Election Section

Commentary: Looking Toward the Future in Downtown Berkeley By RAUDEL WILSON

Tuesday May 03, 2005

Last week the Daily Planet published an article by Zelda Bronstein regarding parking in Downtown Berkeley. Unlike Ms. Bronstein I am a resident of the downtown and I have worked downtown for the past nine years.  

When discussing an issue such as parking we need to keep the big picture in mind and remember what is our ultimate objective for the downtown. We want more retail businesses, we want to continue to build housing, and we want to help grow sales tax revenue for the city.  

Today’s perception of the downtown is that there are more empty store fronts that there are current retailers. In reality the vacancy rate of the downtown is less than 10 percent. The good news is that this percent is going to decrease over the next two years. With important store fronts such as the Gaia Building (Anna’s Jazz Island) and 2300 Shattuck/Bancroft (Longs Drugs) about to come online, they are setting the trend for what could become an influx of new and exciting retailers to the downtown. There are potential tenants currently looking at the Gateway and Eddie Bauer sites, the Kress Building, See’s Candy, Life Long Noodle, and the Fine Arts Building. We are on the cusp of seeing a dramatic change to the downtown’s retail base. It is truly exciting! 

The downtown is Berkeley’s fastest growing neighborhood. Last year Patrick Kennedy opened three new buildings (all at full occupancy) with over 400 new units. With new residential units in progress (Library Gardens and Avi Nevo’s Fulton/Channing Project) and more on the way (Seagate Properties, Tune Up Masters Site, and the David Brower building) we have more than 500 more units slated to be built. With this influx of new residents it has peaked the interest of potential new retailers.  

Finally, in order for Berkeley to start balancing its budget we need to grow our sales tax revenue. In a recent meeting held by the Office of Economic Development I was informed that the downtown supplies the city with one tenth of its overall sales tax revenue. By attracting more retailers to the downtown we can help grow this percentage and help improve the city’s overall budget.  

So how does this all relate to parking? Zelda argued that while short-term parking was hard to find long term garage parking was always available. Part of the reason it is so hard to find short term parking is because of “meter feeding.” With the new solar powered meters comes stronger parking enforcement. On any given day you can find two or three parking enforcers walking up and down Shattuck enforcing the one-hour rule. This is going to cause customers to realize that if they need to be in the downtown for longer than an hour they will need to use a garage. The second effect is to encourage business owners and employees of downtown businesses to use the garages. This will free up valuable short term parking for their customers and potential customers. How much business is lost each day because someone cannot find a short-term parking space? As more people come to the downtown (more retailers and more residents) we will find that the demand for long term parking is going to grow. I want to make sure that when that demand arises that we are ready to handle it.  

I have advocated for the Vista mitigation money to go towards rebuilding the Center Street Garage with an extra 200 spaces. If the city can find a way to finance the garage with only part of this money that is fine with me. I am also in favor of real time parking signage. I just want to make sure they have somewhere to point to.  


Raudel Wilson is manager of the Mechanics Bank, president of the Downtown Berkeley Association and a Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner.?