apparently not. Your lives may get temporarily easier by this quick-fix remedy, but the supposedly sick patient Hudson-McDonald claims to be treating, Berkeley, will surely die a painful death. There is always a price to be paid for convenience. May you choke on it, because Berkeley surely will. Bon appetit! 

So yet again, another Berkeley neighborhood is being sacrificed for the greater common greed. For some of you, it’s the anticipated revenues. For others, merely food! I read Chris Hudson’s final quote in the October 24th edition of the SF Chronicle with great irony: “We’re willing to invest in the long-term future of Berkeley, but at some point Berkeley’s got to decide whether it wants to be Berkeley 1950, or Berkeley 2050.”  

Well, in case Chris hasn’t heard, on October 24th the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report reached the well-substantiated conclusion that the insatiable human footprint is far too big for the natural resources left on the planet, and that by 2050 our natural resources may well be completely depleted. As WWF International Director General James Leape observed upon the release of this study, “We are…consuming resources faster than the Earth can replace them. The consequences of this are predictable and dire.” So too will be the continuing unchecked and unorchestrated over-development of Berkeley. 

So, apparently, thanks to non-sustainable development like 1885 University Avenue, and subsequent increasingly dense urban populations, the chance there will be a 2050 is even slimmer than the chance that there will be a Trader Joe’s in this project. I seriously doubt Hudson-McDonald will acknowledge or can even begin to fathom their eager contribution to the ensuing devastation. If they want their cake and eat it too, and if they claim to be the development prophets of the future, they must be held to a higher standard: ever heard of green building, Hudson-McDonald? Welcome to the sustainable future! 

The neighbors of Berkeley Way, who intitiated the original dialogue with Panoramic Interests regarding this proposed project four long years ago in an blatantly optimistic attempt to circumvent this fruitless and tortuous process, must rightly be left wondering: Is Trader Joe’s such a potent opiate for the masses, and even the institutions we expect to protect us from the suspect financial and political machinations of big development, that you are all lulled into complacency, or even advocacy? Or, even if you are immune to Trader Joe’s, is this whitewash simply and predictably explained by the fact that Hudson-McDonald has the money, they have the influence, and they have their hands deep in the cookie jar? We are also rightly left wondering: does anyone out there really care about a truly livable Berkeley? Wake up and smell the deception! 


Regan Richardson is a Berkeley Way neighbor.