Public Comment

Commentary: Mayor, Council Fail to Protect Neighborhood Interests

By R.J. Schwendinger
Friday June 22, 2007

Although I sent an e-mail to all the Berkeley City Council members and the mayor, opposing the planned bar/restaurant at Ashby and College, it took your June 19 editorial dated to alert me to the stealth disregard of the Neighborhood Commercial Preservation Ordinance that citizens of the Elmwood worked tirelessly to get passed. The variance granted by the Zoning Adjustments Board, specifically so a watering hole can dispense hard liquor in a neighborhood that clearly opposes it, is more of the same that we are getting from the mayor and those who support his vision of asphalting all open spaces and denying the needs for parks and playgrounds in districts that need them.  

I feel that the Kitchen Democracy (KD) survey I filled out some time ago, initiated by Councilmember Wozniak, did not give my approval for the project at Wright’s Garage. I, for one, feel misrepresented by our councilmember’s proclamation that 80 percent of his constituents support that project. I believe that other district residents, who filled out the same survey, have also been misrepresented. The survey did not specify exactly what was in the developer’s proposal and for our District 8 councilmember to surmise/assume that we support it is way out of line. I could not imagine the approval of a bar/restaurant that will depend on 50 percent of its sales on liquor, opening in our neighborhood. My car was broken into the night before last, on Prince Street, and I learned that crime has increased in our area, including strong arm assaults. The proposal will not only attract a fair percentage of drinkers whose sole purpose will be to get drunk, it would conceivably also attract gangs inside and outside our area. Crime will multiply: break-ins of cars, houses and apartments, and for anyone who has lived in an apartment house with a bar on the ground floor, as I have, drunken sops usually get very loud and belligerent, terrorizing neighbors living in the vicinity.  

I and my next door neighbor have lived here since 1971 and are very upset at the direction our reps are taking us in. The matter of parking is a very serious one. Currently, people from outside the district park on my street, especially in the evenings and all day, each day over the weekends. They park because my street, between College and Claremont, is only one short block to the Elmwood stores and restaurants. It is becoming a real problem for us who live on the street and depend on parking. The project for Wright’s garage will only increase the drivers looking for parking spots very near College and Ashby, and since my street does not have a barrier at the Claremont entrance (while there is one on Webster, the next street over toward Ashby), the parking situation will become impossible. This project will be a monumental disservice to our rights as Berkeley residents. We will be prisoners once it is instituted. 

Increasingly, the traffic on Ashby and College is a major headache for all of us who live in the district. This project would increase the traffic. I challenge any one to stand the corner of Ashby and College during the day and early evening. He will find that the pollution from the endless stream of cars is a violence on the senses. Why, in God’s name, would men and women who represent us in city government assault us further with increased carcinogens?  

These actions, raping an ordinance that maintains an even balance of shopping needs for the citizens of the Elmwood, and attempting to impose an inappropriate project that will make our lives increasingly difficult, informs us that democracy in our city is slowly but surely dying. It is puzzling that the city attorney picked the figure “five” as a pre-requisite for opening the project to public debate, when under bizarre circumstances it was clear that five could not be had. I also question the mayor’s adamant position that a public debate by the citizens is a waste of time. I almost smell the proverbial rat and wonder what those who are opposed to public comment have to hide. Clearly, the Zoning Adjustments Board appears to have acted illegally, without a sign from the city attorney. Difficult to believe that a Berkeley mayor and members of the City Council would oppose public debate. Would they be satisfied if we all walked around with tape over our mouths? What has happened to the democratic forum in our city of cities? 


R.J. Schwendinger is a Berkeley resident.