Officials push UC Berkeley mixed-use project forward

A drawing from an October 2011 UC Berkeley presentation on the mixed-use project designed for University Village; Monroe Street splits the project in two. The site is bordered by San Pablo Avenue to the east, which runs along the top of this image. See the full presentation. (Some details, such as the presence of Whole Foods, have changed but this is the most recent document available.) Source: UC Berkeley

Plans for a senior living complex, new retail shops and a grocery store in Cal’s University Village in Albany have cleared another hurdle despite a campaign by activists over the summer to stall the development.

The Albany City Council voted Monday night to rescind what some saw as a controversial contract between the city and the property owner, the University of California, rather than to delay further by putting project approval before the voters in a special election.

(Albany City Clerk Nicole Almaguer said an election could cost from about $52,000 to about $122,000, depending whether the city required polling stations or opted for mail-in ballots only.)

The project — which has garnered broad support among Albany residents, but also inspired strong opposition — is set to straddle Monroe Street just west of San Pablo Avenue, with a grocery store to the north and a senior living complex and other retail to the south. Whole Foods Market had been on board to occupy the grocery space, but the company announced in September that it was pulling out due to long delays and legal challenges facing the project.

In August, project critics calling themselves Keep Albany Local collected signatures to oppose the development agreement, which set out several key aspects of the project. The grassroots campaign followed months of vociferous protest sparked in April by the Occupy the Farm movement, participants of which took over land near the proposed development to protest Whole Foods and to advocate for an urban farm on the Gill Tract.

More than a thousand Albany voters signed the petition. Organizers said people who signed it complained about a lack of public outreach, as well as elements of the development.

Other Albany residents, however, pointed to years of public meetings about the project, and said the campaign spread misleading, false information throughout the community. The project has been in development, with extensive public meetings before various city bodies, since 2007.

Monday night, the Albany City Council was faced with a decision about what to do following certification, by the county in September, of the referendum petition. City staff said officials either could rescind the development agreement, which would allow the project to go forward without it, or put project approval to a vote by the community.

Albany’s Community Development Director, Jeff Bond, told the council that the agreement referenced five key elements of the project that were not established in other policy documents: an agreement with Albany Little League regarding the future of its fields; an agreement that developers would pay prevailing wages during construction; a commitment to lock in city fees related to the project; a commitment from the city not to levy a fee related to inclusionary housing requirements, and not to require affordable housing as part of the project; and a promise to grant Albany residents priority for a portion of the senior housing.

UC Berkeley Project Manager and Planner Kevin Hufferd told the council Monday he was disappointed that the agreement — which he described as five years in the making with mutual benefits for the community and the university — had been challenged by the petitioners.

But Hufferd said he’d rather see the council scrap the development agreement than face another six months of waiting “with considerable additional costs collectively.” (The earliest an election could take place would be in March.)

Hufferd noted that the recent withdrawal of Whole Foods made it clear that “delays have consequences,” adding that although the university is still seeking a grocery partner for the project, the site now faces “the competing challenge of a grocery store just across the border in Berkeley.”

Hufferd said the university is working with Little League and the labor unions to craft agreements that would satisfy their members.

Council voted unanimously after Hufferd’s brief presentation to approve the revocation of the development agreement.

No one from the public spoke about the issue, and there was no council discussion on the matter.

Bond told the council that, pending resolution of current litigation related to environmental impacts, the project is set to move forward in phases, with senior housing going in first, followed by the grocery store and other retail later. The project still has several approvals to obtain from the city related to design review and infrastructure plans, including bicycle, pedestrian and transit access to the site.

According to Bond’s staff report: “The major determining factor for the timing and nature of the development of the project will be local economic conditions.”

Cal razes latest Occupy the Farm greens at Gill Tract [11.16.12]
Cal: No GM crops at Gill Tract, research work is under way [05.18.12]
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract
Police raid, clear out Occupy the Farm, handful of arrests [05.14.12]
UC Berkeley speaks of impasse, seals off Occupy Farm [05.10.12]
Activists: Farming and research can coexist, no need for police [05.10.12]
UC Berkeley files lawsuit against Occupy the Farm activists [05.09.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Charles_Siegel

    the site now faces “the competing challenge of a grocery store just across the border in Berkeley.”

    What grocery store in Berkeley is he talking about?  Forgive my ignorance of latest developments in this part of town. 

