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Column: Whole Foods' Departure Was Loss for Albany

Daniel Baer asks: "Where's the revenue for our city?" Albany Patch welcomes your letters and columns via email at albany@patch.com.

I walked into a brand-spankin' new Whole Foods on Ocean Avenue in the city recently. That single store has transformed the Ingleside neighborhood of San Francisco. I walked all the aisles before picking up a premium beverage. The age-, gender-, and ethnically diverse staff were busy and helpful and everyone seemed totally positive.

I cannot understand Albany residents' opposition to such an establishment (and am well-aware that Whole Foods has understandably given up). Couldn't the residents have accepted the proposal and cooperated in the design of a cool, attractive, eco-, bike-friendly little retail area on San Pablo? Maybe we could have even had parking spots with charging stations for electric vehicles. I've heard people suggest that Whole Foods might not have stayed and may have been replaced by something else in years to come. That would not have happened. That location would be a huge success for Whole Foods.

San Pablo has almost nothing going for it. We've got liquor stores, nail salons, graffiti-ridden bus stops, gas stations, and aged chain-link fences. And if the racetrack goes, what then? Where's the revenue for our city? California's sinking because so many issues get put to the popular vote. Could the Albany-Berkeley area, and perhaps all of California, be in danger of strangling itself with a direct democracy that is frankly dysfunctional?

I went to Albany Patch and looked at the results of this question: "How do you see the Whole Foods withdrawal from the University Village development project?" Twenty percent of respondents clicked, "A big win for Albany." Seventy-four percent of respondents clicked, "A huge loss for Albany." Maybe the obstreperous minority in this town needs to be a little more sensitive to what the majority actually supports.

Truthfully, I don't really care. We'll keep shoppin' at TJ's. I just really wonder if the end result would have been something everyone would have liked. I'm told people were completely up in arms when the proposal was made for the Transamerica Pyramid, and now look: it, with the GG Bridge and Coit Tower, is a symbol of San Francisco. The Berkeley spirit of just sinking teeth into and then ripping apart every single issue is starting to bother me.

Look what "Occupy the Farm" accomplished: in addition to a horrible chain-link fence, people visiting Albany from the freeway are now greeted with numerous blue signs that read "No Trespassing." I'm not saying OtF's intentions weren't good. I'm saying that the actual end result (as a result of UC's handling of the issue) is worse than what we started with. Perhaps we are irritated by the behavior of UC because they're like we are: intractable and implacable.

--Daniel Baer

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on the Whole Foods project. Learn about the proposed Whole Foods and senior housing development here.

