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Save Telegraph Event Draws Ideas, Concerns

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday June 13, 2006

The question of how to save Cody’s Books and rescue Telegraph Avenue brought a standing-room-only crowd of property and business owners, residents, street vendors, students and street people to Trinity United Methodist Church Thursday. 

While a panoply of suggestions were floated at the meeting, what seemed to unite the 200 or so attendees at the Bancroft Way church was the notion that gaining economic stability should not come at the cost of the unique spirit of the street and store. 

If Cody’s can’t be saved, said Leslie Berkler, head of school sales and spouse of owner Andy Ross, “We can keep the spirit of Cody’s alive.”  

When he took the microphone, Ross did not take up the theme of saving the 50-year-old flagship store, which he reaffirmed would close July 10. Instead, he offered advice to a future bookseller on his corner: cut overhead, pay lower rent, run a smaller store. 

Ken Sarachan, owner of Rasputin’s Records and the empty lot that sits on the corner of Haste Street and Telegraph, said he thought the area’s best bookstore is Moe’s and offered its owner $250,000 to move her store to the Cody’s site to create “a bigger and greater Moe’s.” 

Someone suggested 1,000 people invest $1,000 in a Cody’s co-op.  

“If Cody’s closes, it won’t be the last to close. Many are just barely hanging on,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who had billed the meeting as “a wake-up, not a wake.” 

He said even more critical than saving Cody’s is reviving Telegraph. 

Al Geyer, owner of Annapurna, painted his vision of Telegraph: book and music stores, boutiques, classic movie theaters and monthly events. 

The community can define a vision for Telegraph but it needs city help to make it work, many said. “For the last 10 years the city has been treating Telegraph like a crime problem. It should have been treated like an economic opportunity,” Ross said. 

Many emphasized saving the uniqueness of Telegraph. “Now we finally see everything different being replaced by everything the same,” Eric Dynamic said. “Resist chains.” 

The need for convenient parking was a recurrent theme. 

Worthington said that many university lots permit evening and weekend parking, but they need clear signage to let people know. 

The city was criticized for allowing large loading zones such as the nine spaces at the First Presbyterian Church, on Dana street and Channing Way, a block south of Telegraph. Also drawing heat were the yellow loading zones along Telegraph near campus that never permit customer parking and the new motorcycle parking on Telegraph south of Dwight Way that removed about 18 parking spaces. 

While some hoped the city would turn part of Telegraph into a pedestrian-only mall, most speakers spoke against the idea. And several people spoke in opposition to the dedicated bus lane AC Transit proposed. 

Some policies initiated years ago no longer make sense, Sarachan said: zoning that restricts the number of specific kinds of businesses was instituted when “there was a crisis with too many cookie stores. That ended 20 years ago.” 

Worthington and Mayor Tom Bates have asked the council to fund a city planner to expedite permits in the Telegraph area. 

A number of speakers bemoaned the loss of the Telegraph Area Association, which brought residents and business owners together. “TAA was a great little institution. It should never have lost its funding,” said Marc Weinstein, owner of Amoeba Music. 

Bates targeted high rents and vacancies. “We can’t hold out for the highest possible rents,” he said, promising to meet with property owners. 

While several speakers said they are not intimidated by street people exhibiting bizarre behavior, many said panhandlers keep shoppers away from the avenue. 

George Beier, challenging Worthington for the Telegraph-area City Council seat, called for stepped-up police enforcement and social service outreach to curb drug and alcohol abuse on the Avenue. 

While some pointed to a need for more visible foot and bike police, Dan McMullan, who has been homeless, shared another view. 

“What needs to be restored is the spirit and freedom of Berkeley,” he said. “The last thing we need is more police.” 

Nevertheless, he supported stepped-up undercover police operations to catch drug dealers.  

At their June 27 meeting, the City Council will vote on the budget, including funds for Telegraph: two bicycle cops, a team of social workers and a city planner. The public hearing on the budget is June 20.