Letters for the week of July 26-August 1, 2006 

Free food and clothes are not social problems; Berkeley City Hall is corrupt as the Bush regime; A Telegraph without Cody's isn't the end of the world; Berkeley Bowl attacks are part of a culture war.

"Leaders Fiddle While Berkeley Rots," City of Warts, 6/14

Listen to yourself
I appreciate Chris Thompson's article about the bureaucratic BS Berkeley puts up against a grocery store. And I love Cody's and loathe the gutterpunks. But ranking free clothing and food as "social problems"? Listen to yourself!
Craig Demel, Berkeley

Moldy coattails
Over the years, the powers that be in Berkeley have shot themselves in the foot twenty times over when it comes to the development of community-friendly business. It's not as though the honored Berkeley Bowl is a chain store adding to a strip-mall effect here. It was poised to be a local success story of a minority owner who cares about the community and stands to bring much-needed economic growth to the city. Maybe things have been so difficult for Mr. Yasuda because Berkeley is being run by a bunch of racists.

The city would rather bleed its citizenry dry and rely on parking citations and costly red tape to fund its morally dubious bureaucracy, rather than promote business entities with sound visions, which, I might add, ARE very consistent with the area's ideological values. And people still put up with this ideological crap? This isn't about building an "early days Wal-Mart"; it's the Berkeley freaking Bowl, for crying out loud.

What Berkeley stood for was great, but it is stuck in an era that is no longer all that relevant. It has played out its colorful 1960s and 1970s string. Time to move on. What else does it have to offer the world? Berkeley should be creative enough to evolve with the times, not live on the moldy coattails of its fading past.

The folks who run City Hall are profiteers, no better than George Bush's corrupt government. I for one wonder how much of Mr. Yasuda's money they put in their own pockets. They simply package their malarkey in a form more palatable to the locals. I thought the people living in Berkeley had some spine. They did when I grew up there. Did everyone in Berkeley get neutered? Frankly I'm surprised everyone is so blindly obedient, so apathetically tolerant of this city's politics, when it is so damaging to the community.

Get with the times. Stop bowing to the status quo, which continues to smother your chance to help stabilize your local economy. Don't let these boobs kill your future. Take some control of your city's destiny back. This isn't an attempt to bring Redding to Berkeley and build strip malls and chain stores. The Berkeley Bowl is uniquely Berkeley and it is deeply troubling that the city would try to kill it off. It's time to get off your asses and hold people accountable. Go raise some hell down at City Hall and hold their feet to the fire. Let them know who runs things in the next election. Otherwise, continue to experience the deteriorating urban blight, malicious bureaucratic incompetence, and plentiful parking tickets.
Carl Rose, Portland, Oregon

No money to spend
I'm going to greatly miss Cody's Books on Telegraph: It's one of the great independent bookstores, and it's an institution, and all the rest. But can we stop — please! — with all the media hand-wringing and finger-pointing? In essence, all Andy Ross has done is change locations of his Berkeley bookstore from Telegraph to Fourth Street. Half Price Books recently moved from Solano to Shattuck, and yet this didn't inspire endless media headlines proclaiming "THE DEATH OF SOLANO." Man, when the media decides to jump on a bandwagon it is truly a spectacle.

As for Chris Thompson's blaming of the street people for the so-called demise of Cody's: There's no question that there are some obnoxious, dysfunctional, and even violent people on Telegraph Avenue. As there are in virtually every other city in America. Correct? If the homeless are to blame for scaring off customers, then why doesn't Thompson explain why there are more people jammed onto the sidewalks of Telegraph than ever? And most of them aren't street people.

The point is, the customers are still there. The problem is, most of them don't have much money to spend these days. Roland Peterson points out that sales on Telegraph have declined and are just 70 percent of what they were sixteen years ago. But is that really all that different from the general decline of the overall American economy during that period?

