April 24, 2009               

Berkeley Bowl & City Fail to
Install Traffic Lights Required for Bowl to Open

ZAB Public Hearing 6PM Monday 4/27 at 2134 MLK in City Council Chambers

• Interim "Solution" Forces Traffic into Neighborhoods & onto Industrial Streets •

The situation:

In response to the estimated 42,000-56,000 cars a week calculated to shop at the West Berkeley Bowl (42,000-56,000 in + 42,000-56,000 out = 84,000-112,0000 trips through area) the City of Berkeley sponsored Environmental Impact Report required traffic mitigations, two of which were a traffic light at Heinz & San Pablo and a left hand turn signal at Ashby and San Pablo.  The Bowl was required to pay for and ensure the installation of these mitigations by the store's opening.

Due to an apparent lack of effort on the part of the Bowl, their architects, traffic consultants, and the City, these lights won't be installed for what appears to be six months to over a year from now.  At 6PM on Monday 4/27 the Zoning Adjustments Board will hold a special hearing at 2134 MLK (Council chambers) on whether to allow the Bowl to open without these required mitigations.  This is the only item on the agenda - please be on time.

What it means:
The message to the neighbors and businesses from the City appears to be:  "We ignored your needs and didn't manage to act in a timely manner to have the traffic mitigations installed that were supposed to make your streets functional.  So in response we've created a solution that will make things even worse for you.  Sorry about that "

The City-proposed interim "solution" to the Ashby/San Pablo problem (no new left hand turn signal until 2011) will be to prohibit left turns for traffic heading westbound down Ashby onto San Pablo going south.  Once westbound traffic (naturally being in the left lane expecting to turn) reaches the San Pablo/Ashby intersection, it will be forced to go further west and take the only southbound alternatives, 9th at Ashby and 7th at Ashby.  The first choice will force traffic onto narrow and crowded Murray St and back up to congested San Pablo and the second choice will put more traffic onto southbound 7th at the already dysfunctional 7th S and Ashby light. 

This City's "solution" to the Heinz/San Pablo problem will drive traffic into the Bowl's north residential neighborhood as it proposes to prohibit traffic exiting the Bowl to the north from making a northbound left turn onto San Pablo from Heinz. This will encourage northbound traffic leaving the Bowl to take 9th and 10th as alternate routes to San Pablo while traffic attempting to head north on 7th will cut down 8th and 9th to avoid the Heinz and 7th light backup.

How it happened:

Extensive discussions with Planning Manager Debbie Sanderson, Kava Massih, and City's Project Planner Aaron Sage have revealed that NO ONE during this process had the businesses and neighbors' interests in mind to the extent that appropriate action was inspired.  The issue of maintaining a reasonable traffic flow for the businesses, residents, and schools was so low on the priority list of the Bowl, it's agents, and the City, that it fell off the page and was apparently only noticed starving in a dusty corner sometime in the last few weeks.  Had the neighborhood stakeholders been allowed to be a participants in the process, this oversight would have been flagged a year ago and we'd have at least the minimal traffic mitigation required by the EIR.

The City states that interfacing with Caltrans to ensure the lights happened in a timely manner was the responsibility of Kava Massih Architects and their traffic consultant Fehr and Peers.  There was talk of people leaving their positions during the process and such, but at the end of the day it appears it was their legal responsibility to assure this happened on time, and there was plenty of time for this to happen.

The City is placing the blame squarely on the Bowl and it's agents but as the adjudicating entity that conducted the process requiring these mitigations, logic would dictate the City should have been ON the Bowl to ensure that the City's customers, the businesses and neighbors impacted by the Bowl traffic, would receive the intended relief the City had determined was necessary to maintain a functional facility.

The unfortunate uptake is that at the end of the day, the concerns of the vast majority of nearby businesses and neighbors have received same amount of consideration they received when the Bowl was approved - zero.
Where we go from here:

At 6PM on Monday 4/27 the Zoning Adjustments Board will hold a public hearing on the issue at City Council chambers at 2134 MLK.  Anyone concerned with this situation should attend.  The ZAB could hold that the Bowl can't open until it fulfills its legal requirement that these lights are installed, or they could follow staff's recommendation and allow the Bowl to open with the "stopgap" mitigation (that will drive traffic into the north neighborhood and make Ashby, Murray, 7th, and San Pablo worse) measures implemented.  Since the City has thus far shown no inclination to deny the Bowl a kumquat's worth of shelf space, it's extremely unlikely the opening will be delayed by the ZAB.

At this point City staff has stated they're not interested in alternative traffic mitigation ideas. This leaves   two options open.  The preferable option is to work cooperatively with the ZAB and staff to come up with a better solution that would hopefully lessen, not heighten the impact on businesses and neighbors.  Ideally a collaborative spirit will prevail over governmental bureaucracy and obstinacy and an agreement will be found.

Alternatively, the most important thing to the Bowl (and the City) is that the store opens on time. They've already turned on their coolers. But since they didn't fulfill their promise and legal responsibility to their neighbors, the Bowl and the City owe them a fair shake.  In this option the affected parties agree not to appeal ZAB's decision, possibly delaying the opening, in exchange for the City agreeing to provide real traffic mitigation until the installation of the required lights. 

by the City denying left hand turns south onto San Pablo from westbound Ashby traffic.  The result of forcing traffic onto industrial Murray St. where large trucks regularly block both lanes of traffic during deliveries is a bad idea and forcing more traffic through highly stressed 7th St. is no better.  It would probably make the most sense to continue to allow the left hand turns and monitor the level of problems before prohibiting them. 
If you have a better solution to this problem, please contact us and/or come to the public hearing.

The neighbors and businesses to the Bowl's north previously devised an alternate traffic mitigation solution for the Heinz and San Pablo situation that appears be a great improvement on the City's present plans and they're working for its implementation.

The WEBAIC Steering Committee                   West Berkeley Works! (and let's keep it that way)

West Berkeley Works!


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