Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Has all the screaming killed LOCCNA?

I didn't go to last week's LOCCNA meeting (Sept. 18).
I have little stomach for the petty name calling that so many of LOCCNA's meetings devolve into thanks to the relentless rancor of Art Goldberg and Julie Ross.
Instead, I went to Palm Springs and suffered greatly, swimming and hiking in the sun.
Friends of mine did go to the meeting and reported back that there were as many as 25 people in attendance! I was also told that nothing of substance was decided.
Once upon a time, 150 to 200 folks would show up for these little get-togethers.
For this the LOCCNA representatives again delayed the tripartite meeting scheduled to be held in late August?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Faux Community

Last week Alan Gould's LOCCNA posted flyers around North Berkeley announcing yet another community meeting on September 18 to discuss the North Shattuck Plaza plan. This would be ironic if it weren't so dishonest. Neither Alan, nor the rest of the cabal of Do-Nothing Naysayers who shout down ever other opinion want to discuss any possible changes in the North Berkeley commercial corridor. They're adamantly opposed to any improvement.

At the same meeting they have announced their intention to discuss 'Kitchen Democracy,' a volunteer organization that uses the internet to afford local voters the opportunity to discuss and poll each other on local issues.
To read a good article that examines Kitchen Democracy and its founders see this story which ran in the Berkeley Daily Planet last year. If the link doesn't work paste the following URL into your browser.

Of course, after Kitchen Democracy recently featured the North Shattuck Plaza Plan, and the community input came back neatly divided equally for and against the plan, Steve Martinot, one the the cabal of Do-Nothing Naysayers, wrote a long-winded and typically inarticulate hatchet job on Kitchen Democracy which ran as an opinion piece in the Planet!
To see Mr Martinot's hit piece paste the following URL in your browser.

For those who aren't familiar, Mr. Martinot is the significant other to Maryann Brewin, who serves on the LOCCNA steering committee and is one of three elected representatives to the tri-partite committee of merchants, landlords and residents which is ostensibly charged with meeting to discuss possible improvements to the area. Mr. Martinot has loudly and belligerently stated on numerous public occasions that he is totally opposed to any possible changes in the area. So much for democracy, in the kitchen or out of it.

For those who aren't familiar, LOCCNA was founded to oppose the construction of Congregation Beth El's temple on Oxford Street, also in North Berkeley. After years of litigation and hundreds of rancorous public meetings, the religious edifice was built but the LOCCNA promised degradation and destruction of our community failed to materialize.

Monday, September 3, 2007

A little birdy told me....

A little birdy happened to be sitting in a local cafe recently and overheard a large group of North Shattuck Plaza proponents and their enablers gathered together to discuss the most recent iteration of Dave Stoloff's Grand North Berkeley Plaza Plan.

It seems the septuagenarian city planner wants to bring the worst of all worlds to North Berkeley by creating a faux North Berkeley Plaza, which would simply eliminate the parking in the frontage road area with roadblocks and signage -- so we can all experience the grandness of his vision.

Of course, one retired city planning professor's vision is every other neighbor's nightmare.

The net result of this most recent proposal would be to inflict upon us all of the negatives (no parking, poor access to the stores, and a vast, ugly, neglected and unused space), and none of his plan's alleged positives (a sense of place, gracious and ecological landscaping, improved and expanded sidewalk living space).

According to my spies, while most of the assembled enablers were supportive, a few folks suggested that this would only exacerbate the antipathy of the already grossly irritated anti-plaza crowd.

Meanwhile another birdy told me (thank you, Mary Ann Brewin) that the cult of Do-Nothing Naysayers who've hijacked the email list known as LOCCNA --you know who you are-- are rumored to be planning a community meeting in September.

One might wish that such a meeting would be intended to better understand the community's concerns and desires, or to better inform the community about the options we have for improving our lot -- but if one imagined such a fantasy, one is bound to live a life filled with disappointment.

The sole intended result of this planned upcoming community meeting is to effect my removal as one of LOCCNA's three elected representative to the tripartite meetings of merchants, landlords and neighbors.

It seems I didn't get the memo that stated the members of LOCCNA were irresolvably and adamantly against any and every attempt to improve the appearance of our community.

Of course only one of these tripartite meeting has been held so far, and that one immediately devolved into hysterical legal threats from LOCCNA's unelected representative, Julie Ross. Her shrieking was immediately mated to insults and screams from Art 'Duplicitous Insect' Goldberg.

