Locals oppose 7-Eleven coming into ‘fragile’ neighborhood

7-Eleven meeting

At a Jan. 8 meeting in the space 7-Eleven hopes to occupy, local residents and merchants expressed opposition to the move. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Read the latest on this story.

Update, 01.22.13: The 7-Eleven hearing has been postponed and will not be heard at the Jan. 24 Zoning Adjustments Board meeting. We will report on the new date when it is set.

Original story: A group of west Berkeley neighbors is mounting a vocal opposition to 7-Eleven opening a 24-hour convenience store at 2000 San Pablo Ave. on the corner of University Avenue. Residents fear that a store open throughout the night would be a magnet for crime and anti-social behavior, and would threaten to reverse what many see as significant improvements to the neighborhood’s quality of life over the past few years.

Around 60 local residents and merchants gathered on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the vacant corner store for which 7-Eleven submitted a use permit application to the city Planning Department in September.

The meeting was convened after local resident of 31 years Susan Black met Katie Schardt, a consultant from Compass Commercial who is working on behalf of 7-Eleven on the proposed opening. Schardt had met with merchants, principally on University Avenue, but not with local residents, and offered to organize a meeting with the community after hearing from Black about community concerns.

The neighbors who attended Tuesday were near-unanimous in voicing their opposition to a 7-Eleven coming into the area. The main concern is the fact that the store is applying for a 24-hour permit. (It does not need to apply for a use permit as the space is zoned for retail. The other parts of the application involve wanting to put in an ATM machine and making some interior design changes.) People spoke of how prostitution and crime had always been a factor in the neighborhood, but that efforts by residents, as well as the arrival of new businesses such as the Local 123 café at 2049 San Pablo, and new restaurants such as Gaumenkitzel, had helped to make the area feel safer and more vibrant.

The key issue with the proposed new 7-Eleven is its desire to operate 24-hours

Richard Graham, who has lived locally for 25 years and sits on the University Avenue Association, said he was worried that although 7-Eleven is not seeking an alcohol license now, it could do so down the line. Acknowledging that it was still hard to get good tentants for the vacant storefronts in the area, despite the area’s revival, he noted that there were already four liquor stores nearby.

Black told Berkeleyside she believed local residents would be relieved if the 7-Eleven retracted its application to be open 24 hours, although ideally they would rather not have the store at all.

Black said she didn’t believe the city cared enough about west Berkeley. “They just want to dump a 7-Eleven on us,” she said. “We’ve seen murders, drive-by shootings, drug sales and prostitutes here and we’ve worked for years to make the area safer. We don’t need people coming to a store at 3 a.m. bringing in trouble we don’t need. It’s a dead zone [now] and we would like to keep it that way.”

Taj Johns, a local community organizer, described the area as “fragile.” “We are fighting to keep an equilibrium,” she said.

Schardt said 7-Eleven’s typical late-night customers are students and shift-workers. The store always removes trash and would provide new exterior lighting, she said, as well as a cleaned-up exterior. The company also has a policy of removing graffiti around its stores within 24 hours.

Berkeley beat police officer Cesar Melero, who had conducted a pre-safety audit of the property with 7-Eleven, said generally speaking police would rather see a well-lit corner than a dark corner. “A well-lit, occupied building with a good neighbor is a good thing,” he said.

Schardt was accompanied by Sid Wiener, of Illinois-based SKW Capital Management, who is in the process of buying the building and would be 7-Eleven’s landlord should its application be successful. Wiener said he had marketed the site extensively but had no takers until 7-Eleven got involved. “I tried to bring in local tenants but nobody was interested,” he said. A lease for a second part of the property is still available, he said. The space has been vacant on and off for several years. It was occupied by Bombay Music at one point.

Screen shot 2013-01-09 at 5.20.25 PM

Of the four closest 7-Elevens to the proposed site at 2000 San Pablo Avenue, three are in Berkeley and one is in Albany. The nearest is four blocks away at 1501 University at Sacramento

There are currently three 7-Elevens in Berkeley, including one that is four blocks away from the site in question, at the intersection of University and Sacramento. That store does sell alcohol but is only open in daytime hours.

