Although last year was considered by most to be one of broad economic expansion, five businesses in the South Shattuck area closed shop.
The loss of these businesses, located along Adeline Street and Shattuck Avenue from Dwight Way to Ashby Avenue, brought out concerns from city planners and neighbors.
Even earlier, in 1998, nearby residents had called for a study into the blight they saw in the area.
That same year, the City Council approved the South Shattuck Strategic Plan which contained a recommendation for a preliminary study looking into whether the location should become a Redevelopment Area.
That study, which Redevelopment Manager Daniel Vanderpriem called a “first-look” draft, concluded that the area “appears to be a suitable candidate for further study and includes several conditions that are within the conditions described in pertinent sections of (state law).”
A June update identified the five new vacancies in the area and provided the impetus for an expanded redevelopment feasibility study for the area, which the City Council will consider approving that study tonight.
“There has to be one physical blight and one economic blight for an area to be considered,” Vanderpriem said.
He explained that a physical blight means a dilapidated building, or one that is built from un-reinforced masonry. Vanderpriem said the area contains 18 URMs.
The area also contains 22 “soft-story” buildings, or buildings with minimal load-bearing walls, and one “tilt-up,” or one in which concrete is poured horizontally, then tilted up to form a wall.
Vanderpriem said that these are all physical blights and earthquake hazards, and said that tilt-up walls could theoretically come down “like fly-swatters” during an earthquake.
Vanderpriem said the state usually uses five indicators when determining economic blight:
• Depreciated or stagnant property values or impaired investments (including properties with hazardous wastes.)
• Abnormally high business vacancies, low lease rates, high turnover rates, abandoned buildings or excessive vacant lots within an area developed for urban use and served by utilities.
• A lack of necessary neighborhood commercial facilities (characterized by grocery stores, drug stores and banks or other lending institutions.)
• Residential overcrowding or excess bars, liquor stores or other businesses catering exclusively to adults.
• A high crime rate.
Vanderpriem said that the number of vacancies can categorize it as an economicly blighted area.
“You don’t need something in each category,” he said.
The Council will also vote on whether to include the South San Pablo area, from University Avenue to the Oakland border, in the redevelopment study.
Vanderpriem said that, though the planning commission hasn’t been directed to study the South San Pablo area, a preliminary inventory was concluded that the area is blighted.
He said that the area was scoped for blight while the commission was researching opportunities to strengthen the financial feasibility of redevelopment in the South Shattuck area.
If the areas were consolidated, he said, it would increase the available cash flow by 75-percent, and during the fifth year of the combined project areas, a bond issue of approximately $1 million could be issued for commercial use, two years sooner than South Shattuck alone.
“It generates more money to use earlier in the process”, he said of combining the two neighborhoods. “And it gives us a more diverse tax base.”
He explained that property tax money paid to the county would be diverted back into the city for use in the redevelopment.
“It has nothing to do with increasing people’s taxes. It’s a democratization of the whole property-tax system,” he said.
Several potential projects that could reduce the conditions of blight in the South Shattuck area include:
• A URM retrofit program with loans or grants to leverage private property investment in earthquake strengthening.
• Bike route improvements to implement the Bikeways Plan.
• Traffic signalization to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.
• Parking improvements in the vicinity of the Berkeley Bowl and the proposed Walgreens (in the former Rite-Aid pharmacy).
• Recruitment efforts to secure a full-service commercial bank to serve residents, businesses and the expanded auto dealership.
• Property acquisition and developer recruitment for properties suffering from long-term decay and vacancy.
If the council chooses to go ahead, a formal “project study area” as required by state law will be designated.
The “project study area” would provide the detailed legal and financial basis for pursuing the establishment of the two redevelopment areas.