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South Berkeley’s revitalization: A mixed blessing

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Monday June 10, 2002

Betty Grey may be the latest victim of what many merchants are calling the “gentrification” of south Berkeley. 

In the historically struggling section of town centered at Adeline Street and Alcatraz Avenue, the 53-year-old owner of Alice's Relaxing Baths shop was served a 30-day-eviction notice last week. Neighbors surmise the eviction is part of the landlord's plan to remove tenants and sell the property to a high-paying commercial investor. 

Owners of the building could not be reached for comment, but South Berkeley's Merchant Association President Sam Dyke said local property owners were increasingly cashing in real estate and noted that a building void of tenants was worth much more than a rented building. 

While Adeline Street may not be the fertile investment ground that has marked the revitalized Fourth Street area of Berkeley and the newly redeveloped downtown, the south Berkeley neighborhood has similarly benefited from city cash influxes, going toward the creation of a more palatable climate for business. 

Elegant streetlights line the sidewalks, planting boxes and pedestrian benches add aristocratic charm, and storefronts have been tastefully upgraded as part of a city-subsidized maintenance program. 

Just last month, city banners were hung along Adeline Street celebrating the additions. The banners plug the neighborhood as a center of shopping, dining, and the arts and demarcate the area as the “Lorin Historic District.” Lorin was the self-governing city that existed in the 1880s, before Berkeley's annexation of the community. 

“We're really trying to help the business community here,” said Roger Asterino, Berkeley's community development project coordinator. The latest help, Asterino noted, came in the form of a $1.2 million federal grant which continues to fund upgrades to streets and sidewalks along Adeline Street. 

Some retail stores like music shop Univibe have taken well to the neighborhood changes, earning a steady clientele over the past few years. And eateries like Vault Café and La Bayou have succeeded in becoming anchors for a slowly-growing dining scene. 




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Dyke, who runs an antique furniture store at 3258 Adeline in addition to heading the local merchants group, says recent changes are mostly beneficial but do have negative repercussions. 

“We're on our way to becoming a better place,” he said, noting the recent “gentrification.” “But once the gates [of economic development] are let open there's not much we can do… We're going to see mom and pop shops make way to bigger businesses.” 

And that's what Grey says is about to happen to her. Having run her small bath accessory business for 15 years, she pays $800 a month in rent for her 3228 Adeline Street space but knows it’s worth more. 

“It's a nightmare,” she said of her pending eviction. Grey noted that her shop relocated from nearby Alcatraz Avenue just two years ago and doesn't know if her business can survive another costly move. 

Her bath shop, which offers a wide array of bath salts and essential oils under the steady glow of an incense stick, began as a government-subsidized business program, aimed at promoting low-income entrepreneurs in the 1980s. This month, though, marks her eighth year of financial self-sufficiency. 

Grey says she is not about to give up her bath shop without a fight and points out terms in her lease which guarantee her the option of staying for another five years. Grey admits, though, that she may have trouble exercising that option because her ability to pay for a lawyer and advocate her rights is limited. 

Last Thursday afternoon, officers with the Berkeley Police Department showed up at Grey's shop responding to a complaint Grey had registered that morning. According to Grey, a real estate agent bringing potential buyers to her building had verbally harassed her because she was late in opening her store. Police took a report. 

Grey's next-door neighbor who runs a shop called Earl's Beauty Supplies, the second of the two retail tenants at the 3228 Adeline St. property, said that he had not received an eviction notice. He didn't want to comment further for fear of jeopardizing his tenancy. 

City officials, who know Grey as an active leader in the south Berkeley community, regret the pending eviction. 

“The loss of tenants is not a good thing,” said Asterino. The city wants to create better infrastructure for local businesses but in doing so risks losing tenants who can't compete in the changing marketplace, he explained. 

One city official said that efforts had been made to find financial aid to help Grey relocate but they hadn't been successful. Aid programs exist to help nonprofit groups, the official added, but since Grey's business is for-profit, little outside funding is available. 

While Grey might not be in business long enough to benefit from the Adeline corridor improvements, others seem to be relishing the perks. 

“The new trees are nice,” said Odell Lightner, who enjoyed an afternoon walk. However, Lightner who has lived in the community for 20 years doesn’t like all the changes, saying that he has missed some of the old shrubs and landscaping. 

Much of the brush that once existed along Adeline Street has been cleared in an attempt to eliminate turf for drug sales, said Merchant Association President Dyke. 

Recalling the neighborhood’s history of crime, Dyke hopes recent improvements will help curtail such incidents. 

“It seems to be removing a lot of the drug dealers because of the bright lights,” said Dyke. He is optomistic that the trend will continue so long as revitalization continues.