Many attendees spoke of the competition 7-Eleven would pose to local businesses and how it would “cheapen” the neighborhood. Jesus Mendez, the owner of Mi Tierra Foods at 2082 San Pablo, said at the meeting that he shared the concerns of the group.

Black told Berkeleyside she had recently counted 19 or 20 ethnic restaurants in a three-block stretch of San Pablo. “A few years ago the city declared the area an International Food District, and we had street fairs and so on — which makes this development even more insulting,” she said.

West Berkeley is not alone in standing up to the world’s largest convenience store chain, which is currently in expansion mode and estimated to be opening a new store every two hours. In San Mateo, a group of neighbors are working to shut down a 7-Eleven that opened last month in a mostly residential area near a high school. [Update, 01.15.13:. In San Mateo, the property at issue was zoned residential, whereas the proposed Berkeley site is zoned for retail use.]

Similar controversies have been seen in Florida, Connecticut, Oregon and other states, according to the San Mateo County Times.

The 7-Eleven that would go into the San Pablo space is one of a new prototype of stores that would offer more fresh produce and healthful food than the typical 7-Eleven model, according to Schardt. “When people think of 7-Eleven they think of Slim Jims and soda pops,” she said to the meeting, “but the new store will have a greater emphasis on fresh foods such as sandwiches and fruit salads.” The move is part of a nationwide change of tack for the retail group. By 2015, 7-Eleven aims to have 20% of sales come from fresh foods in its American and Canadian stores, up from about 10% currently, according to the New York Times.

A petition signed by more than 40 people at Tuesday’s meeting is being submitted to the Zoning Adjustments Board, which is set to review the application at its Jan. 24 meeting. “We plan to get more signatures and to turn out en masse for the meeting to make our voice heard,” said Black.

Berkeley grocer vows to give back despite robbery [03.01.11]
In Berkeley a café opens, a community blossoms [07.16.10]

Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your 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

    Mi Ranchito does have cigarettes. I don’t know if they have a wider range of tobacco products at 7-11.

  • LiveWorkLocal

    Very disappointing. It’s a great neighborhood that’s been getting better every year. Imagine how a 7/11 at College and Ashby in Elmwood would gut that shopping district. Different ‘hood, but the same results here. How do we sign the petition opposing this?

  • While I am not excited by the concept of a chain store, i am excited that, at long last, we may see a 24 hour convenience store. I live in the University/Sacramento street area. When I return from work/night-on the town at 2,3, and four in the morning there is NOTHING open. I would like to ask those who oppose 24 hours, to provide constructive ideas around where you would rally in support of 24-hour restaurants/grocery stores for those of us who work and play in the “other 9-5”

  • realitycheck

    7/11 is located one block north of College/Ashby with a parking lot and next door to a laundry mat.

  • Howie Mencken

    It’s unbelievable that to build a shed in your backyard, the COB can force your to provide SHADOW studies: But 24 hour liquor sales and pot pharmacies are not categorically considered NEGATIVE IMPACTS on neighborhood security that must be MITIGATED? Why do we have to fight for this obvious protection, when you deny ‘shadow casters’ permits without discussion?

    City Council get your heads out of the cracks of the sidewalk panhandlers and do some “First in Berkeley!” pie-o-neering you so proudly advertise. Amend the zoning code to require sworn officer* presence be provided when the public safety is being put at risk by private enterprise.


  • The Sharkey

    Are you sure? I live pretty close to that 7-11 and the #1 source of litter in my neighborhood is recycling thieves and Waste Management employees who dump trash everywhere when they empty bins.

  • The Sharkey

    What *can* they do?

    What kind of business would do well there? While the City is definitely much more permissive about crime in W. Berk than it is about crime in the ritzier parts of town, that corner is a lousy space. There’s a reason businesses have trouble there.

  • thomas turman

    I have lived on 9th street near Univ. and San Pablo for 0ver 40 years. I have watched San Pablo go through several versions of trying to be a useful, city boulevard with some success and some failures. This proposal for a 24 hour 7-11 is insulting. First, it is within a few blocks of a 7-11 just up University; second, no one has mentioned that the name “7-11” comes from the idea that the store is supposed to be open from 7 am to 11pm; third, there is no available parking so the intersection will be trashed; and finally, this is absolutely not needed in this neighborhood as fresh food is available across the street in the same block. The so-called planners at the City should reject this proposal completely.