  • Petsitter101

    Thanks Berkeleyside for keeping us informed about this.  I would LOVE to have a grocery store there, a short distance from my West Berkeley home (north part of WB so a ways from BBW).  OK, now for the haters to chime in as usual!

  • The Sharkey

    A petition that’s been signed by 1,000 people shouldn’t stop anyone from doing something.
    You can get 1,000 people to sign practically anything.

  • Irisandjules

    I have heard that Whole Foods might go into the empty lot that Office Depot left on Gilman and 10th.

  • Andrew

    Berkeley Bowl West? 

    Since Whole Foods has backed out how about a Berkeley Bowl North in that location? I would absolutely shop there! As it stands now BBW is my go-to grocery store complemented by Monterey Market and Berkeley Natural. I’d prefer all of those over Whole Foods. 

  • Thompson

    That would be awesome, if it turns out to be true.  It’s far from a no-mans land of grocery stores, but BBW and the El Cerrito TJ’s are not exactly close by.

  • David D.

    When did the Office Depot go out? I was just there a few weeks ago… Selfishly, I would rather have the grocery store at the Office Depot location than at UC Village. Closer to home. However, I won’t be shopping there anyway if it’s Whole Foods, so it won’t matter much…

  • Charles_Siegel

     My first thought was BBW, but that is hardly “just across the border.”  It is all the way across town.

  • Irisandjules

    I heard that Office Depot will go into a space next to T-Rex (in a space that used to sell art from around the world – I think this was also reported by Berkeleyside). I hope WF goes into Gilman and 10th – while we mostly shop at Berkeley Bowl West, occasionally I get stuff from Whole Paycheck, and this would be easier than driving uptown.

  • guest

    I also missed that tiny Aug 28 note ” Foothill Partners from Sacramento has bought the complex at Tenth and
    Gilman Streets and has recruited Office Depot to move from its spot at
    1025 Gilman” 

    Since there are several large empty buildings in West Berkeley, I am glad to see Whole Foods will not be building another large building.  Aside from 1025 Gilman, they could have used the old Cadillac dealership on San Pablo and Cedar, or the old Andronicos on University. 

    The University could save its Albany Village property for low cost student housing.

  • Sad that I had to read this on Berkeleyside instead of the Albany Patch.  Berkeleyside FTW!

  • emraguso

    Up to this point the university has committed not to build student housing, according to the developer, due to concerns that the city doesn’t have the infrastructure / school space to handle that. 

  • serkes

    I know WTF.  What’s FTW?

  • Thompson

    For the Win

  • Perhaps the BB folks could open an “Albany Bowl.” I’m sure the demand is there…

  • Robertjm

    It was a ballot measure, not a petition. Slight difference. As much as I didn’t support, it, it does bug me that the City Council could negate a signature collection for a referendum which was certified by Alameda County. 

  • Robertjm

    The McNevin Cadillac building is nowhere near the size they’d be looking at. At best, they could use the property, but there’d be a new building going up in the Back 40.

    People need to wake up and recognize that most store chains are going to be building a 40-50k sq. ft building, or looking for one of that size.

  • guest

    That’s because Emily (a great reporter) moved from the Albany Patch to Berkeleyside a few weeks ago.

  • Michael Cabanatuan

    A referendum petition doesn’t ask for (or require) a ballot measure, even when it garners the required number of signatures, and is certified. It offers the City Council the choice of rescinding the action being challenged or putting it on the ballot. In most cases, proponents of the referendum consider this a victory. In this case, where the goal may be something larger than simply overturning an agreement, they may not be so pleased.

  • Robertjm

    As I go back and look at the text of the referendum the petitioners literally got what they asked for:
    “To the Honorable City Council of the City of Albany,We, the undersigned registered voters of the City of Albany hereby protest the adoption of Ordinance #2012-04, ‘An Ordinance of the City of Albany City Council Approving University Village Mixed Use Project Development Agreement’ adopted on July 16, 2012, and petition the City Council to either rescind its approval of said ordinance or submit the same to the voters of Albany for their adoption or rejection at an election in accordance with state law. The full text of said ordinance is attached to this sheet as part of this petition.” ====================The city rescinded the agreement. Some idiot lawyer should have written an “and” instead of “or” in that statement. 

  • The Sharkey


    In August, project critics calling themselves Keep Albany Local collected signatures to oppose the development agreement, which set out several key aspects of the project.

    More than a thousand Albany voters signed the petition. Organizers said
    people who signed it complained about a lack of public outreach, as well
    as elements of the development.

