Telegraph just ain’t what it used to be. Once a beacon of a tolerance, hope, and historic significance that drew tourists from all over the world to the little city we all call home, it has more recently been victimized by a perception of decline, blight, and depravity—sometimes not fully deserved, but adverse to its image nonetheless. Almost a dozen reports, millions of dollars in studies, and hundreds of hours of discussion have been invested into addressing the causes at the heart of this avenue’s tarnished image, and yet few proposals have actually seen the light of day.
Not all is lost, however. This Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Planning Commission will mull over a sensible proposal that has a real potential to reverse the economic travails of the area on and around Telegraph, while enhancing its safety and convenience. The proposal aims to extend the hours of several types of Telegraph Corridor businesses “by right” to 12 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Planning Commissioners have already spoken out several times about the inextricable interrelation between longer business hours and the redress of sundry challenges that plague Telegraph today. At last year’s Oct. 11 meeting, the commission decided, in a 6-3 vote, to send such a recommendation to the City Council. And a year prior, the Southside Plan Subcommittee of this body recommended that by-right hours of operation be extended to 12 a.m. and that the commission further explore the ability of businesses to remain open until 2 a.m. on weekends.
The resolution that will sit at the desk of the commission this Wednesday is the most viable version of this proposal yet, forged through an extensive compromise process between the City Planning Department, the Berkeley Police Department, and Berkeley residents who have had multiple opportunities to make public comment on this item. One example of the intricate negotiations with which this resolution is suffused is language that limits businesses which serve alcohol to by-right operating hours of 10 p.m. on weekdays and 12 a.m. on weekends, with a categorical mandate to close at 1 a.m., even with a permit. Intended to greatly minimize whatever increase of demands there may be on the Berkeley Police Department, this measure also succeeds in allaying concerns for the potential of public nuisances.
In fact, very few businesses that currently operate with alcohol permits on the Telegraph Corridor will be privy to the extension of hours. The four largest alcohol distributors in the area—Blake’s, Raleigh’s, Kip’s, and Henry’s—all have permits that allow them to remain open until 12 a.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends already. By a large margin, the primary benefactors of the proposal will be the type of quick-serve stores that cater to students at late hours as they walk from the library in the wee hours of the morning hoping for a quick bite and perhaps some coffee to aid their lucubration.
The benefits of extended hours, of course, are not just parlayed among the students who make up over half of the Telegraph area population; they stand to benefit the entire Berkeley community. More lights in windows and more eyes on the street will greatly enhance the safety on and around Telegraph Avenue, particularly around People’s Park. Those who reside near the Telegraph-Dwight intersection have already borne witness to a marked reduction of undesirable behavior while Peet’s is open. Common sense dictates that the ability of such a store to keep its lights on beyond 10 p.m. will go an even longer way to furthering the security of these denizens.
Lastly, we return to the economic viability equation. Lest we forget, the declining revenue available to both Telegraph businesses and, by extension, the City of Berkeley has been an indisputable fact for nearly two decades. We know the firm correlation of this recession to a combination of slackening sales, loss of clientele, and the city’s notoriously draconian zoning guidelines. We are also sadly aware of the symptoms; they greet us each time we pass a block with several vacant storefronts or recall the hole that is left in our soul by the passing of Cody’s. The proposal in question will benefit those same small businesses that most desperately need our help at this juncture.
The proposal to extend business hours is at once the most beneficial, achievable, and prudent of the cadre of recommendations which the City Council asked the Planning Commission to create. Whether one eyes the suggestion from the standpoint of economics, safety, or convenience, its benefits are as multifaceted as they are intertwined. Please contact the Planning Commission or attend Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at the North Berkeley Senior Center to request a speedy passage of this solution.
Igor Tregub is a UC Berkeley student and member of the student advocacy group ACCESS.