Poor little orphans, it is you who are rendering yourselves useless and redundant. If all you have to offer is shrieking and shouting soon no one will want to listen to you.

The reality is that the neighborhood is clearly divided.

Some folks (merchants, landlords and residents) want nothing changed. (We used to call such people reactionaries because they never came up with any proposals but could be counted upon to dump on anything anyone else suggested.)

Then again, Mr Stoloff's groupies want his ill-conceived, over-reaching, expensive and pompous plaza (several beloved local merchants have publicly stated this will lead to the death of their businesses).

But most folks just want something slightly more attractive and more useful than what is there now. Something that will improve the area without choking it to death, something that can be done inexpensively, incrementally, and sensitively.

Meanwhile LOCCNA's coven of Do-Nothing, Naysayers have unilaterally canceled two scheduled tripartite meetings to discuss these issues. (The first meeting LOCCNA's agents canceled was scheduled for April and the second for August 22). This group's obstructionist tactics have now delayed this process by more than six months.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

1505 Shattuck Ave.

When Allen Connolly applied to the Landmark Preservation Commission for permission to tear down the one-story building at 1505 Shattuck Avenue, the most important parts of the story were ignored.

I personally am not concerned about the historic providence of 1505 Shattuck, but I'm very concerned about Allen's plans for replacing that small, one-story building with a larger, two-story building that will also have at least one residential unit.

A few days ago Allen's aide-de-camp, John Coleman, told me Allen being 'forced' to build a residence atop his building by 'the city.' According to Mr Coleman, because Allen wanted to expand the size of the building, the city was forcing him to put in housing.

If this is actually the case, what can we reasonably expect Safeway's enormous redevelopment project to bring to our community?

Safeway's current store also on Shattuck Avenue, less than half a block away, is only 27,000 square feet Safeway's representative, Todd Paradis, told the community on Thursday, May 31. Todd also said Safeway isn't planning for any housing atop its new 40,000 to 60,000 square foot store.

These two stories, don't add up to one believable tale.

I've invited John to write up an explanation of Allen's predicament for the several local neighborhood web-forums, but he seemed reluctant to commit.

I don't know who to believe and I've been around developers too long to take them at face value.

In the 1970s we had both the Landmark Preservation Ordinance and the NPO, a Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, which was passed by vote of the people. The NPO allowed neighbors to have a voice in what was built in their community.

Unfortunately Berkeley's civic leaders allowed the NPO to be gutted and made non-responsive to community concerns by putting all of the NPO's tools into the purview of the planning department.

Because we no longer have an effective Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, we're left with using poor tools, such as the 'LPO' for controlling development.

Irrespective of the specific history of the building known as 1505 Shattuck, it appears that the entire group of lots known as the Squires Block has been landmarked by the city of Berkeley. The Squires Block includes the two-story building now housing the woman's fashion store called Earthly Goods, on the corner of Vine Street and Shattuck Avenue; the former home of North Berkeley Wines (1505 Shattuck Avenue); the one-story brick storefront on Vine Street; and the ancient brick buildings behind all of those buildings.

Welcome to North Berkeley

The world expands.

Evidently I'm a noisy, nosy, noxious fellow with too many opinions and too many questions.

Last week Alan Gould kicked me off his LOCCNA, the anti-North Berkeley Plaza email listserve, for the sin of 'posting too often.'

I've always believed the best way to confront an issue is to dive into it, so I've decided to expand the scope of my North Berkeley Plaza blog to cover everything north of Hearst, east of Euclid, and west of Shattuck.

Welcome to my logorrhea.

To see what came before, click here or go to

Friday, May 25, 2007

Changes! Safeway going down!!

--- forwarded message ---
"elisabeth_jewel" wrote:
Please come to a community meeting at the JCC on Thursday 5/31 from 6:30-8pm to hear about plans to demolish and rebuild the Safeway on Shattuck. Please come to express your ideas and concerns to Safeway representatives. No RSVP necessary.
--- End forwarded message ---

Elisabeth Jewel is a PR flack, partnered with former state rep Dion Aroner and Barbara Ellis (their bios, posted below, are readily available on their website

This was the same firm that handled press for Pacific Steel Casting Company, a vile air polluter in West Berkeley that many fear is responsible for dumping toxic materials into our air that may have caused the death of a young child in the neighborhood. If you've ever noticed the burnt handle smell or burnt brakes smell while in West Berkeley, Pacific Casting's pollution is what you're breathing.

