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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