  • I’m sure you understand that while your question is simplistic, the answer is multifaceted. The forum here isn’t an ideal place to debate and shape city policy, but it is a good place to put out general concepts that could be used to develop a holistic proactive approach to the problem.

    1. A proactive stance by BPD where officers get out of their cars more often to walk in part of the beat they patrol (yes, that would probably require more manpower & I for one will put my tax dollars on the barrel head to pay for it!)

    2. The merchants downtown got together in the interest of making downtown a place people would want to shop and dine. A similar effort should be organized around the U & SP intersection all the way down to the Dwight & SP intersection. A business is not an island & to draw people in the merchants need to have a coherent plan with goal and milestones to measure progress. I’m sure the Chamber of Commerce can help with that.

    3. Downtown has so called “ambassadors” that work with mentally ill and homeless in an effort to mitigate problems & keep the area nice for people shopping & dining downtown. A similar effort could be started along the corridor I’ve mentioned.

    4. The city manager’s office needs to start enforcing graffiti clean up on private buildings.

    5. The city needs to work with local merchants to give the sidewalks a thorough high pressure wash on a semi-regular basis. I’ve been downtown and it looks a heck of a lot cleaner than what it used to look and I have to admit, I had a pleasant walk down Shattuck this month without feeling like I was walking on a filthy unkempt street. The same effort is needed in the corridor mentioned.

    6. The Chamber of Commerce and the City could hold an annual event where residents of the immediate area and business owners get together for a mixer (at a local business) so that people could meet each other, exchange contact information, and facilitate communication, business relationships, improve local customer loyalty, etc.

    7. Darryl Moore’s office could start to work with residents to develop a vision for commercial development on the corridor. When I say that, I’m referring to constructive forward thinking vision, not the obstructionist distorting of reality efforts we’ve seen in West Berkeley over development issues. Darryl’s office knows I support change down here & even when I am directly impacted by it (such as the dispensary moving in), I will keep lines of communication open and do my best to make the situation a win/win.

    8. The city can provide temporary tax incentives to preferred types of businesses ID’d by the vision developed through his interaction with residents. The incentives could have a sunset clause after a business has established itself (12-24 months?).

    I could keep going, but I’ve made my point. There’s a lot the city could do to improve the situation in the medium to long-term. All you have to do is look at what cities like San Jose have done to revitalize a former dead zone (downtown) to understand that if there is political will to develop and codify a long-term development plan, change does happen.

  • There’s a Wells Fargo directly across the street. Another bank that isn’t a credit union isn’t necessary there. And the 7-Eleven wouldn’t need an ATM either – as it would likely charge higher fees than the ATMs across the street for non-account holders

  • Irisandjules – There’s also a very discreet dispensary located right beside the Albatross and there is very little additional foot traffic and zero loitering of non-staff persons on that block. The usual patronage of the Albatross can be seen there most nights, but nothing disruptive. I can see scrutinizing any retail effect on the neighborhood, but don’t single out the dispensaries, who already have more obstacles to overcome just to set up and maintain a retail venue.

  • Isn’t there a Walgreens, liquor store, and a gas station right at San Pablo and Gilman? What would a 24-hour 7-11 bring to the area? There are also plans for a Whole Foods at the location where the Office Depot is currently located. It’s a highly trafficked area already, with insufficient parking (if you’ve ever tried to go to REI, you know what I mean). I just don’t see the benefit there.

  • Amen to that Sharkey – what’s with our trash collectors and the amount they leave behind during the collection process? My complex’s cans are never overflowing and yet I see our trash strewn on our curb regularly after the Friday pickup. :

  • Don’t overlook the gas station/convenience store right at San Pablo and Hopkins. Do you even live in the area and are you familiar with the current offerings? The gas station I’m referencing is independent and likely offers more than a 24 hour 7-11 would (gas comes to mind). Aside from that, where would you put the 7-11? Animal Farm is on the NE corner there, ACME on the SE corner, and Genki Sushi/Golden Bear Motel on the SW corner. Aside from that it is all residential as you go east or west along Cedar/Hopkins. There isn’t a spot to add a redundant convenience store there.