Bart Grossman October 05, 2012 at 07:45 PM
The thing we need to understand is that Occupy the Farm never cared about Albany. Their petition was a tactic in a war with the University. The option was that was missing from the Patch poll was, "Big win for us and to hell with Albany."
Ralph Norton October 05, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Would a Fox news poll provide an accurate representation of Americans? Patch doesn't speak for Albany. Albany progressives have long ago departed from the Patch and it's slanted articles.
tr October 05, 2012 at 08:46 PM
otf members are a small minority of people who opposed uc's project. many of us want wf, but not a large development. uc greed kept wf from opening.
Paul D October 05, 2012 at 11:44 PM
"California's sinking because so many issues get put to the popular vote…" "...direct democracy that is frankly dysfunctional?…" "obstreperous minority…" "Truthfully, I don't really care." Why post then? You have no respect for others opinions, you have no belief in voting, and by your own statement you don't really care? Just needed to rag on somebody, huh? Get it all out of your system now?
tr October 06, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Brian Parsley October 06, 2012 at 12:26 AM
It wasn't UC greed but rather a small but vocal anti-corporation and local special interest groups who killed this project. But Whole Foods isn't going away, they are merely moving their proposed store two blocks away, on Gilman St. in business friendly Berkeley. Now Albany will gain all the alledged traffic issues with no mitigations, public art, jobs, or tax revenue.
Kathryn Javandel October 06, 2012 at 05:56 AM
+1 Because Albany Patch doesn't have a "like" button.
Kathryn Javandel October 06, 2012 at 05:58 AM
Robert Marshall October 06, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Great! While San Pablo Avenue couldn't absorbed the extra traffic, Gilman Street can't, being a major thoroughfare to the freeway. Still, I'm glad it'll be that close to home so I'll be able to walk there.
Winifred Owen October 06, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Another +1. I surely hope the Patch will soon add this simple feature. Sometimes one wants to give a thumbs up (or down) without going to the trouble to compose a comment. BTW, no candidate expressing ANY degree of support for the bogus OTF will get my vote. EVER!
Winifred Owen October 06, 2012 at 06:24 PM
That is a very sad day indeed - when historically anti-business Berkeley is perceived as a more business-friendly city than Albany!!
Jim Hallock October 06, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Thank you to those who gave us their support in our coming to Albany. We have many loyal shoppers from north of University, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond and as far as Pinole and Hercules who were looking forward to our "north of University Ave" location. As I go out to events like the California Coastal Cleanup, Earth Day, The Winter Kid's Carnival and many others, I continue to hear how excited people were that we might have opened a store in Albany. Although it didn't work out, I hope you will still remember us at the corner of Telegraph and Ashby, were we've been serving the Berkeley community for over 20 years. Jim Hallock Community Relations Team Leader Whole Foods Market Berkeley
Emilie Raguso October 07, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Thanks for taking the time to chime in here, Jim! Can you say anything about the Gilman rumors?
Dept. of Misinformation October 07, 2012 at 07:09 AM
Mr. Hallock, Thanks for your note, but just because you use progressive language, i.e. earth day, coastal clean up, children, etc. doesn't mean you're not just another corporate guy in sheep's clothing. Thanks for leaving well enough alone, and staying out of our community. It would have been a shame to see Whole Foods kill the Natural Foods Company, Monterey Market, and Magnanis. Though I'm sure the pull out was out of your hands. For the record, Albany is NOT anti-business, Albany is anti-big corps smothering our small business that are serving the community just fine. Despite your rhetoric, Berkeley and the surrounding area has been serving Whole Foods for twenty years, get real, bro.
Ellen Hershey October 07, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Dear Misinformation, Whether I agree with you or not about the Whole Foods proposal, I object to your presumption that you're entitled to speak for Albany.
Dept. of Misinformation October 07, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I am certainly not claiming to speak for Albany, it's an observation deduced from the recent series of events, that apparently Albany cares about our small businesses, and would rather have them thrive than increase traffic, emissions, etc, for a "tasteful" market—this is what the evidence points to. That stated, these statements about Albany being anti-business, or growth are just not accurate, they are not even half truths. The money WF would generate for our community would not stay in our community, though perhaps they would generate some low paying labor jobs for our children. The biggest thing that has come out of the whole organic food movement is stylized corporate monopoly-prone "green businesses" like Whole Foods. They are better than Safeway, that is for sure. There are many things appealing about WF and I shop there from time to time. But as a critical thinker, raised by a feminist mother that went after coal plants (speaking of earth day events), I am a skeptic by nature and see through my infatuation with the yummy Whole Foods brand and and call it what it is--lipstick on a pig. My Prius, a coal car. What is admirable about Whole Foods is the possibility that they pulled out of Albany because they listened to the people of the community (if this is indeed the reason, which I have a hard time believing) this is something you would never see Walmart do.
