How to improve downtown Berkeley? Have your say

Downtown Berkeley: provide your input on how should it be improved. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Downtown Berkeley Association is working on implementing a a Strategic Marketing Plan for the the city’s downtown after it was voted a property-based improvement district (PBID) in June.

As part of its analysis work to determine how to enhance the area’s environment and boost economic development, the DBA is soliciting the opinions of Berkeleyans. Do you visit downtown? If not, why not? What is your perception of downtown Berkeley? How could it be improved? What are the priorities you would like to see addressed?

Help determine how your city’s downtown might improve by taking the Downtown Berkeley Perception Survey. The final deadline is Monday, October 24th.

Downtown PBID passes overwhelmingly [06.29.11] 

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  • Shutterbuggery

    How to improve downtown Berkeley? 


  • Bruce Love

    That would leave the theaters and high end restaurants plum empty.

  • Anonymous

    I tried to complete the survey, but it was too limited to express my opinions. For one thing, I have recently retired and now am not coming to downtown every workday as part of my commute. 
    So I will take this opportunity to express a couple of observations. One, I think it is very important for the DBA,when marketing downtown Berkeley, not to constantly bemoan the so-called lack of parking. That lack has been belied by a UC study. The problem for downtown Berkeley is the lack of “free and ample parking,” as that is advertised by suburban shopping areas. Otherwise, there IS parking at most times of the week. Two, downtown Berkeley should be marketed to potential retail stores as one of the most intensive pedestrian areas in the Bay Area. i would shop in downtown Berkeley if there were actually places to shop. I would love something like a Target or Container Store in downtown, and I am certain the city would provide loading zones for retail stores. We need to stop thinking about free parking in front of the destination and get smart about how to offer fun shopping without going outside of Berkeley. 

  • There is parking in DT Berkeley, but it’s expensive and hard to find. I’ve spent upward of 1/2 an hour driving around to find parking on the street, and often have given up in frustration.  The parking garage on Addison is often so backed up by theater goers, the traffic on the street is blocked. Between Berkeley Rep and Freight & Salvage nearly an entire block is a white zone, so no parking there. There are times when I really can’t bicycle, and BART is expensive for regular expeditions. I think parking is a problem, maybe not for some, but for many.

    But really the biggest issue is that there’s nothing there to get me to walk around and window shop, let alone want to spend time up there. I go for a specific reason (a restaurant or the gym for instance), but have no desire to meander around. In fact as I sit here, I cannot think of one retail shop I’d want to go to enough to deal with the squalor of downtown Berkeley. 

    I do not think a Big Box store like Target or the Container Store would work; requires too much parking and too much overall space, but there could be a big draw with a variety of interesting retailers. Is there anyway to have a downtown with smaller retailers that are affordable? I don’t know, but I miss the days of a downtown that was a shopping district that had a little something for everyone (and I’m thinking way back in the day of Edy’s, Houston’s shoes, Kress’s, Hinks, JC Penney’s…)  

  • PaulS.

    Daylight the damn creek and give us a pedestrian-only area! Get rid of the graffiti, gum and grime. Continue novel ides like the outdoor movies to bring more people downtown. 

  • berkopinionator

    Scrub, arrest, rinse and repeat. Install CCTV security cameras.  Put uniformed police officers on 24 hour foot patrol.  Bring back Ross. Relocate the BOSS homeless shelter away from downtown and the high school. Bring in a Marshalls, Target, Sears or some major retailer where people will actually spend a few dollars. Bring in some super overpriced boutiques so people with too much money can spend more here. Create free satellite parking at Golden Gate fields with shuttle service to downtown.  Put in a museum of the history of Berkeley and CAL. Give people some reason to go downtown. Allow raging all-night dance clubs with go-go dancers to do business and sell overpriced drinks until 8:00 a.m. Allow every restaurant to stay open until at least 2 a.m.  Build a retail tower with several upscale ocean-view bars on the top with outdoor rooftop patios with live music.  Provide a free shuttle to pick up rich tourists at Union Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and Sausalito, drag them to Berkeley, and don’t let them go home until they each spend at least $200 in Berkeley.  Hire the City of San Francisco’s waterfront planning staff and let them take over our downtown and waterfront to turn it into something that might actually be fun and make some money for the City.