  • I think the map should include locations offering the equivalent of the fare and services 7-11 would provide. I can think of at least 5 locations within four blocks of that intersection that aren’t mapped. I walked by the meeting, peeked in and wondered what was going on in that space that had been empty and unattended for so long. Wish I had stopped to attend.

  • EBGuy

    This area has been a drugstore DMZ since the closing of Longs. Maybe the neighbors should form a coalition to approach CVS to split the difference between the north and south Berkeley Walgreens on San Pablo.


    Tagging doesn’t just happen at night. The crime in that area doesn’t just happen at night. I’ve seen it and I’ve reported it, mostly during daylight hours. Silly to think that only people who lack common sense walk in the area after dark. It is the individuals with common sense who are aware and street smart that are a walking, refusing to relinquish the neighborhood to the criminal element. Criminals become empowered when the streets are left to them. You don’t have to be a looky Lou, in fact, that would invite trouble, but the mere presence of individuals is a deterrent. If you live in this neighborhood long enough, you’ll perfect the art of causal observation. We agree that BPD is reluctant to do anything about the situation, but their lack of concern and lack of response doesn’t mean that the neighbors are powerless in ridding the problem. There are a number of ill-kempt vacant homes along that stretch that need attention too. These are like magnets for crime. Why? Because no one lives there, no one is going to observe crimes in progress and report them. This relates back to my aforementioned point about presence in the neighborhood. The neighbors simply have to engage in the processs. Write, call, anything it takes to get our officials and the landlords moving, and to not let the perception of inaction discourage the effort. Document, document, document. It WILL work but not until everyone gets involved.

  • 2cents

    Petition the 7-11 in your neighborhood to extend their hours. In fact, they may petition the city on their own accord if the plans are approved for the 7-11 at SP and Uni. I’m surprised this very real possibility hasn’t sent hysteria throughout Central B.

  • Fran Haselsteiner

    A friend had an interesting suggestion: In ‘n’ Out Burger.

  • The Sharkey
  • The Sharkey

    Your point is almost entirely about crime. I’m talking about the problem of finding tenants who can successfully operate retail establishments at that challenging intersection.

  • I was the person that canvassed the neighborhood in 2008 to restart neighborhood watch on the block when H20 Waterfront drug dealers were having morning strategy sessions in front of my house each morning, so I’m comfortable with my analysis of the problem.

    I was a block captain for 18 months and organized meetings with BPD, Darryl Moore, the City Manager’s office, & I organized getting neighbors down to City Hall to speak to the City Council, & helped put enough pressure on the city for them to finally admit that Berkeley has gangs. I also liaised with S. Berkeley neighborhood watch since we share common problems (and criminals). I’m not sure if you were at any of those meetings or participated in our phone/SMS/email tree, but it sure sounds like you are fired up and ready to go!!!

    So, send me a private message via my blog site and I’ll get you connected with people leading the charge now so that you can do your community service (like I have) by stepping into a position of neighborhood organizing. We always welcome people willing to step up and contribute.

  • Agreed. But I’m not sure how much it even has to be “mixed.” There’s far more demand for more housing units than for more retail space, and if it can be done with minimal new parking, then it does not add to congestion and helps build a more pedestrian and transit-centered community.

    But the retail is what’s on the table, and if the 7/11 is within the current zoning (assuming they don’t go 24/7) then I don’t think the neighbors have much standing to object to the brand. The whole point of zoning is that everyone should know what’s allowed and what isn’t, so we don’t have to go through these thrashes for every new commercial venture that stays within the zoning boundaries.

    Unquestionably the neighborhood has problems. What we don’t know is what effect a convenience store has, especially what effect it has when it’s open all night. That’s the zoning adjustment under consideration, and the neighbors certainly do have standing to make a fuss over a zoning change.

    Surely there are some objective studies on this somewhere…

  • I’ve seen your analysis before, so I know you have a sharper mind than that.