When I was covering the Pacific Steel Casting story, Elisabeth was my contact.

She was very unresponsive to requests for information, and she was not capable of addressing any of the neighbors concerns regarding PSC’s emissions. Her job was to handle the community so that PSC could do what they wanted.

Irrespective of what you'd like to see on the Safeway property, it would be foolish to think the PR company has any role other than managing the community in this situation.

--- AJE bios ---

DION ARONER is a nationally recognized expert on the California state budget and issues concerning human services. She represented the cities of Richmond, Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville and Oakland in the State Assembly from 1996-2002.
She served as Chief of Staff to her predecessor, Tom Bates, where she became an undisputed expert on welfare reform, foster care, and realignment. During her tenure as Assemblywoman, she authored groundbreaking legislation on welfare and foster care reform, as well as local government finance, school finance, juvenile justice, transportation, and child care. She was appointed by the Assembly Speaker as Democratic Caucus Chair during the last two years of her time in the Assembly.

ELISABETH JEWEL has worked in East Bay politics for over twenty years, including serving as Aroner’s District Director for six years. With long standing ties to East Bay government and politics, she has worked on issues including health care, transportation, human services, education, labor, and school finance. She has worked in numerous political campaigns over many years ranging from mayoral, County Supervisor, Assembly, Governor and California Supreme Court races. Her tenure in the State Assembly includes staff positions for Aroner, Tom Bates, then-Speaker Willie L. Brown, Jr., and then-Senator Jim Costa.

BARBARA ELLIS is a well known campaign and community organizer with deep roots in the East Bay. She has spent many years building community coalitions around reproductive choice, and expanding and protecting the rights of women. Most recently she served as a community organizer for Aroner, planning and executing large events on issues of young women’s health, resources for caregivers, and general constituent outreach. She is a highly respected grass roots organizer for progressive causes.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Surveyors on Shattuck

Recently there have been reports of surveyors on Shattuck Avenue, between Vine and Rose streets followed by breathless declamations that this is yet another instance of the 'Plaza Proposal' moving forward despite the 'will of the people.'

Monday morning, April 2, I approached the survey crew and asked them what they were doing. They responded by saying they were from PKF and they are surveying Safeway's property boundaries.

It seems that Safeway has purchased the property it had been leasing for many years. Rumor also has it that Safeway intends to remodel its North Berkeley store, extending the building to the property line along Shattuck Ave. possibly including housing above that location, as the company has proposed for its Albany store on Solano Ave.

Similarly, there are rumors that the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center plans to add at least two stories of senior housing above it's location on Walnut Street (at Rose).

Lastly, Alan Connolly of Earthly Goods informed me that he has city approval for a 9,000 square foot building in the location (formerly a single-story wine-shop) he owns on Shattuck next to Earthly Goods. If anyone has more information regarding Alan's plans perhaps they could tell us.

Similarly, if anyone has more information regarding the BRJCC's plans, I'm sure we'd all like to know.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Plaza in the news

(Originally posted on March 17, 2007 on a different blog)


The Monthly (formerly the Berkeley Monthly) published its glowing review of the David Stoloff-driven North Shattuck Plaza, Inc. proposal this morning (Wednesday, March 28).
Here is the URL:

Unfortunately, again, there is a basic editorial skew in favor of the Stoloff-driven plaza plan inherent in the article. The statements of NSPI folk such as Mim Hawley, the statements of Peter Hilliyer (Asst City Mgr.-Traffic), and the statements any of a number of other synchronized voices, make it clear that we are struggling against a well-established, well-organized, focused and concerted effort to drive this particular vision of our neighborhood.

It is for exactly this reason that I am so concerned about the hostile atmosphere a small clique of so-called 'activists' have created at nearly every community meeting we've had. We've all experienced their destructive unpleasantness at public meetings, private meetings in our homes, and now at the introductory meeting of the stakeholders (merchants, landlords, and residents) held by mutual agreement last week. Those of us from LOCCNA were charged with listening and gathering information to take back to our community. Unfortunately two of the four LOCCNA representatives in attendance chose to use insults, legal threats and screaming accusations to stifle the process.

