The Ambitions of Ikea and Emeryville’s Schools Intersect on 53rd Street

Council decision and upcoming election could change one neighborhood in the city.

Two upcoming civic decisions could make one Emeryville neighborhood a very different place. And that’s what some residents are worried about.

On October 19, the Emeryville City Council will consider a neighborhood’s outcry against Ikea‘s ambitions. The Swedish retail giant wants to open a second facility at 53rd and Hollis streets, where customers would pick up items paid for at its Shellmound Street store. The 60,000-square-foot warehouse would receive deliveries daily and be open seven days a week.

Meanwhile, the November 2 vote on Measure J could bring even more traffic to 53rd Street. If passed, the $95 million bond measure would provide funding to replace Anna Yates Elementary School and Emery Secondary School with a new, seismically safe facility for K-12 students. The so-called Emeryville Center for Community Life would be located on the west side of San Pablo Avenue between 47th and 53rd streets, where Emery Secondary School is now located. A city redevelopment agency memo envisions the facility as “a full-service community center for all ages which will incorporate the Emery Unified School District schools, the city’s recreation and programs for seniors, and other community services.”

Following the August 26 planning commission meeting at which the new Ikea facility was approved by a 4-3 vote, a group calling itself the Ad Hoc 53rd Street Neighborhood Committee appealed the commission’s decision. It argued that the facility would not be consistent with the city’s general plan to make Emeryville “a livable, walkable, sustainable urban community.” The appeal opposes the proposal on the basis of zoning — the parcel is zoned for office/technology — and because the business will be a nuisance to residents and the traffic will be a hazard for cyclists.

However, the committee hasn’t taken any kind of position on Measure J, which needs the approval of 55 percent of Emeryville residents to pass. The Green Party of Alameda County opposed it with reservations, saying the proposal lacked grassroots input. And the proposal comes only two years after Anna Yates was renovated at a cost of $9 million, improvements that more than doubled the size of the campus using money from the school district’s redevelopment fund and developer fees.

On a chilly recent evening, three members of the neighborhood group gathered at the proposed site of the Ikea warehouse. Bayer HealthCare and Novartis are right across the street, but by 7 p.m. traffic had subsided. Jacqueline Asher worries about weekday traffic. She works at the Emeryville Child Development Center, whose entrance is directly across from the driveway that Ikea customers would use. Given that there are 80 to 100 kids in daycare and preschool everyday and parking for parents already scarce, Asher is concerned about the impact of absent-minded customers paying attention to their GPS. “That’s scary,” she said.

A narrow alley separates the warehouse from Emery Bay Village, a 112-unit condo complex. Its residents began organizing against Ikea in July, when they learned about the proposal before the planning committee. They circulated a petition and gathered nearly 150 signatures. They’re working hard to motivate people to attend the October 19 hearing.

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