Public Comment

Commentary: Why Sacrifice Our Neighborhood To Entice Trader Joe’s?

By Regan Richardson
Tuesday December 12, 2006

Regarding the proposed Trader Joe’s mega-project at 1885 University Avenue: 

In your last issue, Gerta Farber asked if I had considered in my previous comments the “exodus of Berkeley traffic on their way to Trader Joe’s in Emeryville or El Cerrito?” Yes, Ms. Farber, after four long years of involvement in this process, I have. I must ask you, have you carefully considered exactly what it is you are willing to give up for a developer who is shamelessly parading a non-union, German-owned grocery store chain as a means to a solely for-profit end?  

The developers’ campaign of “shock & awe,” centered on dazzling the powers that be and distracting the carbohydrate-deprived among you to the reality of this behemoth by dangling Trader Joe’s in front of you, does not fool the rest of us. Some of us see Hudson-McDonald’s ploy for exactly what it is: crude manipulation of the worst sort, designed to circumvent and explode the existing zoning laws and turn Berkeley into a densely populated, homogenized, chain-store loving mini-Manhattan. Some of us are not so blinded by the prospect of Trader Joe’s (and inflated potential revenue claims) that we are willing to allow developers any and all latitudes to get it. The point, Ms. Farber, is clearly explained by Steve Wollmer in his commentary contained in the same issue. Should Hudson-McDonald be allowed to run rough-shod over local and state laws because they have cleverly thrown a popular supermarket into the mix? As Mr. Wollmer points out, there are far more appropriate places in Berkeley for a Trader Joe’s. The site at 1885 University is not the only open space left in Berkeley, yet. Nor is it a downtown location. Andronicos on University and Berkeley Bowl are far closer to BART stations than this location, and yet, mysteriously, there are not a lot of people hauling their groceries via BART or bus all the way home. Why would this location be any different? And further, exactly what is Trader Joe’s providing that is so valuable that we are willing to sacrifice our neighborhoods and our local businesses to it? In the end, it’s all about the money.  

There are ways to lure a Trader Joe’s to Berkeley without destroying our residential neighborhoods, and without rewarding developers for doing so. Hudson-McDonald has practically given this valuable retail space away for free to a tenant who can clearly afford to pay for it. As I have said before, the residential neighborhoods have no intention of bearing the full burden of both Hudson-McDonald’s and Trader Joe’s greed. I refer you also, Ms. Farber, to the commentary by Fred Dodsworth. Be careful what you wish for and define as “success” for Berkeley. The exodus of cars to Trader Joe’s in Albany and El Cerrito you speak of will be nothing compared to the exodus of people fleeing a Berkeley they no longer recognize, care about, or care to live in. 



Regan Richardson lives in Berkeley.