News

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

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.

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

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  • The Sharkey

    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.

    While I understand why neighbors don’t want a 24-hour establishment of this type there, I doubt the City government has been ignoring other business applicants in favor of 7-11.
    Remember, the space directly across the street from this location has been vacant for many years. Businesses aren’t tripping over themselves to open up shop in this part of town.

  • http://twitter.com/captfuzzbucket CaptFuzz

    Maybe. But that doesn’t mean the neighbors have to accept it either.

  • Erin Shannon

    I hope the Berkeley residents prevail in their opposition to the 7-Eleven. I am one of the neighbors protesting the illegal 7-Eleven store that was opened in San Mateo. We also heard the rhetoric regarding fresh fruit and sandwiches but all of the signs on the storefront depict Big Gulps and junk food. Protect your residential areas. Say no to 7-Eleven!!!

  • lily

    They need a 24hr 7-11, it will bring people down to shop and will bring life into the area at night besides the people they are complaining about. They aren’t going to hurt the local grocery stores, 7-11 carries there own products.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alinacon Alina Constantinescu

    I’m being picky here, but I think you should include the location of the proposed store on the map, too. And I’m pretty sure store “1″ is on the NE corner not the SW corner of Sac and University.

  • local510

    After all these years with a shuttered storefront on that corner, this is what they come up with? When there’s already a 7-11 a few blocks away? This is just plain sad.

  • The Sharkey

    Absolutely, but my point is that blaming the City for it is stupid.

  • The Sharkey

    “They” who? If you know of another business that would like to inhabit one of those empty storefronts and can afford the rent, why not get them to apply for a lease?

  • Chris

    FWIW – The developer mentioned that there was some interest from Chase bank, but the city was not interested/willing because of lack of sales tax revenue.

  • zorg

    I am sure same people in that room as the ones that moan about greedy landlords charging too much rent and how the city needs to charge a vacancy tax on empty commercial properties.

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are right. When I read that sentence, it also struck me that she was wrong in blaming the city. So far, the market has proposed this project, but the city has not done anything to support it that I know of.

    But that is a detail. The main point is that we should thank her for organizing the neighborhood against this project. This site has had a series of tenants, and it has never remained vacant for too long (as far as I remember) so I don’t think there will be a problem finding some other tenant if the city rejects 7-11.

    I don’t know why the building across the street has remained vacant so long. They renovated it and did a good job of restoring its character, but they have not found a tenant.

  • M

    I don’t think it would be a problem it they didn’t sell liquor. But I suspect that once it got established, they would apply for a liquor license because liquor is more profitable than groceries.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alinacon Alina Constantinescu

    if that’s true, it kinda sucks. the city shouldn’t decide without bringing it up for public discussion.

  • http://ryantate.com ryantate

    Is the petition opposing the 7-11, or opposing only the 24 hours of operation?

  • Chris

    The main issue is being open 24/7. Take that off the table and I think many folks would have little to no problem with the project.

  • irisandjules

    *The neighborhood is fragile – yes it is. Not a single beep from the neighborhood when a pot dispensary opens up. I guess it really fits the character of the neighborhood, and fits really well with the ethnic restaurants. But wait, what they sell is not junk, it’s high priced pot. Junk is not medicinal but pot is.

    *If I had my pick for that corner, it certainly would not be a 7-11 but on the other hand, it’s not the worst to go into there. The other merchants see competition – well, if their stuff is not junk, let the consumer decide what they will buy.

    *They plan to open 24 hours. So what is the fear – that all the crooks from all the surrounding areas to get ice-cream and snacks during the night, shoot some people along the way, and that the prostitutes will come around too to buy more supplies? I don’t really understand the need for a store that is open 24 hours but I doubt that 7-11 is planning to be the go to spot for gangsters etc. I suspect that they actually think they will have your average customer such as students and shift workers.

    *The community has every right to protest, and I guess if a MacDonald’s or some other fast food place would go in, I would be against it. 7-11 – not my ideal but not the worst – especially given that many storefronts have set empty for a long in that area. What I find ironic is that a pot place that is open 12 hours every day is considered a good fit while a 7-11 causes an uproar. Only in Berkeley.

  • local510

    Ok maybe “they” is too vague. It’s easy to speak in generalities. I guess what I’m saying is that I find it odd that no one else has applied for a lease in this location. This is just the corporate equivalent of a corner store and adds no value to that area whatsoever. It might be different if there wasn’t another 7-11 a few blocks away. I just think Berkeley should be able to do better. But then again, look how many shuttered storefronts there are all over the city. High rent is definitely an issue, I can’t argue with that.

  • dia

    I’m very grateful for the 7-Eleven at Sacramento and University since there are few options for quick food buys in the area. *shrug* Interesting the picture above is almost entirely white people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Erik-Schmitt/1175617540 Erik Schmitt

    “A few years ago the city declared the area an International Food District” If this is correct then the city should not be considering a 711 for the location. The neighborhood is slowly moving in the right direction but a 711 is the polar opposite of “Food District” I’d have no objection to a 711 on a stretch of San Pablo dominated by auto repair shops and the like but what is happening in this area is indeed fragile and should be encouraged.