Such unmoderated anger is pathological, and it's not helping us create a united community with a common, articulated goal. While as a strategy, expressed anger can occasionally have some value, in my opinion it has been grossly overused in this process and now threatens to consume us with factional divisions.

Having personally lived through the progressive political cannibalism of the 60s, I am very much convinced that there is a better way to create a united community vision. We need to create community consensus based on inclusion, negotiation and engagement. We have to treat each other with respect. We will have to make compromises to come to a unified vision.

We can not allow the loudest, angriest, most hostile voices to dictate the terms of this process.

While a few naive and angry participants have claimed this unacceptable and boorish behavior is the source of our power and the very reason the 2006 plaza plan has been withdrawn, I disagree. The Stoloff-driven Plaza Plan is still here.
What's now missing are the moderate voices of our neighbors, the people who actually live in this neighborhood, as more and more folks decide with their feet to avoid this unnecessarily hostile process.

The Stoloff-driven plaza proposal is officially off the table, but it has not been replaced with a common vision organically generated from the community.
In fact, there clearly isn't even agreement as to how we will come to a common vision, despite the efforts of Alan Gould and others to build a community process here. The reason? A few self-appointed 'public guardians,' driven by their egos and their sense of entitlement, have hi-jacked the process. Too many of our community meetings have been disrupted by these people who are more comfortable bullying their personal opinions into the discussion rather than sharing, listening and responding.

If we can't come up with a civil way to proceed, it is very clear to me that the results will be determined by the 'last man standing'. In this particular case, the 'last man standing' is most likely to be holding David Stoloff's Plaza Plan in 'his' hand.

Speak out. Engage. Support our community. Don't let the bullys win.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

How Others See Us

(Originally posted on March 17, 2007 on a different blog)

Walking around North Berkeley it's plain to see how far this neighborhood has fallen. When I first moved here in 1975, and when I bought my home here in 1982, this part of Berkeley was an exciting regional shopping center. Folks came from San Francisco, Marin and Contra Costa to make their purchases and dine in our neighborhood.

We were known throughout the Bay Area for Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard, Pig by the Tail Charcuterie, Saul's Delicatessen, Peet's Coffee, a fresh fish market, a fresh meat market, Black Oak Books, By Hand clothing, Zosaku fine crafts, Vivoli's Gelato, and other shops. The district was clean and folks cared even though you couldn't find a parking place for blocks.

Things started to go down not with the influx of the homeless, but when Denny Abrams --the public face of the Fourth Street Shopping District-- began poaching the most successful North Berkeley business for his project, which he continues to do to this day.

But, clearly, Denny is not alone to blame, we've become complacent.
We live in squalor and look right past it.

Recycling? Or garbage? Either case it's on the median in front of Black Oak Books.

Our landlords allow their storefronts to remain empty for years.

Once a thriving wineshop this storefront, and another around the corner on Vine, have been empty and neglected for years. Both are owned by Allen Connolly of Earthly Goods

Our merchants don't uniformly take pride in their sidewalks, their storefronts!

Long's loading dock or is it a garbage dump?

Imagine going to eat at Toyo's Japanese Restaurant and having to confront this!
Imagine going to Masse's Pastries to order your wedding cake, and having to smell this?

And we residents are as complicit through our indifference and disregard. We tolerate the decay.

Harsh words, I know, but this is what I saw walking around my neighborhood on Friday.

Anyone know why there's a garbage bag next to the trashcan on the corner of Vine and Shattuck on a Friday afternoon?

The ironic thing is that many of those businesses that were here in the early 1980s are still here today, or they have been replaced by very similar businesses.
Zozaku's gone but you can still find exquisite hand-made items at Terrestra.
Vivoli's gone but you can still by gelato in the Epicurious Garden.
The old wineshop is gone but Vintage Berkeley is bigger, better and prettier.
By Hand moved to Solano Avenue but we've four or five women's clothing shops in the neighborhood now.
The Cheeseboard is bigger and better than it was back then.
Black Oak Books is still open and hosting authors and selling books,
and Chez Panisse still serves world-class food to world's elite on a regular basis.

And the commercial rents are four or five times what they were in the early 1980s!!!
And homes in the neighborhood are literally selling for ten times what they sold for in the early 1980s!
Why do we tolerate this level of cleanliness? This might be acceptable in New York City, but this ain't New York City. This is one of the highest tax-paying neighborhoods in America!