  • Danbert_cal

    Free Parking,  I do all my shopping on Solano ave in Albany.  

  • Anonymous

    Wow, you are SO invited to my next brainstorming session.  Don’t agree with all of it, but that is one awesome set of options.  

  • libraterian

    “I cannot think of one retail shop I’d want to go to enough to deal with the squalor of downtown Berkeley”…That says it all!

  • libraterian

    You are trying BLT, very trying.

  • libraterian

    And rename the city “Watersville”, for Alice and the creeks.

  • Bruce Love

    <chico-marx-voice>Naah…  itta comes easy to me.</chico-marx-voice>

  • GPO

    Same here.  Live in Berkeley but avoid shopping here like the plague.  Most of our discretionary shopping is done in Albany, El Cerrito or Emeryville (occasionally also in Marin, SF or Walnut Creek).  Berkeley can survive as an “East Germany” only so long.  There is no Iron Curtain here.

  • Anonymous

    The fundamental problem for downtown is the stranglehold DBA has had over planning. Until the DBA gets disbanded, don’t expect any of these problems to be fixed.

    Take, for example, parking. It is well known that downtown does not price its parking correctly. The valueable on-street spaces are priced far too low, and the garages far too high. This is exactly opposite of how a successful downtown operates. The valuable curbside spaces should be priced so that there is always availability. But the DBA has always opposed this, wanting instead to hollow out downtown by building more parking garages.

    Then there is the streetscape. One would think the DBA would want to take advantage of the huge amount of non-motorized traffic, by putting in things like outdoor seating, parklets, bike lanes. But those things threaten to remove parking spaces, which they utterly oppose (even if only a trivial number of spaces).

    So there you have it. Downtown’s “problems” are largely DBA own doing. But they sure do make some neato push-poll surveys!

  • guest

    Do you mean daylight it at Center Street?  But the creek is under Allston Way, right where it always was.

  • Anonymous

    Lower rents of retail spaces.

  • Awesome out of the box thinking.

  • GPO — Telling the truth without sugar coating it — Berkeley needs more of that!

  • San Jose, CA has put into force a key ingredient in their multi-year effort to revitalize downtown. I used to live there and the one thing that ALWAYS brought me downtown without hesitation is (drum roll), FREE PARKING. No brainer huh?  —

  • Whuede

    Really, get rid of the bums and panhandlers, please. They stink.

    [This comment has been moderated – Ed]

  • Resident

    I answered this survey yesterday and gave them an earful (eyeful?). I visit downtown weekly, for one specific reason only: the Saturday farmers market. I never venture east of Milvia and all the money I spend goes to the vendors in the market. We walk from our house. Otherwise, any shopping we need as a family happens at Berkeley Bowl West, online, San Francisco (where I work), Oakland Sears (near my husband’s office) or much more rarely, El Cerrito or E’ville. I don’t like driving to shop, so the proximity of useful stores near work and BART is important to me.
    Downtown Berkeley is a depressing, filthy strip of empty buildings, perpetual construction, and low-end, junky stores. When I compare it to downtown Portland OR, where I lived for 2 extremely pleasant years, I weep with envy. Why can’t we have a pleasant square filled with diverse people, lovely public art (instead of that godawful concrete phallus) and vibrant shopping?
    And how about Civic Center park? Have you ever tried to stroll through or use the playground when the farmers market isn’t going on? Awful.

  • Resident

    Or the free bus and metro service through the downtown core of Portland OR. Of course, doing something similar here would require relying on AC Transit. Sigh.

  • Charles_Siegel

    On a positive note: I think the biggest improvement in downtown in recent years is the widening of the sidewalk on the south side of Center St. between Shattuck and Oxford, with sidewalk seating and planters in front of the restaurants there.  That is one place in downtown where it is  very pleasant to walk or sit, and it should be used as a model for the rest of downtown.

