BERKELEY -- Some might say it was a very Berkeley moment when a standing-room-only crowd of neighborhood activists and supporters of a mom and pop cafe convinced the City Council this week to say no to a new Starbucks coffee shop in their neighborhood.
The council's vote Tuesday against waiving required parking for the proposed location of the coffee chain, and therefore turning down Starbucks' application, was 6-0-3, with Gordon Wozniak, Susan Wengraf and Darryl Moore abstaining.
The movement to stop Starbucks from opening a cafe in the 2,000-square-foot vacant retail space on the ground floor of the newly constructed residential-commercial building at Telegraph and Ashby avenues began to heat up a year ago, when nearby neighbors -- drawn by signs saying "Save Mokka" -- squeezed into Michael and Susan Iida's cafe to organize a protest over the city waiving parking mandates for the new coffee shop "administratively" -- that is, without public input.
Mokka is located two blocks south of the proposed Starbucks.
Issuance of the permit by a zoning official in March 2013, which would have allowed Starbucks to open without the three public parking spaces normally required, was swiftly followed by an appeal by Jim Smith, a nearby resident, and Andrew Johnson from the highly organized Bateman Neighborhood Association.
Their appeal was followed by a zoning board decision last June that upheld the zoning officer's original decision to allow the new Starbucks without the normally required public parking.
To win their appeal before the council this week, Smith and Johnson needed to show that the lack of public parking at the Starbucks would be a detriment to the neighborhood.
Smith painted a picture of some 850 to 1,100 new customers daily, with around 350 of them driving there. "These drivers will be slowing, stopping and circling on nearby residential streets to locate nonexistent parking and clogging traffic," Smith said.
Store development manager Andrew Zall of Starbucks underscored the company's two-decade relationship to the city, noting the chain has three other Berkeley locations.
"We share Berkeley's values and your commitment to the environment and social justice," he said.
Zall argued there are adequate available parking spaces nearby at all times and, moreover, a large number of nearby Alta Bates hospital staff and patients would come on foot.
"Alta Bates has 4,000 employees plus patients," he said. "They're not going to drive."
Smith drew laughs when he countered, "If you're an Alta Bates employee, you go to the Alta Bates cafeteria to get your Starbucks coffee."
Opponents of the new Starbucks underscored the point that it isn't a question of not liking Starbucks or the location's potential competition with Mokka, but about traffic.
Many of the speakers were doctors, dentists and other health professionals whose offices are in the area.
"Today every single patient that came in talked about parking," said Dr. Steve Baldwin, a dentist whose office is near Ashby and Telegraph.
While public speakers overwhelmingly opposed the new Starbucks, Michael Isaacs, who said he was new to Berkeley, argued, "All the people here are so loyal -- they will come back (to Mokka)."
Opponents, however, maintained that the issue wasn't competition between the two coffee shops.
Council members proposed various solutions to the parking question, including 30-minute parking limits and raising meter rates in the area, but these ideas were not accepted by the majority.
Mayor Tom Bates, who noted he is "not a big fan of Starbucks," said he was concerned "that the retail space would sit there vacant for a long time."
Wengraf supported Starbucks, saying it would "be an asset, having that vibrant coffee shop there."
Opponents said after the meeting they were relieved when Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who often votes with Wengraf and Wozniak, called the parking issue "troubling."
"We will likely wind up with people cruising the neighborhood," Capitelli said. "I'm reluctant to support the motion."