Maybe what we need isn't a $3.5 million construction project/public plaza so much as a community clean up day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Space vs Use

(Originally posted on March 14, 2007 on a different blog)

What appears to be one of the most critical components of how public space is used is directly responsive to who has greatest access to the space created. In numerous examples around Berkeley, the public space is either used by one of three groups: merchants, neighbors, or the so-called 'homeless.'

The public spaces in Downtown Berkeley best exemplify all of these situations.

Near Berkeley High School, public space not controlled by merchants is divided between Berkeley's 'homeless' and Berkeley's high school age citizens. In all fairness, there are very few places in Berkeley, other than the abandoned public plazas, for that age group to congregate, and the 'homeless' tend to cluster in places close to would-be donors (both for safety and economic reasons).

This is easily seen all along Shattuck Avenue, but especially near the gelato shop Naia, near the Mel's Diner/Starbucks/UC Theater complex, near the Berkeley Main public library, and in portions of the Berkeley main BART plaza.

Adjoining the high schoolers in all these abandoned areas are those people we recognize as our derelict population, with persons clearly suffering from mental, physical, and substance-abuse problems in addition to their poverty.

The only large public areas in Downtown Berkeley not suffering from overuse and neglect are those areas most closely associated with on-going businesses capable of both utilizing the public space and maintaining those spaces.

Between Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street, Center Street offers sidewalks wide enough to place a few tables next to the buildings and space for trees and other plantings against the street to create a barrier between the traffic and pedestrians and customers. The width of the Center Street sidewalk is approximately seven meters (22 feet).

Center Street, in that location, is unique and dissimilar to any area in North Berkeley in several important ways.
First, each day there are many thousands of commuters making the short walk from the Berkeley Main BART Station to the campus and back. Nowhere in North Berkeley is there the same flow of foot traffic.
Second, Center street is relatively isolated from most of the automotive traffic traversing Downtown and the street is narrow and easily crossed. Only Vine Street, between Shattuck Avenue and Walnut Street, replicates that level of moderated traffic and that ease of safe passage across the street.
Third, the adjoining Center Street businesses are predominantly food related, and are capable of using and maintaining the public space. This isn't the case anywhere in North Berkeley except along Shattuck Avenue between Cedar and Vine streets.

Still the businesses along Center Street face on-going problems with unacceptable, anti-social behavior from dysfunction persons in the downtown.

For an interesting comparison, just a few blocks from Center Street, an organically evolved, public space has been carved out by an unusual entrepreneur.

In this case, the city has reluctantly allowed a portable-trailer-based Brazilian Cafe to exist in an under-utilized parking lot. Frequently crowded from lunch through dinner, this micro business fills the street, the sidewalk, and the very air with its lively presence. Salsa and Samba music thunders over the street and the proprietor shouts out greetings to strangers and friends alike.

While MikeC and Olivier of Taste/Kitchen on Fire are similarly exuberant and vivacious, there's is a very different business model with little opportunity to expand into the public area.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Some new ideas, thoughts & pictures

(Originally posted on March 12, 2007 on a different blog)

Together, with honesty and openness, we can create something pleasant for our community. Together we can improve the safety of our district. Together we can improve the appearance and function of our neighborhood. Together we can create an environmental oasis in our part of Berkeley, where currently too many cars and trucks and ugly, impermeable asphalt hold sway.

A classic sidewalk cafe image from Paris in the 1920s.
Please note the traffic on the street at left, including public transportation.
Also see the closely clustered cafe tables, all within a short distance from the several cafes.

And then by way of comparison, here is what the corner heart of our little community looks like, seen from Shattuck at Vine.

I do believe we can do better.

Unfortunately up to this point the process of has been tainted by unrestrained arrogance and bald-faced dishonesty. While we have good reason not to trust at least one of the people behind this plaza, that's not a good reason for us to turn our backs on improved safety, improved accessibility and environmental enhancements, especially if those can come about without harming the merchants or costing the residents.

Look now at the sidewalk we're hoping to improve.

Here is what a sidewalk looks like when it's abandoned by it community, when the merchants and shoppers and neighbors don't own the heart of their neighborhood.

There are many designers, landscape architects and city planners in our neighborhood. We're not stuck with only one plan if we are engaged in the process. And the results are worth working for.