As the final match of the World Cup began Sunday, July 13, some 40 people stood patiently in an orderly line outside the new Westbrae Biergarten on the corner of Gilman and Curtis streets. A bouncer guarded the entrance to the beer garden, where patrons sat calmly watching the game on non-amplified screens.
The tranquil scene was a far cry from the whistles and whoops and massive crowds that were mainstays at the beer garden during the earlier World Cup games. Lynn Ferreira, who runs the operation and owns Brazil Café, which has a permanent food truck on the beer garden premises, made significant changes to the establishment after frustrated neighbors submitted a petition to the city demanding that the establishment limit the number of customers. But a dispute remains over the maximum occupancy permitted there.
The neighbors’ petition, signed by 52 residents and sent to the city in late June, said, “Prior to the opening of the beer garden, Curtis St. and the surrounding area was a quiet residential neighborhood. Now we are faced with significantly increased noise, food odors, increased traffic, problems with parking and food garbage and litter on our street.”
“On the days when there were big crowds, the parking on their fairly sleepy street became impossible,” said Councilwoman Linda Maio, who has met with both the neighbors and the owners.
Feirrera, who operates the venue that is owned by couple Linda and Carl Lasagna, addressed several of the complaints. She turned off the sound system, hired a janitorial employee, put up signs reminding guests to be respectful, agreed to remove the televisions after the World Cup, and put a filter on the Brazil Café food truck grill to temper the bothersome smoke.
But she hopes the neighbors will backtrack on their demand to keep the occupancy at the current number allowed by the use permit: 104.
The fire department initially settled on 104 users because the owners originally had planned for four food trucks instead of the single one they ended up with, said Berkeley Planning Manager Carol Johnson. When the owners queried the Fire Department about the appropriate occupancy with only one truck, the fire marshal suggested 270 people. The owners began allowing more than double the allowed number of patrons at World Cup events.
All the owners need to do to raise the official occupancy is to get approval from the Fire Department, said Johnson, who has reviewed the situation.
“We confirmed that there was never a fire occupancy included as a condition of approval, and that’s where some of this miscommunication may have came about in the neighborhood,” Johnson said. “Individuals may have assumed that because there was initially 104 occupancy that there was no potential for that number to increase, that somehow a condition of the [use permit] was violated.”
The Planning Department also determined that the televisions on site qualify as appropriate “minor accessories” for a venue of this sort, but advised the owners to mute the sound.
Ferreira admitted that 270 people is a lot to squeeze into the 3,400-square-foot lot, but is asking the neighbors to accept an increase of the occupancy to 170.
“We figured, let’s take 100 off [of 270] and see if we can negotiate something that works for us but is still good for the neighbors,” Ferreira said. “Trust us to have 170 people there and keep the noise down, and in return we won’t do the sporting events.”
She said over 400 customers have signed a counter-petition she created to demonstrate support for a higher occupancy.
So far the neighborhood group is not budging. They want the maximum occupancy to remain at 104. Nobody from the neighborhood group that created the original petition agreed to be quoted on the record. One anonymous neighbor who said they were emailing on behalf of the whole group said the current maximum occupancy already makes it difficult to find parking in the area.
During the period when the owners were allowing over 200 people into the beer garden, a customer parked in a neighbor’s driveway and refused to leave, Maio said.
Ferreira said she generally empathizes with the neighbors’ concerns, and is trying to manage a level of popularity she herself never predicted. She hosted a community meeting last week.
“We opened during the World Cup and got a huge amount of people that we weren’t really expecting, and as a result of that it was quite noisy,” she said. “And that was such a shocking thing for the neighbors, having this empty lot for so many months, and then all of a sudden you’ve got this influx of people. We don’t want to make people upset; we want to be an asset to the neighborhood.”
The Biergarten implemented a 10% discount for customers who arrive via bicycle or public transportation, which is designed to dissuade people from driving to the site.
Maio views herself as a mediator in the quarrel.
“Nobody really wants to close it down, that I’ve heard,” she said. “The changes that happened, from what was expected to what actually happened, were jarring. I think Lynn knows that. So now we’re trying to figure out what the next best things will be to deal with everyone’s issues. I’m not coming down on any particular side.”
The beer garden features picnic-style seating and is open every day. In recent years, the lot has held several different tenants, including a yard-sale style event and an outdoor sculpture gallery.
Opening on the same day as the first World Cup match was “a bad mistake on our part,” said Ferreira, laughing.
“My partner’s Brazilian and they love soccer, so what we thought was going to be this awesome thing just kind of didn’t quite go how we planned,” she said.
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