    The 8 points I laid out above are off the top of my head and they are not all about crime. Numbers 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 are not focused on crime. They are suggestions that go beyond policing (number 3 can also be interpreted as going beyond policing depending on your definition). They are also starting points for what would have to be a multifaceted codified long-term plan so that a change in politicians couldn’t easily derail the forward momentum was it began.

  • If you are correct, then the store will go belly-up in short order.

    But it’s not up to city planners, or the neighbors, to decide what is viable or needed in a commercial district when adequate zoning is already in place.

    I’m not a fan of the 7/11 brand either, but if it’s in compliance with the zoning, then they should not have to justify their value to anyone except their investors.

    A zoning variance for all-night is a different story.

  • With you on the disposal surcharge.

  • guest

    “Welcomed” a 21st century herbal liquor store? Not exactly.

  • The Sharkey

    Again, none of your points focus on finding tenants who can successfully operate retail establishments at that intersection. I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’m asking a different question. While those are great ideas for making the neighborhood as a whole better, they do not address the difficulty of those specific retail properties – large spaces with no parking in a neighborhood that doesn’t need more restaurants.

    I am talking about these specific spaces, Bombay Music, the empty storefront across the street, and the store that used to be the discount furniture outlet. I understand why the community does not want a 7-11, but what kind of business do you think should go there instead? Rather than just poo-pooing the 7-11, it would help if the community could work to try to come up with some new ideas about what they think would be good fits for the area.

  • I haven’t poo-pooed the 7-Eleven. I declined an invite to
    participate in that meeting and have even created a tongue in cheek rage
    comic about it on my blog.

    Sharkey, I know you enjoy the comments section because it gives the opportunity for debate. That can be fun and it’s fine up to a point.

    However, this thread has gotten long enough for you to offer constructive alternatives. It’s easy to stir the pot and lob commentary grenades (I know, I’ve done it gleefully at times), but there comes a point when a person has to sharpen the mental pencil and suggest a constructive path forward. I’ve started to do that. Now it’s your turn – te toca a ti.

    I’ve written too much for a single news item, so I’m bowing out to let other viewpoints get more visibility.

  • meanpeoplesuck

    “It’s easy to stir the pot and lob commentary grenades (I know, I’ve done it gleefully at times), ”

    That’s called trolling. It’s a mean thing to do because when you do that you are manipulating other people’s emotions in a cruel way, wasting their time by misleading them into thinking you are here to have a real, civil discussion about a charged topic. It’s an anti-social thing to do because it turns many people away from using Berkeleyside comments as a place to have real conversations with their fellow residents. One reason Berkeleyside comments have a bad reputation is because a few people like you so often “gleefully” “stir the pot and lob commentary grenades”.

  • 4Eenie

    I have to disagree. There is a lot of spirited debate here. When it gets personal and mean, those comments often quickly get flagged and deleted. There may be instances when that is not true, but generally the trollish posts are dealt with swiftly.
    While debates can get very heated (sit/lie, elections), and certain voices seem to be louder (or more prolific) than others, the discourse is by a long shot focused on the debate and not the person behind the debate. Not always, but mostly.

    I think you are aiming your grenade at the wrong commenters. Have you seen comments on sfgate or other online news sources? Berkeleyside is TAME and CIVIL in comparison.

  • bgal4

    Right and none of their staff is diverting product to street sales, like civic center park.

  • Chris

    oh I feel sorry for you all ! look online at our situation in San Mateo….we are hopeful of shutting this 7 Eleven at 501 North San Mateo Drive down on Monday at City Council Hearing. Planning Commission already deemed it burdensome to the neighborhood, and in a residential zone illegally…..Has created more noise, pollution, dangerous traffic situation, neighborhood transients, and despite what the 7 Eleven woman says (I see her photo, same woman) VERY POOR food and beverage choices!!! From front window a huge display of tobacco behind register, most I have personally ever seen… bulls promoted to our youth, just a few blocks from the High School (2 for $5) and unhealthy other food choices, too many to name…..and now the alcohol license ….do not let them in your neighborhood! Also, they are a proven crime magnet, ask the police, read the news (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!).

  • Guest

    One issue that concerns me is that the corner has two bus stops (SB San Pablo, EB University), so people could loiter there with the excuse that they are waiting for a bus.