    Fortunately, the city is talking about using it as a model for the block of University Ave. between Shattuck and Oxford: the SOSIP includes a plan to narrow the roadway there from two lanes to one lane in each direction, and to use the space to widen sidewalks.  Traffic studies have shown that traffic would keep flowing smoothly: only two lanes are needed there.  I have heard that the developer of Acheson Commons wants to pay for implementing that plan as a mitigation for its open-space requirement, so it might actually happen.

    The Acheson Commons proposal is very attractive, with lots of retail space.  In combination with the wider sidewalks and sidewalk seating, it could be a big step toward making downtown a more attractive place to walk.  (I hope they can do it in a way that saves Ace Hardware.)

  • Mike Farrell

    Maybe you should use the Harpo Marx voice ;)

  • Charles_Siegel

    Portland is considered a national model for regional planning.  The entire region has Urban Growth Boundaries and zoning that concentrates new development around transit lines.  That is why their old shopping districts have not lost all their business to malls at freeway exits, as they have in most other metropolitan areas. 

    We could use similar regional planning here.  We used to have Hinks and JC Penney in downtown Berkeley, but department stores now will only locate near freeway exits – like Target in El Cerrito.  There is no JC Penney in the Bay Area that you can get to conveniently by transit. 

    We can’t blame the city for the lack of regional planning in the Bay Area.  The state is pushing for regional planning to reduce GHG emissions, and I hope their standards will be forceful enough to make a difference for Berkeley and other older downtowns. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    correction: I guess Target is actually in Albany. 
    At any rate, try getting there by walking or by transit. 

  • No need to rely on AC Transit, Emeryville doesn’t, but if you were to rely on AC Transit, it would have to provide something free of charge like the VTA does in San Jose —

  • Resident

    Whatever happened to the guy who proposed the B Line? 

  • Mel Bardman

    They need to upgrade the audible traffic lights along Shattuck, at Shattuck & University, Shattuck & Center and a few other intersections. They are pointlessly loud and distracting. They should use the newer model types they have at MLK&University, which are much quieter and only make noise when a button is pushed.

    It’s a little more expensive but well worth it.

  • No more so than your average petulant child.
    Like a kid throwing a temper tantrum in a grocery store, it’s best to simply ignore it.

  • The only reason I deal with downtown Berkeley is to go to a movie theater, or to go to a specific restaurant like Angeline’s or Jupiter or something.

    I can’t think of the last time I decided to go for a stroll downtown rather than going to a specific location and then leaving immediately when I was done. It’s just not a very pleasant place to hang out.

  • TN

    I know that many have pointed to their difficulty parking in downtown Berkeley as a reason they don’t go as often as they might.

    Our experience is different perhaps because we tolerate the idea that we might have to walk a few blocks from where we park our car to get to our ultimate destination. We’ve not ever had a major problem. It might take a few minutes to find a place but we’ve always managed during the day. And at night, its never been a problem. I might be more tolerant of parking hassles because I grew up in a big city back East where parking IS a problem.

    That said I have the following miscellaneous observations.

    1) Some of the off street parking lots have very “chunky” rates. Library Gardens (the former Hink’s location) asks for an all day fee to park at all on a weekend, no matter how short a time. I’m sure that if people could purchase off street parking in shorter time chunks, even at a higher per minute rate, people would use it. This could free up street  parking.

    2) Businesses benefit from the availability of parking. In some areas, and even a few in Berkeley, some businesses subsidize parking by “validating” the parking receipt on a private lot. If parking is that vital to a business, it should be worth their paying for it. After all, the suburban shopping centers charge businesses rent based on the availability of “free to the shopper” private off street parking. Shopping center businesses are paying for customer parking through their rent. Why can’t our local businesses find a way to pay for customer parking in some way without in essence asking for a public subsidy?

