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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Panera Bakery Building Violates New General Plan

$2 Million New General Plan Falls Flat:
Big Fix Needed

The Emeryville Planning Commission recently approved the Panera Bakery building on the corner of 40th and Horton streets.  The City Council reviewed their decision and followed suit with an approval after checking the proposed building against Emeryville's new General Plan.  Below are the findings of fact determined by the Planning Commission and the City Council (please suspend your natural sense of propriety as you read).

The new Panera Bakery building is required to and will:

  1. Be a compliment to the area
  2. Be a vibrant and walkable destination for Emeryville residents
  3. Be developed with due regard for aesthetic quality
  4. Provide a service or amenity necessary to support a vibrant community
  5. Contribute to the well-being of the surrounding neighborhood and community
  6. Employ and serve Emeryville residents
  7. Add to the local retail opportunities for the community
  8. Create a sense of place, a memorable place
These findings were not made as compared to the former use of the site as a parking lot, rather they were made against the General Plan's instructions for how to build our city.  The eight points above are not suggestions for new development, rather they are requirements enumerated by our new $2 million General Plan.  The General Plan has a force of law; development projects are required to follow it.  If the decision makers had found any of the above points to be false, the project could not have been approved without special provisions.

Readers of the Tattler will likely consider the findings made by the Planning Commission and City Council in this case to be without merit and bizarre.  Any reasonable person would agree the Panera Bakery building and it's tenant, a fast food purveyor, does not do the things required of it in the eight points above.

How could the Planning Commission and the City Council call the eight findings fact?  The Mayor of Emeryville, Jennifer West has reconsidered her decision to approve the Panera Bakery building (too late to change it) and she now has proclaimed the project does not create a memorable place; calling into question the idea that the eight points are facts.  Ms West's reversal suggests the eight points are nothing more than unqualified opinion.
Public policy is not supposed to work that way however.  Policy is supposed to be based on measurability insofar as it's possible and that's what the General Plan is for.

So what has happened in the case of the Parera Bakery building approval?  One of the following two points (or a combination of both) must have gone awry:

  1. The General Plan is not up to the task of properly informing the decision makers 
  2. The Planning Commission lied about their findings of fact
Clearly, Emeryville's new General Plan was not intended to be a document formulated to bring more fast food restaurants.  So if the Plan is not up to the task of providing proper guidance, then the people of Emeryville need to rework it.  We will need to add clearer mandates that quantify the goals better.
If the problem is more one with the elected officials, then the voters will have to make sure we only elect those who will support our General Plan.

We Call On Mayor West
The most prudent path is to do both fixes, starting with the General Plan.  After spending $2 million and countless tens of thousands of hours of City Hall staff time and Emeryville resident volunteer labor on the Plan, it is too valuable to simply let it die like this.  We say it's time to turn our attention back to our General Plan and make sure it is crafted in such a way that pro-developer ideologues on the Planning Commission and the City Council are not able to so easily subvert it.  We do not intend to sit back idly and permit the Plan to be ignored like this.  Our General Plan represents the will of the people and is not there simply for show.
We call on Mayor West: you have properly noted that the General Plan and the process has been found to be lacking in the case of the Panera Bakery building...will you now help us fix it?


  1. Panera is o.k. It could be worse. Good for you for keeping tabs on all of this. I have given up when it comes to new buildings in the area. Notices are not given to the neighborhood; traffic isn't of concern; rules are overlooked; and with Anna Yates -good buildings go to waste. We can look at this in another way: It is all creating jobs! Mmm. Jobs in construction!

  2. While Panera is a chain, I would not consider it a "fast food purveyor" - I think the food is fairly high quality, and I'm looking forward to it as an addition to the area.

    1. Got something against fast food? Panera doesn't. The company refers to itself as a fast food purveyor. From their company profile investor brochure for franchise buyers: "Panera ranked #2 among Excellent Large Fast-Food Chains".

    2. What is your definition of 'fast food'? If Panera is fast food, so is Arizmendi. Both of them fit my definition, which is: you pay before you get your food.

    3. For purposes of the story, I'm using Panara's definition of fast food. If I were to use my definition, some people would likely object and that might take away from the greater point of the story.... which is that the people of Emeryville did not spend all that money and time on a document that clears the way for development that doesn't need support like that. In fact, development like Panera Bakery is what you get in the ABSENCE of planning documents.
      Panera calls themselves a fast food purveyor and that's good enough for me (and the story).

  3. The problem with those 8 points is that they are SO subjective, they are completely ridiculous, and useless.

    1. And so are Brian's points.

    2. Perhaps you're not understanding the idea of the story...maybe it's too complex for you. The General Plan IS subjective...but it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to offer quantitative direction. That's why it needs to be rewritten. After that, bogus Planning Commissioners and City Council members could still subvert the Plan but we need to allow for the idea that Emeryville might be able to attract honorable people to the council and the commission.

  4. Typical Emeryville: Kill a local business (Semifreddi's) and replace it with a phony fast food franchise (Panera) Enjoy your GMO bread, dough conditioners and "real Froot filling" from a 5-gallon bucket!

    1. As much as we'd prefer for this bakery/restaurant to be something similar to Arizmendi or Semi Freddis, an independent cannot afford to build a restaurant from ground up. And why would one want to when our is subject to the eight points of endless bureaucracy? I work in the area, I'm familiar with this chain. I'm looking forward to having them here. GMO bread? Yeah, probably, but so is most of the grains I consume any way. Look, it's better than Dunkin donuts or In'n Out.

  5. You can make all the Faustian bargains you want but that still doesn't take away from the fact that the General Plan does not provide for building this kind of development. If you want to have a way to forward this kind of development, you'll have to rewrite the Plan...or take the cynical route and just continue to vote for Nora Davis and her apologists on the council...they don't seem to be very impressed with our General Plan.