PS — If the street people are to blame for scaring all the customers away from Cody's Books — as Chris Thompson hypothesizes — then how come nearby Cafe Intermezzo is usually jammed to capacity with customers, with a line all the way out the door? If the street people are scaring customers away from Cody's, then how come they're not scaring them away from a business right next door? Explain that, Chris Thompson.
Ace Backwords, Berkeley

I agree with your outrage at the Berkeley city government and its enablers. But the point missed is that the attack on the Berkeley Bowl plan isn't due to traffic mitigation issues or unionization but rather is the result of a low-level culture war being waged in the East Bay. The old-line Berkeley element hates what they label the "Emeryvillization" of Berkeley and will trash the economic future of the city to stop it. The attacks on Berkeley Bowl show just how far these people will go and the bleak future Berkeley has should they succeed.
Josh Shinoff, Emeryville

Blame the university
I read Chris Thompson's article with incredulity ... does he really believe that People's Park is responsible for the "failure" of Cody's Books on Telegraph? Is business really doing so poorly, or are property owners just jacking up the rents on their commercial properties?

Perhaps instead of blaming People's Park for Telegraph's problems, he should blame the university, which both owns and administers the park, and has never had the park's best interests at heart. Tell me, citizens of Berkeley, how could the University of California ever do justice to the ideals embodied in the People's Park when it has always fought violently to suppress their enactment?
Arthur Fonseca, Berkeley

Reasonable requests
Chris Thompson insults the long-standing industrial businesses of the Ashby Avenue corridor, some here over fifty years. He calls us "meddling jerks" because we have been concerned about the negative impacts of the project's fifty thousand cars per week on the intersections that we rely on for the survival of our businesses.

Our organization, WEBAIC (West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies), has consistently maintained that an appropriately sized, neighborhood-friendly Bowl is the best solution for all the stakeholders. We have compromised by supporting a 65,815-square-foot store, which would still be 50 percent larger than the existing Bowl, and two to three times the size of any other Berkeley supermarket. A store of this size would bring 40 percent less traffic into the area than the 91,000-square-foot giant that has just been approved.

A smaller store would fulfill all the objectives of the city, the community, and the owner (as stated by the Environmental Impact Report), without threatening to choke off the economic vitality of other local businesses with traffic gridlock. Despite our numerous requests to consider this reasonable compromise, the Bowl has never shown any interest in being a good neighbor, and the city has never attempted to bring the disputing parties together.

We requested that the EIR also study the economic impacts of this project on local businesses — and, consequently, on city coffers — but this was never done. Twenty-seven local industrial, building supply, retail, recycling, and artisan businesses employing over five hundred people made this request.

We believe that the EIR projects artificially low traffic figures. At the same time as the store's location near the freeway and size are both aimed at bringing in regional shoppers, the EIR bases the traffic figures on the assumption that the store will not be a regional draw. This shows both prejudice and subterfuge.

The planning was indeed time-consuming, but not for the reasons Mr. Thompson states. The city manager himself writes, "The unusual duration is due in part to the city's decision, relatively late in the process, to prepare an EIR, and also to oversights and errors by the applicant's traffic consultant and the city's environmental consultant, which necessitated recirculation of the EIR and the extension of the review period." A large part of this time was due to city staff attempting to bypass the standard requirement to prepare an EIR, which cities typically require as a matter of course on projects of this size.

The remaining process time was the result of the normal functioning of Berkeley's laudable tradition of citizen participation, which seems to unnerve Mr. Thompson so greatly. What he calls "petty meddling" is known in the world outside his head as democracy.

Contrary to Mr. Thompson's assertion that the "worthless" EIR concluded "nothing," in fact it identified nine "significant environmental impacts" that will require mitigation. The EIR found that traffic at San Pablo and Ashby would degrade to the worst possible measurable level and that NOTHING can be done to improve it. Without a new light at San Pablo and Heinz (now required as an EIR mitigation), the EIR calculates that Bowl traffic would result in a driver sitting for fourteen minutes trying to get through that intersection.

Mr. Thompson asserts that the city "forced" Mr. Yasuda to pay for "the EIR and EIR consultant and traffic consultant," but in fact all cities require developers to pay for this California Environmental Quality Act document so they can examine the impacts of growth and intelligently plan their cities' futures. These issues can be addressed now, before the impacts hit, or later, when it is too late.

Keeping industry and artisans in Berkeley and in the Bay Area is a key to maintaining a strong, diverse economy and population. Conversely, harming an entire community of local industrial-based businesses means losing the many living-wage jobs that provide "the last working-class residents" that Mr. Thompson claims concern for, the ability to purchase nutritious food, not to mention housing and health care. We hope that West Berkeley industry, the neighborhood, and the city can find a way to move forward together, hopefully into a successful inclusive future for all.

Mary Lou Van Deventer, Bernard Marszalek, John Curl, and Rick Auerbach, Berkeley

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