Op-ed: Berkeley restaurant has been approved: Let it open

By April Gilbert

April Gilbert is a consultant to nonprofit organizations and has lived in Berkeley for 40 years.

I am a homeowner on Russell Street just below College, and thus an Elmwood resident. A year ago, I heard that the owners of Comal on Shattuck Avenue were proposing a restaurant for the old Wright’s Garage space on Ashby and I was thrilled. It sounded like just the ticket to round out the dining options in our little neighborhood. Finally, we would have an upscale spot with a nice atmosphere and a small bar space — just what I felt had been missing.

Then, I heard there was opposition from a group called the “Elmwood Neighborhood Association”(ENA) — strange given that I’d never heard of this organization despite living smack in the middle of Elmwood for eight years. After some investigation, I learned that a previous attempt to put a restaurant in this same space had been quashed in 2007 by a lawsuit brought by ENA.

In all my years in Berkeley, I have never encountered this group. I have not gotten an email, a phone call, or a flyer in my mailbox. ENA is positioning itself as the voice of our neighborhood, which it is not.

In contrast, I am quite familiar with CENA, the Claremont-Elmwood Neighborhood Association. CENA has not taken a stand on the proposed new restaurant on Ashby, but when it polled its members, the majority of its Elmwood resident members was enthusiastic about having a good restaurant open and supported the Comal owners’ efforts.

I understand the concerns about the traffic impact of a popular restaurant, but I also know that there is very strong support for that space to be filled with exactly this sort of use. To determine which proposals should go forward and which should not, the city requires traffic and parking studies and public comment sessions. Now, after the traffic studies have been done, the meetings have been held, and the public has commented, ENA has brought another suit, this time against both the Comal owners and the city.

Berkeley has a process for reviewing proposed changes in our city. When it is followed properly, as it has been in the case of this restaurant, it is disappointing and undemocratic, though admittedly not un-American, for an individual or small group of people to continue to bring lawsuits in order to try to get their way even though the majority feels differently.

In the case of the restaurant, the process has worked, the vast majority of people have spoken in favor, and the restaurant has been approved. Let’s all join together and enjoy our neighborhood and our wonderful eateries, including the new one I certainly hope will be opening around the corner from me on Ashby sometime next year.

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  • Here are the hours – anyone have a feel for how many people walk or drive to the library or theater?

    Claremont Branch

    Monday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
    Tuesday: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
    Wednesday: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
    Thursday: 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm
    Friday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
    Saturday: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
    Sunday: Closed


    Elmwood Theater – the first movie today starts at 1:30 pm; the last show at 9:40 pm



  • oldapeman

    Once again you avoid answering the questions directly.

  • Whoa Mule

    Dear Dr. Sook – some facts

    The current proposal call for a restaurant of 3,500 SF with about 100 seats (plus 15-20 employees). This is significantly scaled down from the prior proposal by John Gordon for 5,000 SF with 200-250 seats that was not received so well.

    The parking consultant’s survey of the neighborhood on Saturday June 1, 2013 at 8PM showed 111 of 1095 parking spaces available, a parking availability rate of 10%.
    GoBerkeley characterizes anything below 15% as “very hard to find a parking space”. The problem of finding a space is compounded by the traffic diverters. In the survey the largest cache of available parking was on Prince Street behind the College Ave. traffic barrier with 11 spaces.

    After turning down every possible mitigation measure, it was asked if the applicants could open under the rules by which all the other restaurants in the Elmwood operate, then after they established that the operation could abide in harmony with the neighborhood, to apply for the later hours. I believe that was a reasonable request, but it was turned down.

    Everyone knows the restaurant will open. The question is whether they will need to prove they can operate without causing problems, or if they will get late night and other use permits which will make it almost impossible to apply mitigation later on.

  • Guest

    Every time friends visit from out of town they’re always amazed (in a negative way) about how damn early everything closes in Berkeley.

  • guest

    What you are going to get is far, far worse than the original design. You traded a public rooftop garden for an elevated parking lot. Only a fool would think that was a positive outcome.

  • markh

    Don’t agree. And your ad hominem approach is not persuasive, guest.

  • Whoa Mule

    For those of you following this bit of theater, my friend the oldapeman was involved in an accident with his motorcycle and has been hospitalized. Lets all give him our well-wishes and hope he gets the crank shaft removed from his brain while he is there. He will be OK, maybe even better when he gets the insurance money and buys a real motorcycle.

    Da Mule!

  • oldapeman

    So, in exchange for me outing you as someone who will financially benefit from the ENA lawsuit, you are now stalking me online? You, Mule, have shown your stripes.

  • Guest

    The restaurant can’t open because there is no design for the restaurant and no menu has been chosen. So this is an editorial about nothing.

  • C Shannon

    Good thing your view lost out in this discussion. Name calling is so childish anyway.