Public Comment

Muddled Thinking About Evicting Kandy’s Kar Wash

By Jean Damu
Friday November 23, 2007

Does being pro-green mean being anti-black? 

Ordinarily one wouldn’t think so. But the mini-drama that is unfolding in Berkeley surrounding the eviction of Kandy’s Car Wash at the intersection of Ashby Ave. and Sacramento St. gives one pause for thought. 

Kandy Alford, the proprietor, has four full-time employees and many more part timers when the weather is warm and business is brisk. 

Local newspapers have given periodic coverage to the car wash’s current precarious situation but to date none have reported in a manner that put the eviction in a context that has any meaning to the surrounding community. 

The city apparently favors the plans of the Biofuel Oasis collective to relocate to the site of Kandy’s Car Wash and sell biofuel reconstituted from used vegetable oil from the car wash’s present location. 

Berkeley has granted the collective’s request to defer a $5,000 permit fee due to economic hardship. 

Ignoring, for the purposes of this discussion, the growing controversy over biofuels in general and the resulting impoverishment and starvation in the so-called Third World, does replacing Kandy’s Car wash with a biofuel station really make sense in the face of all the problems said to exist in South Berkeley? 

For instance, virtually around the corner from the car wash, at 1610 Oregon St., concerned neighbors of an elderly black couple who live there have filed more than one law suit designed to run them out of town. 

Why? Because young relatives of the couple have, it is said, taken over the house and deal drugs from there. Likely the allegations are true. 

Furthermore, by Berkeley standards, there is a high rate of crime in South Berkeley and there are numerous black youth who obviously are unemployed and apparently doing little to find the scant employment opportunities that exist for them. 

In other words, South Berkeley resembles other communities with significant black populations that have seen community life deteriorate over the past 30 years. 

Surprisingly, however—well, maybe not so surprisngly—on-line reactions to media reports on Kandy’s eviction run more to concerns that re-fitting the property to accomodate a biofuel station will destroy the historical integrity of the building’s design, or that Kandy should be evicted because the music is too loud. 

Clearly, some in Berkeley are challenged on the issue of race—so let’s try to use an analogy that many may more easily understand. 

Let’s assume South Berkeley is the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners are having a terrible season. Adequate defense but horrible offense. 

Then coach Mike Nolan announces, “Look, in order to turn this season around and score more points, what we need to do is get rid of our most consistent and prolific scorer, field goal kicker Joe Nedney!” 

Total nonsense. If Nolan were to make such an announcement he’d be looking for another job the same day, unless of course the city of Berkeley owned the 49ers, in which case the city’s deep thinkers would say, “Let’s hold a series of hearings to discuss this.” 

Well, Kandy Alford is South Berkeley’s field-goal kicker. He is the most consistent and prolific employer of more African Americans, actually at-risk African Ameri-cans, than any other private employer in the community. 

But Berkeley wants to run Kandy out of town. That may not be totally fair to say: after all, the city has offered to help Kandy relocate—but to where? What other enclave of small black busineses exist in Berkeley except the Alcatraz-Adeline corridor? No obvious space there. 

There are other concerns. 

The Ashby-Sacramento intersection is a small community of black and other minority owned shops. Economically they support one another and many seem to support Kandy remaining right where he is. 

Louis Grier, who operates a jewelry and watch repair business across the street from the car wash put it like this. “I don’t have any problem with the car wash or the people who work there. I’d rather have them out there washing cars than say engaging in other activities not so positive.” 

BB’s Restaurant and Seafood also sits across the street from Kandy’s. Owner Toddy Bayeme said, “Lots of times people who take their cars to be washed come over here and have lunch. I’m not happy about closing the car wash. And I understand they want to sell food there too. It will hurt my business.” 

Toddy has a menu taped to the window of Kandy’s office to encourage his customers to venture across the street and to get something to eat. 

Finally, one other point. Judith Scherr, in her Daily Planet article on the car wash informs us that there exists beneath the property a toxic plume, residue from a dry cleaner who used to occupy the space. It needs to be cleaned up if Biofuel Oasis is going to dig and install fuel tanks. 

Who’s going to pay for cleaning that up? 

If the biofuel collective can’t afford the permit fees, how is it going to afford a toxic chemical cleanup? Is the city going to pay for that also? 

Keeping in mind the law suits around 1610 Oregon, if the city of Berkeley is willing to go to all this trouble and expense to evict working blacks from Kandy’s Car Wash to enable a mostly all white women’s collective then what we’re really talking about is not promoting environmentalism but rather a genteel form of ethnic cleansing 

People who are concerned about this issue should attend the next Zoning Adjustment Board meeting scheduled for Nov. 26, 7 p.m. at the Berkeley City Council chambers. 


Jean Damu is a member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration Steering Committee.