The Daily Californian Online

Meeting Focuses on Improving Telegraph Avenue

By Hailey Parish and Sarah Springfield
Daily Cal Staff Writers
Friday, October 8, 2010
Category: News > City > Business

As three candidates vie for the Berkeley City Council District 7 spot, discussion during a town hall meeting at Moe's Books Wednesday evening centered around Telegraph Avenue's revitalization as city residents, business owners and students focused their attention on issues facing the area.

Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe's Books and a lifelong Berkeley resident, hosted the meeting as an endorsement for District 7 candidate George Beier, calling it a forum to discuss ideas for the Telegraph area, which community members have routinely characterized as a former - and rapidly deteriorating - city treasure.

District 7 includes much of the campus area, including Southside, Telegraph and People's Park.

A panel composed of city officials as well as community and student leaders led the discussion Wednesday before a packed room on the current state of the Telegraph area and the park with a focus on business stability, safety issues and the overall Telegraph experience. Many community members not on the panel also shared their concerns and ideas for the street and larger area.

Moskowitz, a former director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said at the meeting that she feels she is being "dragged down" by the many obstacles facing the Telegraph community.

"As a merchant on Telegraph Avenue, it's hard to keep my spirits up," she said.

A former Telegraph business owner, Beier said the meeting was motivated by a desire to address these obstacles and launch a much-needed community-based conversation and future plan of action to restore the area's vitality.

"We have not had a meeting like that in 20 years," he said. "There was a hunger and a need and a dream in those people."

A large portion of the meeting was dedicated to a discussion of the district's crime rates, which Beier said have consistently been the highest in the city at the cost of business in the area.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, said potential customers are reluctant to come to Telegraph because the space lacks a sense of safety.

Violent crime in the district has in fact increased 23 percent from 2004 to 2008, while property crimes have decreased by 22 percent in the same time period, according to current District 7 Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

But Worthington said during his 14 years on the council, he has devoted himself to lowering crime rates in the Telegraph area and throughout the district and has recently begun to ramp-up efforts to address violent crime.

He did not attend the meeting.

The panel and other community members at the meeting also drew attention to problems that are specific to the area, often generated in nearby People's Park, they said.

Revitalization of the park, in addition to adjustments to the zoning and permit processes for the business sector, would allow the city to "come a long way to help the businesses on Telegraph," Beier said.

Peterson additionally targeted the sector's quota system, which limits the number of each type of business on the avenue, as breaking down the economic viability of the district.

Though no definitive plan of action was compiled at the meeting, those in attendance did seem to share the desire to continue the discussion and make changes to the district quickly.

Stephanie Baer of The Daily Californian contributed to this report.

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