  • CW

    I’m confused.  The article says the contract is rescinded; doesn’t that mean the project can’t go forward?
    Am also wondering why the city wouldn’t require affordable housing.

  • emraguso

    * From what I understand — the development agreement is not a required document — unless both sides require it. And they both agreed to move forward without it. It’s up to them whether they have one or not. 
    * Re: the affordable housing issue, I didn’t get into this too much in the story, but I thought someone would have a question about it — thanks for asking. :) … basically, an attorney hired by the city for this project said that because of the type of housing project it is (my recollection is that it’s because it’s all rental housing), state law precludes the city from requiring affordable housing as part of the project.
    * This was contested by some members of the Albany community but I never had a chance to look into it more deeply. In a nutshell — city officials were advised by their consultant that their hands were tied in this respect due to state law. 

  • emraguso

    Aw, thanks! You are too kind. It’s very nice, in the midst of learning so many new things in Berkeley, to be able to write about issues from time to time for which I have a bit of context. I hope I’ll continue to get the chance to do so. 

  • Preston Jordan

    The main delay regarding Albany’s approval of the project was due to UC.  From the notice of EIR preparation to the Final EIR was three years (early 2008 to early 2011).   By contrast, the EIR preparation for the West Berkeley Bowl took a year, which is the norm.

    Albany Council candidate Nick Pilch called Whole Foods after its announcement to learn more.  Whole Foods informed him it signed a five-year agreement with UC in 2007.  The agreement stated construction would start in 2009 and the store would open in 2012.  So the agreement was blown by UC’s failure to get the EIR done even before the referendum.

    I did not support the referenda (petitions were circulated to rescind both the development agreement and later the rezoning approval, but the latter failed to garner a sufficient number of signatures).  However, for Kevin Hufferd, UC’s project manager, to blame the three month delay due to the development agreement referendum (August to November) for Whole Foods action, and by extent blame the community, is a historical revision.

  • Guinea

    This is a completely false spin on the Albany City Council being forced to rescind its development agreement with UC. The project is not “moving forward,’ the City Council has been forced to halt it. Furthermore, Whole Foods pulled out of the project after the referendum petition passed. 

  • emraguso

    The city still has to deal with the lawsuits but the obstacle of the development agreement being called into question has been handled. As opposed to further discussion and action related to that. To me that seems like proceeding to the next step. What do you think?

  • guest

    Yeah, right. It’s all U.C. Berkeley’s fault.  It has nothing to do with the lawsuits, the endless nitpicking, the recent occupation, and threats by OTF to make Whole Foods to “feel our wrath”.  And please note, Preston Jordan is one of the people that filed a last minute lawsuit to block the project and is desperate not to be blamed for the Whole Foods pullout. So. Grain of salt, folks.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Actually, there are two opposite trends in the grocery business.  Costco and the like are building megastores stores, while Fresh and Easy and the like are building moderate size stores.

    Whole foods recently announced that it is planning to build stores of about 30,000 square feet, somewhat smaller than its stores used to be. 

  • Robertjm

    That may be the case. However, it’s a moot point as Whole Foods apparently looked at the McNevin site and rejected it.

  • Guest

    The McNevin Cadillac site covers about 70 % of the block with asphalt. It is sitting uselessly contributing to global warming. Have a look on satellite view in google maps. If someone built a new building on the site, they could have a large grocery store without adding to the amount of pavement. There are over a hundred parking spaces just sitting there.

  • Robertjm

    But you’re comparing Apples with Oranges. It was the suggestion that they could move into the CURRENT building which is located on the property, to which I suggested it was too small. If you’re building a new building on that asphalt jungle then it’s the same as building a new spot on Monroe Street.

    And, again, Whole Foods DID look at that spot, and decided to pass on it. Perhaps someone else might look at it in the future. But, it’ll be close to the WF on Gilman, so perhaps not.

  • Charles_Siegel

    That is the way the law works. If the city passes an ordinance you don’t like, you can gather signatures for a referendum, which gives the city the choice of having a vote on the ordinance or of rescinding the ordinance.

  • Guest

    The existing building of McNevin Cadillac appears to be about 16000 square feet. Aside from the obvious glass part, there is a larger white part of the building, partly set back from the street. There is also room to enlarge the building, either forward or backwards. The size is similar to the Monterey Market, but with more parking. The original Berkeley Bowl was a creative reuse of an existing building.