As a second year business student at UC Berkeley, I have become particularly interested in the issues surrounding extension of business hours in the immediate vicinity of the UC Berkeley campus. Having enrolled in two city planning courses the last two consecutive semesters, I have been interested to learn how land use and stakeholders in the area are integral parts of an equation that I had previously felt was limited to issues of supply, demand, and business models. I urge the City Council to continue pushing for extended business hours for several reasons: there is a mutual benefit for both store owners and students, a more vibrant night life will also mean a safer Telegraph commons as well as increased sales tax revenues for the city of Berkeley.
Let me begin by stating that as a student, I can identify a real need for more merchants to be open later at night. UC Berkeley is an incredible campus with over 30,000 young college-age people living around the perimeter of campus. While the city of Berkeley is no doubt an extraordinary place with very unique characteristics, one thing we definitely lack is a vibrant night life scene. If the surrounding perimeter streets of the campus are to be considered a true “college town” there needs to be improvements made in how businesses are structured for late night hours. Telegraph has seen a steady and rapid decline in the number of successful businesses on the avenue, as seen in the recent closing of long standing establishments such as Cody’s Books last year. There are current limits imposed by the Zoning Adjustments Board to have businesses stay open no later than 2 a.m. for non-alcohol serving establishments. It would be terrific if all of these potential merchants honored the Board’s rules and stayed open until 2 a.m.—few of them actually do that.
The Zoning Board is trying to do its part in making Telegraph once again a vibrant space bustling with night activities. The Berkeley Planning Commission unanimously passed a group of proposals in March of 2007 that will help ease the establishment of new businesses as well as modifications of business hours for current businesses. Commission members highlighted the idea that with more foot traffic yields a safer environment, as they passed five of eight points of the Telegraph Assistance Economic Development package. Similarly, in September of 2007, a new late night café was granted late night hours by the Zoning Adjustment Board in a 6-1 vote. Clearly there are trends that say the city government realizes the needs for an improved Telegraph business district, and now is the time to finalize this movement with legislation that urges all businesses to stay open as late as legally possible.
It is time that students on this campus gather together in support of something tangible: an improvement in their lives as students. I urge the City Council to push harder on this topic: engage a mixed-land use approach to allow for effective use of space, but keeping the businesses open is a positive step for not only the students, but also residents of Berkeley and the overall financial well being of the city. Longer business hours mean happier students, a safer environment, and an accelerated business model with higher revenues for the city to use at its discretion. I am excited about the opportunity to see real change before I leave this campus in two years.
Scott Silver is a student at UC Berkeley.