Local business

Neighbors stop a new Starbucks opening in Berkeley


Starbucks, which had hoped to open a new coffee shop in South Berkeley, has, after a long process, had its application denied. Photo: Sean Winters

A mobilized, vocal group of South Berkeley neighbors, working in concert with local merchants, has prevented a Starbucks from opening in South Berkeley.

Berkeley’s City Council voted Tuesday, March 11, to deny Starbucks an administrative use permit for a 2,063-square-foot space at 3001 Telegraph Ave., at the southeast intersection with Ashby. Council members made the vote after hearing from dozens of local residents and business owners that such a high-customer-volume coffee shop would increase traffic congestion and exacerbate what they described as an already taxing parking situation. The denial came in spite of the fact that the original application from Starbucks was approved by city staff one year ago tomorrow.

Starbucks’ argument, that parking would not be unduly impacted — supported by two separate independent parking studies commissioned by the company — and its contention that many of its customers and employees would be arriving on foot, failed to win the upper hand after more than three hours of discussion. The coffee shop chain also came to the table with promises to move an AC Transit bus stop north across the intersection of Ashby and Telegraph to provide new parking opportunities, and lease three additional spaces in the Chevron gas station lot kitty-corner to the new store. But it was to no avail.

3001 telegraph

The space at 3001A Telegraph Ave. in which Starbucks hoped to open a new coffee shop. Its permit was denied by Berkeley’s City Council on Tuesday, March 11. Photo: Tracey Taylor

It wasn’t the first time council members had considered the coffee shop’s application, and the process has been a long one for both Starbucks and its opponents.

The city first approved an administrative use permit for Starbucks on March 13, 2013. An appeal was lodged by local resident Jim Smith and Andrew Johnson from the Bateman Neighborhood Association 16 days later. The crux of the opposition was the parking waiver given to Starbucks over the number of spaces it needed to provide. This was denied by ZAB at its June 30 meeting. On Nov. 19, the council referred ZAB’s decision to a public meeting. That happened last night, and ended with the vote to deny Starbucks a permit.

“We’re thrilled,” said Smith. “The detrimental issues are pretty obvious, but we didn’t know we would get the five votes.” Smith said he believed that from the beginning of the application process, the city had never quantified the impact the store would have on the neighbors.

Calls to Starbucks’ attorney John Kevlin of Reuben, Junius & Rose, had not been returned at press time. It is not known whether the coffee chain intends to appeal.

The Starbucks would have opened in the Telegraph Gardens project owned by Avi Nevo which opened early last year. Savvy Rest Mattresses moved into one of the three vacant street-facing retail spaces in October last year. Along with the proposed Starbucks location, there is an additional, smaller retail space still for lease.

Starbucks: “We went above and beyond”

Starbucks met all its requirements on paper and, as Andrew Zall, store development manager for Starbucks, put it to the council, had in fact gone “above and beyond” to try to reassure locals that the store would not put excessive pressure on parking or increase traffic congestion. Zall said Starbucks was collaborating with AC Transit to move a bus stop currently on the south side of Telegraph across the street to the north side. Nevo would have contributed funding for the move which, according to John Kevlin, an attorney working for Starbucks, had been under discussion for some time.

But opposition to the coffee shop moving in was strong and widespread. Opponents who spoke at last night’s meeting included representatives for the LeConte, Bateman, and Willard neighborhood associations, as well as the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council.

Jacquelyn McCormick, president of the Claremont and Elmwood Neighborhood Association,  said CENA was “standing in solidarity” with the other neighborhood associations, and urged the Council to stand in solidarity with neighbors too.

Peter Shelton, who lives near  Telegraph Gardens, said today that his concerns go back to the original approval of the building. “Planning, then ZAB, then the Council allowed this building to go in with substantial concessions,” he wrote by email.

“Starbucks got a waiver of the parking requirements ‘over the counter’ with no notice to the neighbors and minimal inquiry by the clerk. So we have waiver on top of waiver on top of exception. It’s like the bureaucrats don’t look at the totality of their decisions, just the micro view of this one piece of paper in front of them now,” he continued.

“I am offended by the process that requires hundreds and hundreds of citizen-hours to take a matter to ZAB and then two council meetings to overturn a decision made in a few minutes by a clerk at the permit department. If we have a general plan and zoning ordinances, shouldn’t the city be required to enforce them?” said Shelton.

Neighbors turned out in droves before the zoning board to express their lack of support for a Starbucks at Ashby and Telegraph avenues in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Neighbors and merchants — including Mokka owners Susan and Michael Iida, front row, right —  turned out to a zoning board meeting on Nov. 19, 2013 to request a public hearing over the proposed Starbucks at Ashby and Telegraph avenues in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Local business owners, many of them from the multitude of medical and dental offices that are located in the area, on the doorstep of Alta Bates Hospital, spoke of the difficulties their patients, some of whom were be disabled or injured, already have to find parking.

A representative of Direct Urgent Care at 3095 Telegraph Ave. said his office sees many people with broken bones. A reduction in the number of parking spaces would impact the business. “We have grave concerns about the impact [of Starbucks] on congestion and parking,” he said. He added that the parking study conducted by the the coffee chain was “fabricated” and “simply not accurate.”