  • Emily Slichter

    Don’t believe 7-Eleven when they discuss alcohol sales. They made the same representations regarding no alcohol sales to start in the new San Mateo location, but very quickly put up the notice for the transfer of the liquor license, which the San Mateo residents are now opposing. Also, the notion of fresh fruit and sandwiches is a joke. In the San Mateo location, the “fresh fruit” consists of several days old bananas, a few apples, and the “fresh sandwiches delivered daily” consist of the triangle sandwiches in plastic triangular boxes. Hardly fresh. Instead, prominently featured in the windows of this 7-Eleven are cigarettes, slurpees, donuts, hotdogs, everything 7-Eleven is known for. So, their attempt to suggest that they are going to be a good business or a good neighbor is laughable. They’re fighting tooth and nail over hear to keep this one open, that was opened with no public process, and now are denegrating the city officials and the neighbors who oppose the 7-Eleven, in an effort to smear them and avoid having to discuss the legal aspects of the case, which are not in their favor. The Berkeley residents will need to mount a unified attack on this, if they hope to succeed. We hired legal counsel to assist, and it’s been a long fought battle. In short, beware a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

  • Emily Slichter

    I meant to say, beware a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  • Zoning issues are not nearly the equivalent of nuisance street problems, an increase in crime and higher need for police presence. I’ve lived near liquor stores with more drug dealing and loitering issues than Forty Acres.

  • Agree with Erin’s comment. Same 7 Eleven woman as I see in the photo from the Berkeley meeting was at our San Mateo meeting. Promised healthy options and now we have alcohol licensing, large display at front of store of tobacco products, Red Bulls advertised to our local high school youth two blocks away, 2 for $5, and more unhealthy options. Not right for them to pretend to be a “healthy food option neighborhood market”….they should call it like it is.

    Absolutely nothing wrong with a 7 Eleven every so often (I understand the need for convenience), but too many not good for any City, and need to evaluate the right place for this. 7 Eleven will increase litter and attract crime (level and intensity varies depending on location….read the news, look at historical police info at other 7 11 sites, and visit any 7 11 and make up your own mind)….either way, let your City officials know what you think. Do not stay silent.

  • The Sharkey

    I ain’t even trollin’ or trying to debate here. I have no good ideas for what to do with those two corners there. They’re terrible retail spots because of the lack of parking, and there isn’t really a need for more restaurants right there.

    Berkeley has a real parking problem in a lot of different areas that leads to difficulty for retail establishments. We can try to do things to make neighborhoods friendlier to promote walking or improve public transportation, but unfortunately forward-thinking ideas like BRT get shot down which leaves areas like this languishing.

  • The Sharkey

    Sorry, I wasn’t referring to you when I mentioned people poo-pooing the 7-11. I was more talking about the folks at the meeting. I don’t have any good solutions for this. It’s a really difficult situation for which there doesn’t seem to be any one good solution.

  • Actually I should have known better than to get testy. I should have just asked if you had any ideas to tack onto mine.

  • The Sharkey

    Indeed. After the city “crackdown” the only real change seems to be that hand-to-hand drug sales have moved from the corner of San Pablo to nearby parks and streets.

  • Felipe

    Hi. I’m not sure if this message will reach you. Wrote back-and-forth with you about the 7-11 story weeks ago. Are you connected to NextDoor West Berkeley? Wanted to find out a little bit more about what I can do about crime and safety issues in the neighborhood and see if might be able to get some input on another issue I’m dealing with the City.

  • Yes, Aaron is right! Watch out Berkeley. You can do MUCH BETTER than yet another 7 Eleven in your City (alcohol, tobacco, junk food…..very FEW “fresh food options”….do not let the 7 Eleven rep fool you! and a crime magnet (check the internet news)!! . One 7 Eleven in your town is ok, two maybe, but more than 3 in your town??….say NO, not here!!

  • Emily is so right!!!! Watch out Berkeley. You really can do better than four 7 Elevens in your town! Walk in ANY 7 Eleven, this is not a “healthy neighborhood market”….main revenues from alcohol, tobacco, and junk food…..also, read for yourself the internet news re: crime!!