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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 I've heard people suggest that Whole Foods might not have stayed and may have been replaced by something else in years to come.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.

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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