Op-ed: Why I’m voting for Darryl Moore — The neighborhood grocery store that almost wasn’t

When picking out organic produce or enjoying lunch at our neighborhood jewel, West Berkeley Bowl, it’s hard to believe how many people tried to block it from being built, and how very close they came to succeeding. Amazing, and yet true. And it’s just one of the reasons why I am happy to vote again for Darryl Moore for City Council, District 2.

Around 2003 the Yasudas, owners of the original Berkeley Bowl, purchased a long vacant lot in our neighborhood with the intention of building a warehouse on it, when neighbors persuaded them to build a grocery store there while they were at it. My neighbors and I were over the moon! Not just a full-service grocery store, but the best imaginable, family-owned, produce/fish/meat/bakery/bulk foods purveyor ever —  in our neighborhood? Holy smokes! Manna was about to land in our food desert!

None of us were political: some retired people of color, some working full-time with young children; none of us had any idea how hard it was to get anything done in Berkeley, even something so obviously perfect as a family-owned grocery store in a long-underserved and neglected neighborhood; we all sat back in happy anticipation of our new store. And then Darryl Moore and his aide, Ryan Lau, told me the truth: if we wanted a grocery store, we had to get busy; so we did.

I’ve lost track now of how many planning and zoning and City Council meetings I attended in the next couple of years, how many times I dragged my young child to night-time meetings, or persuaded my neighbors to come speak, or how many letters I wrote. However, I will never forget why we had to do it: while my neighbors were at home putting the kids to bed, folks were attending every single meeting doing their darnedest to block the store or shrink it down to a very small size. Many of them were local businesspeople who were happy with things the way they were. There was the guy who would say “the floodgates of Emeryville will be opened!” at every meeting. There was thinly veiled racism: “these folks aren’t like you and me!”

Families from a local private school, who now so happily use the Bowl’s parking lot when picking up their kids, demanded that traffic be re-routed because shoppers would menace their children with their cars in their frenzy to buy groceries. Conspiracy theories abounded: “the real plan is to sell the store to Safeway as soon as it’s built!” “No, the real plan is to shut down the original store!” And yes, there were commission and City Council members who were against it, too, and at the eleventh hour, after years of these meetings and studies and reports and hoops, City Council came very, very, close to shutting down the project for good.

Through it all, Darryl Moore was like a rock. He kept up a steady, quiet campaign, building consensus, keeping the neighbors informed. It turns out that trying to get anything done in Berkeley is hard; I mean really hard. This is a city where most everyone thinks they are the most righteous and know best, and plenty of folks who’d like to freeze time. It takes talent and knowledge and patience and the ability to build coalitions, and yes, a very, very thick skin.

Darryl’s intelligence, thoughtfulness, and good heart shine through all he does. He knows what it’s like to raise children of color in this city; he and his husband have raised children in their modest neighborhood home. Every year he gives out backpacks of school supplies at our local elementary school, Rosa Parks. He introduced legislation to have full youth employment in Berkeley; did you know that anyone aged 14-25 is guaranteed a temporary job if they apply? He has the knowledge and ability to seek out funds from outside sources; he secured funding for work on San Pablo Park.  Darryl’s M.A. in Public Policy is a tremendous asset, as is his professional background in budgetary finance. Yes, I am happy to vote for Darryl to serve on Berkeley City Council once more.

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Christine Staples has lived in West Berkeley for 25 years and is a volunteer in the Berkeley public schools.