News & Notes 

Slowing down for Emeryville shoppers; Jon Romano's prodigious binder; and Yusuf Bey's judge comes with baggage.

Speed limit six mph: Back when IKEA opened its doors in Emeryville two and a half years ago, cars were backed up across the Bay Bridge. The pilgrimage of bargain-hunters to the mecca of low-cost, assemble-it-yourself furniture was legendary, and it gave pause to other cities considering whether to solicit IKEAs of their own: Emeryville, a town already overflowing with retail outlets, was becoming a weekend destination for gridlock.

The word on the street? Baby, you ain't seen nothing yet. A massive Oakland Best Buy just cut the ribbon right on the Emeryville border. And next month comes what could be the real choker, the opening of a twenty-acre complex called Bay Street, sited just next door to IKEA. Developer Madison Marquette dubs the project an "urban village" that will eventually contain 400,000 square feet of retail space, 65 shops (including Pottery Barn, Banana Republic, and a 32,000-square-foot Barnes and Noble), nine restaurants, a 16-screen AMC theater, 284 apartments, 80 townhouses, and a 250-room hotel. Gadzooks!

Given the size of this thing, local pols must have carefully considered its effects on the road-rage-inducing traffic in that part of the city, right? (Please say yes.) "I have faith and belief that the city of Emeryville has considered all of the implications," says Michael O'Rourke, general manager of IKEA's Emeryville store.

The city did consider the implications, but that was, um, four years ago. The development's environmental impact report was done in 1998, long before IKEA opened the floodgates for every sucker in the Bay Area with a two-bedroom and a hankering for Swedish meatballs.

The city's vintage projections were a bit off, in part because the 270,000-square-foot IKEA far exceeded expectations. Annual sales, predicted at $55 million, were nearly twice that, according to O'Rourke, and employment jumped from 315 to 540 workers. Within six weeks of its opening, the Emeryville store became the highest-grossing IKEA on the planet. It was not something any computer model could have anticipated.

Yet the Bay Street project was never reevaluated. Once an environmental report is done, it's done. "We did not review it and could not without the risk of being sued," says City Manager John Flores.

Former councilman Greg Harper says the city's redevelopment agency owned the Bay Street site and could have taken its time, using IKEA as a test case. Instead, it used a computer model to predict the vehicular consequences. "I thought that the whole project was proceeding much too quickly," he says. "It was just ridiculous."

IKEA now aims to open new locations in Palo Alto and Dublin, which could ease things a little bit, but not before the Bay Street project creates a new madhouse. "There are certain times of year when it will be absolute hell," says Harper. "I can't see it being anything else if it's successful at all."

Madison Marquette uses traffic as a selling point. "The site is situated at the I-80 and I-580 interchange, one of the Bay Area's busiest intersections, providing great visibility," its press release boasts.

Andrew Getz, former chair of the Emeryville Planning Commission, says the problem isn't with the environmental report, but with the fact that no one read it. A developer who supports the Bay Street project, Getz says it's almost impossible to find the important facts in the gigantic document -- for example, the predicted average speed for the Shellmound Loop will be 5.5 mph during peak times. "Bet you won't find anyone else who knows that," Getz says. "My beef was about disclosure, not about whether the project was appropriate for the area."

The project has its benefits, of course. The new businesses will generate tax dollars. The city has worked hard to clean up and develop its polluted land. And who isn't excited about another Victoria's Secret?

But does the average Emeryville resident stand to benefit? After all, city officials told the Chronicle in 1998 that less than one percent of shoppers actually lived in town. Harper says it's time for residents, who have few parks and one of the worst school systems in the state, to start demanding a payoff for the city's investments. Then perhaps they can start enjoying their own urban village. -- Helene Blatter

Binding Miss Batesy: With much glee, Jonathan Romano, 44, recently settled a lawsuit with Alta Bates Hospital. To mark the occasion, he biked to the Express and dropped off his binder. The binder, perhaps seven inches thick, weighs precisely 13 lb., 13.8 oz. Its cover features a fuzzy photograph of Romano, clad in a barely buttoned shirt, holding a margarita glass the size of his head, and looking rather, well, wasted. "Here's to my settlement," reads the caption.

Romano's binder chronicles his dispute with the hospital and the odd tangents of his psyche. Interspersed with selected court filings, transcripts, and letters are his grade-school class photos, phony letters of support from celebrities, some hair, an actual packet of thalidomide pills, and unflattering collages of politicians and celebrities in which Romano manages to make reference to Alta Bates -- all captioned with the help of a 1970s-era labeling machine (the kind that raises white capital letters on colored strips of plastic). For example, a Newsweek cover was altered with labels so that the headline reads, "I bushwhacked George W. and Alta Bates." Romano also included a list of some 300 people who had received a commemorative binder from him, including judges, department stores, doctors, journalists, and senators. "Everyone knows!" he scrawls repeatedly.

What can be gleaned from all this is that he loves -- or perhaps loathes -- Anna Kournikova, cycling, and JFK's Camelot, and that Romano, who has been HIV positive since 1981, went to the East Bay AIDS Center in April 2000 to participate in a clinical trial. The next month, he was disqualified for not being sick enough. Romano flew into a screaming fit. In turn, hospital staff filed restraining orders against him, which he violated as he continued to flyer at the hospital. In all, Alta Bates staff filed ten orders and Romano landed behind bars eight times. In the binder, he decorates each new order with a a color copy featuring Sharon Stone, who chairs a big AIDS organization.

Romano, who admits to being foulmouthed but not violent, then sued the hospital and its lawyers for violating his privacy when it included his psychiatric diagnosis on several of the restraining orders it filed.

In his case, being a loudmouth paid off. Alta Bates and its law firm recently settled with cash and debt forgiveness totaling $51,000, Romano says. This called for an addition to the binder: A 22-page fictional story, all in capital letters, about various members of the Alta Bates medical staff caught in compromising positions.

His settlement, it would seem, is destined to be spent at Kinko's. -- Melissa Hung

Small world: It's hard to get even three degrees of separation in the Oakland legal system. Take Black Muslim leader Yusuf Bey, who is awaiting trial on charges that twenty years ago, he had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. As Bey pleaded not guilty last week, the presiding judge was none other than Allan Hymer.

The judge has some history with Bey. In September 1994, a young man named Lavell Marce Stewart, a local drug dealer, was hanging out near the corner of Shattuck Avenue and 51st Street. Stewart claimed that he was drinking beer with some friends when he noticed some $1,200 worth of pot was missing from his car. According to court records, he turned around and confronted the group, shouting, "One of you motherfuckers know what happened to my weed." As Stewart's friends yelled back, he pulled out a .357 Magnum and shot a young man four times, killing him on the spot.

The victim was Akbar Bey, son of Yusuf Bey. Hymer, then a public defender, represented Stewart in the murder trial.

Andrew Dosa, Yusuf Bey's attorney, had no idea of Hymer's legal ties to his client's son, but doubts that it will be a serious issue. "I have every confidence that he will handle himself appropriately," he says. James Giller, a longtime East Bay criminal defense lawyer, says Hymer has a reputation as an ethical judge who would recuse himself at the slightest indication that he couldn't do his job. "You couldn't get a better guy than Hymer," Giller says. "He's very smart and very fair."

But perhaps the most chilling reason this won't be much of an issue comes from Hymer himself. As a public defender, Hymer tried hundreds of murder cases -- so many, in fact, that he couldn't even recall the case when pressed for comment. Just another dead body on the streets of Oakland. -- Chris Thompson

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