Here are some thoughts on each of the nine items that were part of the Telegraph Avenue assistance package passed on May 23 by the Berkeley City Council:
1. Public safety and police presence
The Berkeley Police Department has repeatedly assigned officers to patrol the avenue and later removed them over many years. About three years ago they reduced the number of patrol officers to just two for the entire south campus area. Prior to that, things had been improving. UC’s police presence in the south side has never interacted with merchants, vendors and citizens as directly as Berkeley police officers have, so the UC police presence may have nothing to do with solving Telegraph’s problems. We need additional Berkeley police officers immediately and their mandate should be stopping socially aggressive behavior and fighting crime. Jaywalking and innocent minor violations should not be a priority when we have larger crimes and intimidating behavior to deal with.
2. Street cleaning and sidewalk
Obviously, we want our city to maintain the cleanliness of our streets. Why was this reduced in the past? Graffiti removal is a priority. All windows on Telegraph Avenue storefronts have been acid stained and this degrades the entire avenue. This started less than two years ago and has been attributed to an East Bay family that has not been prosecuted, nor have damages, which have been estimated at $750,000, been collected. If the Berkeley police cannot prosecute and collect damages from this family, the city of Berkeley must help with the exorbitant cost of repairing windows.
3. Improving pedestrian lighting
This is a clear and immediate need. Were the lights ever reduced? If so, for what reason?
4. Facade improvement program
No merchant would argue with having a wonderful, fresh storefront. We totally endorse this.
5. Streamline the permits process for new businesses
This is essential, but the review process should include members of the community and merchants in a consulting collaboration with the council. The community that results from these efforts should be a vibrant and original neighborhood and not a recreation of a suburban mall or even other neighborhoods in Berkeley. A Walgreens, for instance, although being a paying tenant and business tax contributor, would degrade Telegraph as a “destination.”
6. Improve social services and mental health outreach
We totally endorse this. A permanent mental health team should be in the south campus area because Berkeley funnels all of its homeless and disadvantaged to this area. This, again, was present before and then removed. We as merchants have been providing the city with de facto mental health and security with no city services to help us deal with this problem. We are not qualified as citizens to deal with this.
7. Street behavior
Aggressive panhandling, physical and verbal harassment must be stopped and punished.
8. Request property owners provide rent incentives and coordinate to attract new retail shops and restaurants
To have a diverse and unique destination shopping community will require an innovative discussion and search for the kind of retail, service and residential mix that should be available on the avenue.
9. Joint marketing effort
A joint marketing effort by the city of Berkeley and the university is a great idea, but it should also be directed at international tourism and day tourism, and should highlight Telegraph's rich history and its vibrant future.
A last point not mentioned in any ordinance but that must be immediately dealt with is the issue of parking in the south campus area. There needs to be a change in the policy of ticketing individuals in the numerous yellow zones on Telegraph Avenue between the hours of 6 and midnight. Starting three months ago, police have been ticketing anyone parked for even five minutes when they pick up food or items from shops located on Telegraph, despite the avenue’s depressed evening traffic. This is having a terrible affect on night business as cars cannot make stops on Telegraph Avenue to make quick purchases at restaurants or stores, but rather are forced to park further away in the more dangerous and dim off-Telegraph streets. These after-hour commercial zones should be changed to fifteen minute or one hour time limits, and possibly converted to metered parking in the future.
Al Geyer is the owner of Annapurna on Telegraph Avenue.