  • Moxy

    Pot dispensaries are, but the city won’t allow those.. Only 24 hour liquor stores

  • Charles_Siegel

    If there is a store open all night in this neighborhood, it will attract people loitering nearby – and those people hanging out on the street late at night will not be students and shift workers.

  • The Sharkey

    High rent, high taxes, an aversion to chain stores, and no parking.

  • The Sharkey

    Some other tenant, but of what quality? I would rather have a 6am-10pm 7-11 in that space than Bombay Music, whose owners have shown zero interest in keeping their property clean and neat looking.

  • The Sharkey

    I think the fear is that it will eventually become a 24-hour liquor store.

  • http://twitter.com/beccafreed beccafreed

    The 7-Eleven at Sacramento and University generates an incredible amount of litter, including nonbiodegradable cigarette butts and plastic wrappers of all kinds. I see a ton of wrappers for cigarillos on the ground, which I assume are being used to smoke pot. There is still a fast-food option in the neighborhood in the form of Montero’s. I think there ought to be a disposal surcharge attached to every fast-food item sold.

  • tor_berg

    BPG has a new dispensary, but it’s been in the neighborhood, four blocks south, for over a decade. Most seem to feel that they’ve proven themselves to be good neighbors. Their new dispensary means lights and security guards on a formerly dark and disused block.

  • Chris

    Exactly!

    I’d like to add that 10th street is a regular place for drug deals and the park (10th st btw addison & allston) is completely hidden from people/police unless they pass directly in front of it on 10ths st.

  • irisandjules

    I can see that point. 10th Street, all the way to Dwight, already attracts all kind of people that buy on San Pablo and then hit the streets below at night to consume. It’s amazing the crap I have to pick up from the sidewalk.

  • irisandjules

    I hope they prove themselves to be a good neighbor – the issue is really if also their customers will be good neighbors. San Pablo might be lit now but having had an ongoing influx of people from San Pablo to the streets below, loitering, leaving trash, breaking stuff, we wonder if more of that traffic will happen with BPG. Neighbors at the previous location stated that there was a bit of loitering on the back streets brought in via BPG.

  • Howie Mencken

    I admire 7/11′s capitalistic ambition, and I know they share another capitalistic value: That of paying full price. The sales price for buying the 24hr liquor sales opportunity at this site must include serious 24 hr. security, the kind the banks have. That way, when what we know will happen, happens at 3am, 7/11 won’t be leaving West Berkeley undefended because our 1 patrol officer is handling drunks and punks in their store.

  • dwss5

    I always thought that any International Food District consists of the stores running north along San Pablo from about Allston to Hearst, plus a limited number of stores scattered along University Ave from West Berkeley heading a bit eastwards, yes?

    Since there are already plenty of low-end stores within a four-block radius of San Pablo and University, it seems to me to makes good distribution-sense to put the new 7-11 much closer to Gilman St along San Pablo; i.e., within easy access of the auto repair shops and other small businesses in that immediate area.

  • EBGuy

    Assessed value for this parcel (1074 University) is $1.67 million. Will be interesting to see what it goes for as the owner bought in 2002. This is a marquee corner in Berkeley (with the 1R and 51 bus service) and it would be nice to see 4 stories of mixed use development.

  • dwss5

    Although there ARE places fairly close-by which bring a higher class of nightlife to the area. To the North, I’m thinking here of places around Gilman such as Ashkenaz. To the West, there are the nightlife places around Fourth St heading north of University Ave.

    As far as a place for a new 24hr 7-11, I think closer to Gilman St along San Pablo (maybe around Hopkins?) is MUCH better place than the corner of University Ave. Such a Northwest Berkeley 24hr 7-11 a) would be very convenient for people specifically going to the nightlife near here (e.g., to Ashkenaz, to bars), b) would be very convenient for drivers passing through or just getting gas in the area, and c) would be within easy access of the auto repair shops and other small businesses in that immediate area who will certainly shop there.

    As it stands now, the closest 7-11 stores to San Pablo and Hopkins are the one on the corner of Shattuck and Sacramento and the one near big the Solano Ave Safeway in North Berkeley/Albany. It makes sound demographic, geographical and financial sense to have the new 7-11 in the middle of these two other ones.

  • guest

    When I lived across from a 7 eleven, there was no “security”. The counter workers just pulled out their guns, stepped out into the parking lot, and opened fire. I sincerely hope I never see that again.

  • Chris

    The 7-11 ‘consultant’ told everyone at the meeting that there will not be a security guard.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    I know 10th street exceedingly well & agree 110% with my fellow neighbors assessment of it between University and Allston. However, it is not just 10th street between U and A that has problems.