paul1 October 07, 2012 at 08:01 PM
agree with Dept of Misinformation
paul1 October 07, 2012 at 08:03 PM
nowhere in his post does he imply he is "entitled to speak for Albany." Every sentence is clearly an opinion *as* an Albany resident, nothing more.
Brian Parsley October 07, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Monterey Market and Berkeley Natural Grocery do nothing for our community. They don't pay sales tax, property tax, or parcel in our community. I have never seen then donate to or sponsor any event in our community.
paul1 October 07, 2012 at 10:36 PM
If you think the only benefit an organic food store provides to a community is the tax they pay, or the events they sponsor, then you're just not really even trying to understand the issues here. No wonder these disagreements run on and on. Do you *know* what events they've donated to or sponsored? Can you name the businesses that you "have never seen donate to or sponsor any event in our community"? How many do you think there are? Are you against them too? Are the only businesses that can "do [something] for our community" the businesses that are strictly within Albany city limits? Your points are specious.
Brian Parsley October 08, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Ken October 08, 2012 at 03:56 PM
If the rumors that WF will open up instead on Gilman come to fruition, I just don't see how any other grocer (local or national) would want the UC space: 1) Economics - I doubt that demographics will not support a WF on Gilman AND another grocer in Albany at that space (of course, plus the Safeway on Solano). Albany residents who believe that a WF in Albany would hurt local businesses - don't ya think that a WF nearby in Berkeley WON'T?? (And all the tax rev goes to Berkeley - yay, we won!!) 2) Politics - With all the ruckus/OTF commotion and protests + the referendum, what prospective tenant (again, local OR national) would want to deal with the potential delays or disruption of their plans UC says they're committed to finding a grocer - I'm hopeful, but I have serious doubts. This may turn into Albany's White Elephant and we'll be left w/ the existing weed-strewn lots looking out over a run-down section of San Pablo that could use some help. And NO tax revenues that would have come from this type of establishment, all of it going to MM, BB, WF x 2, etc. in Berkeley. Sometimes I question whether enough Albany residents are able to clearly evaluate the costs and benefits of things in a rational manner - given the comments (not just about this development, but other subjects) that are fraught with emotion and lack rational, logical thought/facts, it makes me wonder about "small town" mentality? :(
Alan Riffer October 08, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I wish there was an easy way to know about the donations to Albany groups from various groups and businesses. Monterey Market has donated wonderful grapes to the Albany Education Foundation/Albany Community Foundation Chocolate&Champagne Galas since they began. Andronico's (atop Solano) donated adult brownies to the Galas. However, businesses located outside of Albany do not pay sales or property or parcel taxes to Albany, so I remain puzzled by assertions that "the money WF would generate for our community would not stay in our community." The local taxes an Albany-based WF would pay would go to the City of Albany.
Robert Smith October 09, 2012 at 04:41 PM
"uc's greedy, oversized project resulted in over 1000 albanians requesting the city council to rescind the development agreement. many of us want whole foods, but not the large development." Does that 1/18th of the population include the folks who signed after being misinformed about what they were signing?
Kenneth October 09, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Back when they were circulating the referendum petitions, it was all "Let the citizens have a voice in deciding whether this is the best course for Albany." (Catherine Sutton, 8/10/12) and We can't have five people make the decision for the whole community. Now it is don't let the people decide, rescind the agreement. Bait and switch for sure.
Dan Abbott October 10, 2012 at 01:42 AM
As someone who has lived near the proposed development for 10+ years, first in UC village and now just a few blocks off of San Pablo, I am deeply disappointed by the loss of this project. What many folks may not realize is that this part of Albany is far less walkable then many parts of Albany being isolated from Solano by Marin and seeing as how San Pablo is a dead zone. I do bike a lot, but more often the not a trip to the store means getting in the car. I can't help but feel that the constant niggling by AS&R has made the city less walkable/bike friendly, i.e. the WF pull out and the Marin reconstruction that I feel made it a worse street to drive, bike and cross on foot. But perhaps, some good can come from this. Perhaps we can get Safeway to move into the space, which would be a better fit for the student/senior/low income area then Whole Foods would have been. And then they can close down that run down store on Solano. If not, we'll be stuck with pic-n-pac and the new dollar store.
Jo-Anna Pippen October 11, 2012 at 05:55 PM
+3 and agree about voting for anyone who supported OTF.


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