Council was divided on the issue. A new Starbucks would bring tax revenues of $100,000 to the city, according to Zall, who also said in testimony that the coffee chain would create 25 new jobs. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he was concerned about who might lease the space if Starbucks’ application was denied, particularly given the parking issues.

Laurie Capitelli: parking a serious issue

Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he was conflicted on the issue, but felt that parking was ultimately the one serious issue to consider. He reminded people that the impact on local independent coffee shop Mokka, whose co-owners Michael and Susan Iida have campaigned against Starbucks on parking grounds, should not be taken into consideration, as the council could not consider potential market competition as a factor.

Both Councilwoman Susan Wengraf and Councilman Gordon Wozniak made a point of mentioning they personally preferred Peet’s coffee — which, of course, was founded in Berkeley — to Starbucks, and Mayor Bates said he had done some research and found that, “Starbucks was a better company than I had realized.”

Eventually Wengraf moved the motion to approve the permit. It  was seconded by Wozniak. But before a vote could be taken, and after three and a half hours had been devoted the the issue, Councilman Jesse Arreguin stepped in with a last-minute substitute motion to deny the permit, which was seconded by Worthington.

Arreguin argued that there was ample evidence that Starbucks, as a high-impact use, quick-service restaurant, would exacerbate local parking problems and create “detriment” to the neighborhood. “As one resident put it,” he said, “this is a good use but not a good location.”

A vote was taken to deny the permit and it reached a majority, with six yes votes (Linda Maio, Jesse Arreguin, Laurie Capitelli, Max Anderson, Kriss Worthington and Tom Bates) and three abstentions (Susan Wengraf, Gordon Wozniak and Darryl Moore).

Read the extensive documentation related to the application, including parking surveys, and street maps created by the appellants, on the Council agenda, item 15.

Berkeley City Council’s Nov. 19, 2013 meeting: the highlights (11.20.14)
Berkeley neighbors bid to halt Starbucks stumbles (07.02.13)
Starbucks planning to open a new store in Berkeley (03.15.13)

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  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t know about LPR, but market pricing of parking meters has succeeded where it has been tried. If you want to solve those parking problems, put meters on neighborhood streets, let people with neighborhood parking stickers park free, charge the market rate for employees and others who don’t have parking stickers. Set the price right, and those employees will find off-street parking, rather than flooding the neighborhood streets because it is cheaper to park there.

  • Completely_Serious

    CVS bought the little pharmacy at Webster and Telegraph, then closed it when they opened in the old Andronico’s. There’s an independent pharmacy on Tele between Ashby and Russell, next to the Ethiopian restaurant.

    BTW, before CVS closed the little pharmacy, they asked the city for permission to invade the sidewalk with a wheel chair ramp, despite there being a level entrance on Webster. City happily gave them 1-2 feet of sidewalk space, now unused.

  • Completely_Serious

    No, I’d support another bike shop. It’s not the kind of business that needs to serve 1,000 people a day to make it.

    I said from the beginning, the opposition wasn’t to “Save Mokka.” The opposition was to an inappropriate use with all sorts of concessions by the city in a building that is too big for the lot, without enough parking for the residents. Nevo wants to pocket big profit at the expense of the livability of the neighborhood. We stopped him, and that’s a reason for celebration.

    Let’s have Nevo and the city planners and the abstaining councilmembers pay $3000/month for a 1 BR, park their cars in a parking elevator and live there for a few months.

  • sam g

    This comment is hilarious—would it be true that the majority of those of us who opposed the variance WERE Trotskyists. The truth is they are almost all hardworking homeowners with children who drive typical Trotsky-mobiles, such as Mercedes and BMW’s!

  • sam g

    The AB employees who park in the neighborhood every day all day are taking your spot. since the city doesn’t enforce the rules –weeks go by without a parking monitor visiting our street–people like you are forced to pay for parking in a garage or a ata meter.

  • sam g

    Quiznos declared bankruptcy last week.

  • 95berkeley

    Never going to Moka again. Ever.

  • South Side Resident

    I’m a liberal and pro-business. Maybe if some of the neighborhood empty commercial spaces were full we would have the tax revenue to reopen the pools.

    The gentrification ship has sailed but we can avoid the bedroom community part if we keep our neighborhoods walking friendly. Empty store fronts, mattress stores and palm readers don’t make for a walking friendly neighborhood.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Actually, many people don’t think about the pay lots. We have had complaints right here on Berkeleyside from people who say they will never shop in downtown because they drove around for a half hour and couldn’t find a vacant metered spot – and they never thought about the parking structures in downtown.

    If you want a neighborhood to be successful commercially, you should set prices for metered parking high enough that commuters use the parking structures, leaving the on-street spaces for shoppers.

  • guest

    I was replying to Completely_Serious, who was against this project that increases density and walkability. He usually is a conservative, but on this issue, he is anti-business and anti-free-market for parking.

  • T

    Berkeley has 3 Peet’s too. Peet’s and Starbucks are owned by the same people.

    This seems silly when not all cafes serve the same purpose. I believe there is a gas station on the corner of Ashby and Telegraph that serves coffee too. Are they crying?

  • Completely_Serious