    The area of 10th behind the dispensary has a long and storied history of severe problems such as:

    ***Hookers turning tricks in driveways as evidenced by the discarded used condoms my wife has cleaned up (to the John’s reading this, if you keep it up HD surveillance cameras will be installed!);

    ***Has regular visits from Norteno gang members at one apartment building;

    ***Has visits by H20 Waterfront gang members at another apartment building;

    ***Has various evenings throughout the year when gunfire is heard in the middle of the night;

    ***Has had an apartment used as a drug house and brothel before the city manager’s office red-tagged it for code violations (BPD even recovered a discarded Tec-9 assault weapon there);

    ***Has people doing doughnuts with their cars in the middle of the night;

    ***Has had intoxicated (substance unknown) lying down in broad daylight in people’s driveway (my drive way) only to be chased away by BPD, but not before purchasing drugs at a house just barely north of the back fence of East Bay Nursery…

    I’ve made my point about 10th Street in the Bancroft to Dwight area, but don’t take my word for it, just look at the stats

    There is no question that BPG has a well lit lot and security, but all security is focused on San Pablo Ave. (by BPGs own admission). I’m not against cannabis, but let’s face it, intoxication is intoxication. Colorado State government gets it (Amendment 64: The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012), why doesn’t our neighborhood get it? What makes the neighborhood think that a sale at BPG won’t turn into consumption on 10th Street followed by DUI and other problem behaviors we’ve struggled against down here?

    I see cognitive dissonance when my neighbors worry about the possibility of 7-Eleven selling alcohol, when the neighborhood has already welcomed a 21st century herbal liquor store into what everyone agrees is a “fragile neighborhood.”

  • dwss5

    local510 wrote:”…When there’s already a 7-11 a few blocks away? This is just plain sad.”

    Yeah, I agree.
    If you look on a map, one of the closest 7-11′s to the already existing one on University and Sacramento is the 7-11 near the Solano Ave Safeway all the way northeast, very close to the border of Albany/North Berkeley.

    It makes much more sense to me to put a new 7-11 closer to the middle of these two pre-existing stores.

    I would propose locating the new 24hr 7-11 along San Pablo Ave close to Hopkins St; in order to better serve Northwest Berkeley businesses, convenience-shoppers, nightlife-goers, and any other visitors to the area.

  • The Sharkey

    It’s not the businesses fault if their patrons behave badly.

    If you want to blame anyone, blame the Berkeleyans who are dropping their garbage on the sidewalk, or BPD for not enforcing litter laws.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    I can’t speak for Susan, but let me try to translate her frustration for you.

    West Berkeley is an area that the city has used for decades as a place to sweep the proverbial poop under the carpet. City Hall has frequently turned a blind eye to things down here that would never be ignored in N. Berkeley or the Hills. So yes, it is true that City Hall has proved through decades of neglect that it cares more about N. Berkeley and the Hills than it does about West and South Berkeley.

    Nobody can argue with the fact that the corners of U & SP are commercially troubled. But I have to ask “what the city has done to encourage commercial development in the area and draw in responsible business owners that take pride in the neighborhood?”

  • tired

    Although the other 7-11 is only 4 blocks away, it is a very long 4 blocks and not that walkable when you are on San Pablo. I think a quick serve store is needed here.

  • Watchingwithdismay

    The area between Bancroft and Channing, on 10th, is, again, becoming rife with crime. The City just doesn’t get it. I begin to think some of the neighbors in the area have become disinterested in reporting crime, evident by the fact that there is so much gang-related tagging in the area that it would be nearly impossible not to notice anyone doing it.

  • http://www.caviarcommunism.com/ West Bezerkeley

    Tagging happens at night & those with common sense don’t walk around much after dark. People on the block know that the persons responsible for tagging and other problems here are being welcomed into 3 different rentals on the street. In fact, Cesar Melero, BPD liaison for the area knows it as well. To root out a growing problem that we’d tamped down for a couple of years will require a proactive stance by BPD again.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I shop regularly at Mi Ranchito (on the same block of San Pablo), and I find that they serve customers very quickly. Mi Tierra is also on the block.

  • Hildah

    I want proof of “the city was not interested”. You can’t just make up rumors without backing them up. Having a store open 24/7 would deter crime not invite it. Sick and tired of the nay Sayers. Granted 7/11 is not glamorous or trendy, but that corner is neither glamorous nor trendy. Perhaps the “residents” would prefer a package store.

  • Bardot2000

    Really, the City chose not to pursue Chase? I find that disturbing. West Berkeley and South Berkeley have few banking options. We could use a Chase bank down here.

  • Just Sayin

    If there are drug sales going on – contact these folks:

    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/Police/Home/SEU.aspx

  • Just Sayin

    Mi Ranchito and the doughnut shop across the street has everything 7-11 would, except for tobacco products and condoms…

  • mira santos

    I live in the neighborhood and have for 15 years and had no idea there was a possible 7-eleven wanting to open in that space let alone a meeting about it. I oppose it as there is one just up the street and it seems unnecessary with Mi Ranchito and Mi tierra just a few doors down that can serve peoples’ grocery needs and there is Local 123 for coffee needs, and a liquor store just down the street for the “other needs” and they are not open 24 hours. Why would it need to be open 24 hrs? Who is that in fact serving?.

  • Howie Mencken

    A billboard on the corner: “7/11 puts West Berkeley at risk for chump change” might encourage a corporate attitude adjustment.

  • http://twitter.com/beccafreed beccafreed

    If the convenience store weren’t there, 90 percent of the trash wouldn’t be there. If you want to call that blame, so be it.