‘Green Machines’ Arrive to Clean-Up Telegraph

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday September 01, 2006

Green Machines, cleaner sidewalks, brighter lights, bicycle cops, and a brand new website are just some of the changes Berkeley has initiated to kick off the $360,000 Telegraph Avenue revitalization campaign. 

The effort was launched earlier this year by Mayor Tom Bates and councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak. 

The latest additions to the campaign are the two state-of-the-art “green machines,” which have already been set to the task of cleaning Telegraph since arriving last weekend.  

“It’s another great tool that the city has added to the effort of improving Telegraph,” said Cisco DeVries, chief-of-staff to Mayor Tom Bates. “The machines are quick, highly maneuverable and easy to get around people. That allows them to be used even during times of heavy pedestrian traffic, which was not possible with the older ones.” 

Manned by staff from the Public Works Department, the machines will clean downtown Berkeley, DeVries said. The machines will be used during early morning and evenings, when there is less traffic on the street. The City Council has increased the budget for Telegraph and downtown street and sidewalk cleaning by $70,000 to pay for staff overtime. 

“When we were putting together this plan with Councilmembers Worthington and Wozniak, city staff, health service providers, we understood that it would be some time before we would start seeing results,” DeVries said. “However, Telegraph is an incredible historic treasure. Most cities would die to have a gem like this; therefore, the city wants to do all it can to embrace its past. At the same time we want to find ways to attract the younger generation too.” 

Storefront improvements and more lenient zoning laws that would reduce red tape for new businesses trying to open in the Telegraph area are also things the mayor’s office is looking at implementing. 

The city staff has submitted zoning changes to the Planning Commission that are currently under review. After the Planning Commission votes on these changes, they could be coming up at the City Council as soon as late September or early October. 

A facade grant program has also been set up that includes $20,000 from the city, $20,000 from the UC Berkeley, and $40,000 from the Telegraph Business Improvement District. 

“Merchants on Telegraph Avenue who want new signage or brighter lights on storefronts which look old and worn can apply for these grants,” said Worthington. 

“This campaign is a way to put back resources that had been cut from Telegraph Avenue over the last three years,” he said. “There used to be two bike cops there and we should have something similar there within the next one year. Officers from the BPD are now training in the police academy so that they are ready to be patrolling the streets on bikes. This is something we’d like to see year round, even after elections get over in November.” 

Officers from the Berkeley Police Department who were previously assigned to desk jobs are being paid overtime to patrol the streets of the Telegraph/ Southside area and talk to merchants and pedestrians. The City Council approved $100,000 in overtime funding for the Berkeley Police. 

The UC Berkeley police have also brought in a new sergeant to assist and coordinate the efforts of five officers assigned to the Southside. 

Undercover drug sting operations which started last Friday have led to 40 arrests in the first couple of days of its operation, according to Worthington. 

“The city staff has also employed two additional social workers who are working on Telegraph at least three days a week to help homeless people and those with mental illness,” Worthington added. 

The City Council has authorized a $30,000 increase in funding for social service and mental health outreach.  

In an effort to improve marketing efforts for Telegraph, the university has also teamed up with avenue merchants and property owners and launched www.telegraphlive.com, a website that promises to be a guide to the culinary and shopping on the popular stretch. 

“I worked with the marketing committee to ensure that the student community got a chance to connect with the merchants electronically,” said councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “The merchants are also giving out blue and gold discounts to Cal students and I feel all this will help to improve the overall business climate on Telegraph.” 

Wozniak added that the recent Caltopia festival hosted by the university had been successful, drawing over 15,000 students to the area. 

“Telegraph and the area around People’s Park has definitely been neglected for awhile, but it’s time to tap into the energy of the place and being back some of the old vitality,” he said. “Cracked sidewalks and empty storefronts will not attract foot traffic. So we need to speed up the process of fixing them.” 

Roland Peterson, president of the Telegraph Improvement District, said that drawing students to Telegraph was one of the main priorities for the merchants. 

“We have been seeing a decline in sales tax in that area because of fewer shoppers and empty stores,” he said. “We want to help turn Telegraph into a place for them to have fun. If you are on campus, that’s the only logical place to hang out. This was the message we along with the UCB marketing folks sent out through brochures, poster/calendars and the new website at Caltopia.” 

The City Council further approved $65,000 to restore some parking on Telegraph. Worthington is also working to reorganize the Telegraph Area Association, which hasn’t met over a year now because of the lack of funds. 

The city plans to review the campaign efforts in six months to evaluate what changes need to be made.