Local business

Ban on parking meters might help business

The Vault Cafe in busier days

Most of the tables at The Vault, a restaurant at 3250 Adeline Street, were empty Wednesday at lunchtime. A few groups sat scattered around the large dining room that was dominated by a neon “Vault “sign on the wall, but the place was not buzzing.

It’s been that way since late August, according to the owner Houshmane Ghaderi, ever since the city installed parking meters on Adeline between Woolsey and Alcatraz. Where patrons once could park for free on the street for two hours, they now have to pay 25 cents for each ten minutes.

As a result, stores in the area have seen a substantial drop in business. The Vault Café has seen a 35% drop in sit-down service, while People’s Bazaar, a furniture store a few doors down, has lost about 30% of its sales, according to a recent city report. The Other Change of Hobbit, a bookstore that recently moved from downtown to Adeline, has seen its sales drop 50%, putting its business in jeopardy, according to the city report.

“The meters have really had a devastating effect,” said Ghaderi, who has owned The Vault for 12 years.

Lots of parking on Adeline

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council agreed that the parking meters were detrimental to the neighborhood and passed a six-month moratorium on using them. While parking control officers were still issuing tickets on Wednesday, the meters’ heads will soon be covered.

The parking meters were installed in late August, as part of a larger plan to increase parking revenues for the city. When Berkeley switched over to multi-space meters (also called pay-and-display meters) in heavily trafficked commercial districts, officials decided to relocate about 850 of the single-space meters to new parts of the city.

The single-space meters were installed on Shattuck Avenue between Derby Street and Ashby Avenue and surrounding streets; San Pablo Avenue between Harrison and Ashby Avenue; Adeline Street between Stuart and Alcatraz Avenue; and Gilman Street near San Pablo Avenue.

Various parts of the city generate very different rates of revenue from parking meters, according to a city report. Average city revenues from meters is $5.54 per day per meter. But meters in the Elmwood District average $9.87 per meter per day, and those along Solano Avenue generate an average of $9.27 a day, according to the report. Those along the lower part of University Avenue bring in an average of $2.70 a day, according to Michael J. Caplan, the city’s economic development manager.

The parking meters in the Adeline-Alcatraz corridor, in contrast, are bringing in less than $1 a day – an indication of how few people are parking their cars there. A city survey showed numerous empty spaces during the day.

The economic climate in the neighborhood is fragile, said Sam Dyke, an owner of People’s Bazaar and the chair of the Adeline-Alcatraz Merchants’ Association. It’s the poorest zone in the city, with the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest longevity rate. So the merchants need to draw visitors from other parts of the city, too, and the meters wiped out any incentive people had to come to this area of south Berkeley,

“The meters here have been counterproductive because they have killed a lot of business,” said Dyke.

Sam Dyke, ower of People's Bazaar

Ghaderi, the owner of The Vault, used to have a few groups who used his restaurant much like a community center. They would come over midmorning to meet, talk, have coffee, and stay a few hours. Those groups have stopped patronizing The Vault because of the parking meters, said Ghaderi.

“This used to be a place where people came as a group,” said Ghaderi, “Parking was available – that was the attraction of the area. Once they started getting cited, they stopped coming.”

City officials estimate that the six-month moratorium will cost Berkeley between $13,000 and $14,000 in forgone meter revenue. It’s such a small amount that merchants hope that the city will eventfully make the moratorium permanent and revert to two-hour parking enforced by officers chalking tires.

In one bizarre twist, the city did not install the single space meters on the block of Adeline that runs into the border with Oakland. So patrons of the popular Sweet Adeline Bakery don’t have to fumble for change when they dash in to get a cupcake. If they decide to get a pizza at the bakery’s sister business, Addie’s, just a few blocks away, they need spare change.

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  • Sotto Voce

    Good story. Good information. Thanks.

  • Andrew

    Trade parking meter quarters for business sales tax dollars. Berkeley – look at the big picture. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

  • Alan Tobey

    There’s a theoretical solution to this problem that’s called “Shoupian parking” (after Donald Shoup, the author of the influential planning book The High Cost of Free Parking).

    The key idea is to adjust meter rates to a level that always leaves 10-20% of spaces available, and to generally have street meter rates higher than offstreet parking alternatives.

    On Adeline this approach would suggest reducing rates by quite a bit — but not to zero, so that some spaces remain free. We will see if zero rates support turnover as well as easy access, or if the recent decline in business has had other causes.

    It’s also harder to be Shoupian when there’s no real supply of offstreet parking. SO the first experiment with parking management improvement is likely to happen in downtown, where it’s been part of the Streets Improvement Plan discussions. Even when street spaces are nonexistent there, the garages almost always have space.

  • Alan, Berkeley has one rate for parking: $1.50 an hour. Some of the merchants said that if rates were much cheaper, like 25 cents every 20 or 30 minutes, that might help. I know how hard it is to have sufficient change when I park at a single space parking meter. In doing this story, I had to keep running back to fill the meter. One of the merchants said his new job is giving out change for the meters.

  • It looks like Berkeley is doing the right thing on this one. They thought “Hey, extra meters, let’s put them somewhere.” An OK idea. But with the clear downturn in business, and the low collection rate at the meters, the city decided “Oops, maybe we made a mistake. Let’s cover the meters and re-think this idea.”

    With not a touch of sarcasm, I say “Good work, City of Berkeley.”

  • Mike Farrell

    I’m all in favor of parking meters, and parking rates should be higher!
    It’s the perfect way to punish drivers and the businesses that cater to them.

  • EBGuy

    One of the merchants said his new job is giving out change for the meters.
    Just like First Citiwide Change Bank. “How do you make money doing this?” The answer is simple: Volume.

  • s z underwood

    So there is a direct and demonstrable inverse correlation between nickel and diming regressive government taxation ploys (like excessive parking meter enforcement) and private sector prosperity? Interesting.

    It brings to mind the point that in spending our shopping dollars, Berkeley residents still have the choice to flee the city limits for greener pastures. We do most of our discretionary shopping in El Cerrito or Emeryville which offers free and convenient parking and a much broader assortment of shopping options. Even lower Solano in Albany offers a comparatively more pleasant parking and shopping experience than Berkeley’s upper segment.

    This situation brings to mind why, eventually, with its back to the wall, the only remaining hope or solution for Berkeley politicos will be to build the Berkeley Wall, modeled on the concept of the Berlin Wall, but hopefully with greener construction materials, possibly recycling old pieces of the original Iron Curtain which some wily Eastern European scrap dealer would love to unload. Traffic barriers only go so far…

    Trotsky, the brightest of Marxist theoreticians, wisely denounced the Stalinist model of “Socialism in One Country (or One City)” in favor of “World Revolution.” He understood that as long as Albany, El Cerrito and Emeryville remain as an easily accessible alternative and refuge for free enterprise and the acquisition of consumer goods, the “Workers’ Paradise” would never appear prosperous or desirable by comparison.

  • Mike Farrell

    Went to the old Berkeley Bowl today. Plenty of parking on the newly metered streets, but the parking lot is back to its crowded combative self.

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