BERKELEY -- Businesses on Telegraph Avenue, a strip dotted with empty storefronts and struggling with the behavioral problems of the area's homeless, got some help from the City Council on Tuesday night, and more measures are promised at the end of the month.
By a unanimous vote, the council passed a new regulation allowing any business on Telegraph between Dwight Way and Bancroft Way to stay open 24 hours. Previously, business owners who wanted to stay open all night had to pay $1,000 and slog through a city permit process. Now they can simply stay open if they choose, said Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, whose organization supported the change.
"We would like the bars to be able to stay open past 2 a.m. so that you don't dump everyone on to the street at that time," Peterson said. "They won't be able to continue drinking, but they can have something to eat and drink a soda. A lot of UC Berkeley students requested it."
Peterson said the change is also good for other businesses.
"The one that comes immediately to mind that should stay open is Walgreens," Peterson said. "If you want aspirin in the middle of the night, where do you go?"
Another set of improvements for the area, penned by Councilman Kriss Worthington, was held over to the next meeting April 30. Worthington's set of 12 recommendations will be augmented by suggestions from Mayor Tom Bates.
Some of Worthington's ideas to stimulate business, which came out of meetings with business owners and consultants, include a trial program to let five to 10 retail stores join existing vendors who are permitted to sell merchandise on sidewalks; paying $3,000 a month to have free concerts; paying $10,000 to groups to create area murals; and pushing the city to move faster on renting its retail space in the bottom floor of a city-owned parking garage at the corner of Channing Way and Telegraph Avenue.
A Telegraph Avenue vendor who calls himself The Patch Man because he sells sew-on patches, said the idea of more sidewalk vendors sounds fine to him.
"We could use some more energy out here. The place is dead," he said.
Peterson said allowing stores to put merchandise on the sidewalks might sound good, but not many are interested because they're afraid thieves would just steal the goods.
"That goes for putting food tables on the street, too," Peterson said.
Worthington said the avenue has been hit hard by construction impacts of a UC Berkeley dorm recently finished on Channing Way near Telegraph, and there will be more impacts when construction begins on a new apartment building on Telegraph at the corner of Haste Street.
He said his list of changes was a way to "ease that pain."
"A lot of the businesses love the idea of a monthly music event," Worthington said. "There's already a music niche on Telegraph with the three record stores, so this builds on that. Businesses have said that if the city funds part of it, they will chip in to advertise."
Worthington said getting the city to speed up renting empty retail spaces in its parking garage would be a great way to bring more people to the area. He said the process is so slow that businesses just give up trying to rent space from the city.
"There is a guy who wants to rent space to sell and repair consumer electronics, and he said it took the city eight months just to give him a rental application," Worthington said. "What's wrong with this picture? He finally submitted the application a month ago and has not heard a word back."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.