Berkeley officials, residents discuss future of Telegraph Avenue

February 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A community brainstorming meeting was held in Berkeley. Mayor Tom Bates spoke about plans to upgrade a four-block stretch of popular Telegraph Avenue, just south of UC Berkeley. But not everyone is excited about the mayor's proposal.

Mayor Bates said he is ready to put suggestions forward on ways to make Telegraph Avenue vibrant again, but he says he is also ready to listen to what people have to say. And this being Berkeley, he can expect an earful.

Parts of Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue have fallen on bad times. Many of the retail stores that lined the street south of the Cal campus, have closed up shop and moved away. And in a few of these unoccupied places, are elements some wish weren't there at all.

"We're just trying to kick it too, you know?" said street musician Kiana. "We're not trying to create grief on people."

UC Berkeley student Claire says it's the mix of musicians, street vendors, restaurants, shops, and bars that make Telegraph Avenue what it is, and talk of a makeover should be thought through carefully, "As long as peoples' rights aren't infringed upon, I don't think changes will be a problem," she said.

Bates says change is needed and it's needed it now. He explained, "We have a district that's basically been floundering and going downhill for a long time."

Bates says that retail sales along Telegraph Avenue, and the taxes they generate, are half of what they were in 1990.

"Tonight is a brainstorming," Mayor Bates said. "Tonight we're trying to figure out what people want to see."

The mayor wants businesses like nightclubs and boutiques that cater to young consumers and students and to remove quotas on restaurants that were put in place in the 80's.

"Be able to have shows, be able to have comedy, be able to have dances," Bates said.

However, Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington disagrees, noting, "Telegraph doesn't need drastic, controversial proposals." He says what the mayor is pushing, is too much, "We need simple, common sense solutions that benefit the small business people and the residents and the students."

Councilmember Worthington says small steps like addressing issues of blight and allowing store owners to set up tables in front of their stores, along with simple things like new paint for walkways are easy places to start.

The mayor, however, says ideas need to be big and bold.

Some students want better lighting more police presence for safety and more places open late. The mayor says better lighting is coming along with more interesting activities, like street fairs on Sundays. It won't happen tomorrow, but the mayor promises it is underway.


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