By Richard Brenneman
Moribund since the city cut off its funding and reeling from the loss of $14,000 to a possible fraud, the Telegraph Area Association (TAA) may be planning a comeback.
“We have some organizational issues to deal with first,” said TAA President Bruce Miller.
“I’m concerned with what’s been happening on Telegraph,” said Jesse Arreguin, a UC Berkeley student and city commissioner who served on the association board. “There are ways to improve the avenue, and the association was the perfect vehicle for bringing people together.”
“We’re trying to reorganize them, to bring them back,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district centers along the avenue’s length from UC Berkeley to the Oakland border.
The councilmember has a special insight into the organization, since he served as its executive director prior to his election.
The group was formed in 1993 in response to the effort to create the Southside Plan, and was funded jointly by the city and the university—with the university providing office space in a Victorian cottage owned by the school.
The organization operated with a 25-member board, which included merchants, UC faculty, students and staff, members of the Willard Neighborhood Association and other community activists.
“Back when the TAA was in its heyday, it was a good forum to bring together the city and the university, residents and students,” said Worthington. “It was very eclectic. I’d like to see it resurrected with an active board. I’ve written a proposal called ‘Transforming TAA’ with a range of possibilities.”
In light of the July closing of the flagship Cody’s Books and increasing commercial vacancies on the troubled street, Worthington said it’s a perfect time to revitalize the association.
But the TAA suffered a near-fatal blow when the city cut off funding during the fiscal year 2005 budget crisis, Miller said.
Clinics administrator for UC Berkeley’s School of Optometry, he said that with the loss of city money, the TAA had decided not to seek funds form the university
“We were working on some good things,” said Arreguin. “Unfortunately, the organization just stopped functioning with the budget cuts. Telegraph definitely needs improvement. There’s a vacancy problem, but because the rents are so high, it’s not easy for small businesses.”
One major accomplishment grew out of the association’s concern with the perennial Telegraph problem of the homeless—a condition often linked with substance abuse.
Then-TAA Executive Director Kathy Berger spearheaded the Neighborhood Partnership on Homelessness, a coalition that included representatives of the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, BOSS and Options Recovery.
The study they produced, “Detox—the Missing Step in Berkeley’s Continuum of Care—One Neighborhood’s Approach,” played a major role in convincing the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to support creation of a detox center in 2004.
The board voted $2 million a year in Measure A funds for the program, which is scheduled to open next May (see story, Page Six).
Berger said the group chalked up some major accomplishments, including the creation of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District, a city-mandated body that assesses merchants a fee to fund improvements along the commercial corridor.
But that creation has become in some ways a rival. “The B.I.D. represents the commercial real estate industry—not the businesses or residents,” Worthington said.
The association also worked with the city and university to put together a health and safety team for the area, what Berger called “a mobile crisis intervention team geared toward disenfranchised populations on the street to help them get off the street.”
“She was very effective at bringing in city services, too, especially mental health,” said Andy Katz, a board member who also serves on the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board.
Another major accomplishment was the renovation of the Sather Gate Garage, including a new ticket system and replacement of broken elevators to make shopping on Telegraph more convenient.
“Parking has always been an issue,” Berger said.
Among the TAA’s other legacies are the Southside Plan, the creation of a Good Sam Policy between the university and the neighborhood to prevent and manage disorders, and the annual Berkeley World Music Festival and the Jazz Festival.
Berger said the task ahead is formidable. “I went over to Telegraph recently, and when I saw all the vacant storefronts, my heart went out to the neighborhood. But since Cody’s left along with some other stores, there’s a lot of energy to renovate.”
The city has brought Berger back, but this time as a consultant to look at the association and evaluate its future prospects.
“When she was executive director, the organization was very effective at bringing together a lot of diverse interests,” said Katz. “The city is fortunate to have her.”
One key question Miller said must be addressed is whether to restructure TAA, dissolve it and start something new, or turn the shell of the non-profit corporation over to another group to revive in a new form.
Berger, now an independent consultant based in San Francisco, is working with Miller on just those questions.
But the biggest issue confronting the association is funding.
“While I was successful in getting grants from foundations while I was executive director, they were for specific projects,” she said. “Long-term funding is more difficult.”
Though the neighborhood has a very low average income, when grant-givers look at the reasons they discover that the key factor is the presence of students.
“They see that as a voluntary situation,” she said. “But when they look at areas like Richmond, parts of Oakland, the Tenderloin (in San Francisco) and the Canal in San Rafael, they see that people who live there do so because they can’t afford to live anywhere else.”
And, given the choice, donors will fund programs in those areas rather than Berkeley, she said.
“An organization like the TAA is desperately needed, but it will need funds from the City of Berkeley and UC because of those reasons,” Berger said. “We did get grants when I was there, but they were for things like the World Music Festival and the Southside Plan. But the core funding has to come from the city and UC.”
One problem still to be resolved is the loss of $14,000 from the TAA’s checking account, which Miller attributed to the organizational chaos that followed after Kathy Berger left the post of executive director.
“Things came unraveled,” he said, blaming ineffective controls. “The new executive director wasn’t as effective, and as a result, the checking account was held in an insecure way. There seems to have been fraud perpetrated in relation to the control of the checks. We are working to resolve the situation with Bank of America.”
The missing funds were reported to UC Berkeley police last October, and an investigation is continuing, said Miller. “They are working with the Berkeley Police Department,” he said.
And there’s still another problem—the impending loss of the organization’s offices in the 1876 John Woolley House, now at 2509 Haste St., which is owned by the University of California and sited on a UC-owned lot.
As plans now stand, the house is slated for relocation to make room for a new mixed-use housing and commercial building planned for the corner of Telegraph and Haste—a development promoted as a major new economic stimulus to the ailing avenue.