    3) The public transit access to downtown Berkeley from our home in West Berkeley is terribly impractical. I can walk to downtown Berkeley in about 35 to 40 minutes. On average, considering all the elements of time of a bus trip, taking the bus takes longer than if I walk. (The bus comes every 30 minutes.) And it costs me over $4 round trip fare to boot! This doesn’t give me a lot of incentive to go there by bus. In fact there isn’t a lot of incentive for me to go to downtown Berkeley except for random social events and the library.

    4) I think that if there were more compelling reasons to go to downtown Berkeley to shop, I might I do it more often. Now I go only because the main branch of the Berkeley Public Library is there. I can’t live without the Art and Music department. But I can’t think of too many other reasons to go downtown.

    It isn’t just the lack of street parking!

  • EBGuy

    Free the 51B!?

  • cayugaduck

    There needs to be a There there. Or at least something that would make it worth the pain in the butt it is to park and dodge homeless people. Also, the public transit options from South-ish West Berkeley are dismal. It’s easier to get to downtown Oakland from here.

  • Anonymous

    We need some honest to god 24 hour establishments. It’s ridiculous having to go to Albany if you have the misfortune of having a migraine at 3 in the morning and just need some pain medication. Berkeley’s laws dealing with operating hours are archaic and need completely scrapped.

  • Shutterbuggery

    Re parking….

    Paid parking is a ripoff and discourages people from going downtown. That said, if the city is gonna put the squeeze on consumers — either the meters should be expensive (a quarter per 10min) and the ticket cheap (under ten bucks period) or the meters cheap (a quarter for an hour) and the tickets expensive (Fifty bucks). Having both high meter rates AND high parking ticket rates simply scares people off. And it means sooner rather than later you’re gonna wind up getting busted and having to pay fifty or sixty bucks for a downtown shopping trip for something that costs ten bucks. And that’ll be the *last* shopping trip ever made to downtown…. 

    Forget about contesting tickets.. that should be a whole ‘nother column by some Berkeleyside journalist. 

  • Bennie

    I live in North Berkeley.  There is nowhere to buy decent apparel essentials such as female undergarments and shoes to wear to the office anywhere here. I have to go to SF or Walnut Creek.  Hilltop Mall is awful.  Emeryville is missing department stores.  I can’t purchase quality long lasting work gear at Target.

    With BART and buses I don’t see the need for additional parking in Berkeley. I agree that street parking should be more expensive. There is a need for parking structure down by Pegasus. 
    I should mention WC off street parking is often free or extremely cheap.  The city makes money off sales tax.  Imagine that.

  • Berkeleyfail

    Seriously, we just a little posse of guys with long sticks to go around and chase these smelly turds out of town.  Why is Berkeley the magnet for every vagrant west of the Mississippi?

  • BerkeleyFail

    WC and Corte Madera are pretty much equidistant from Berkeley, have pretty much the same retail, free parking, and no nasty bums or urine stench.  The extra 15 minutes you’ll spend looking for parking downtown could get you OUT of town and most of the way there. 

    If you want real retail selection you have to go to SF .. there’s just no comparison, not by a mile.  You’ll pay to park at the Stockton or Mission St garages, but not that much.  

    Berkeley doesn’t have any idea what kind of retail atmosphere to aspire to, and meanwhile they have achieved the worst — boarded-up shops, vagrants, the stench or urine, and no parking.  Yay!

  • Charles_Siegel

    Ku Klux Klan comes to Berkeley.  If you want to kick them in the face and beat them with longs sticks, why not also put on hoods and white robes and lynch them.

    Another proof that anonymous comments on the internet bring out the worst in people. 

  • BerkeleyTaxPayer

    Give every homeowner in Berkeley (everyone paying property tax) a set (say 2 per bedroom) of special clipper cards so that all transit choices that go to downtown and the regional parks are always free of charge. (just put a set of clipper terminals in downtown that we can tap to get the cost zeroed out after we get off the bus) After all, we are paying for city hall, the library, etc. and AC transit to boot. Just throw the extra marginal cost for this into our property tax if it ends up costing the city anything at all. I suspect that a move like this would only cost a small amount of extra money, would boost sales tax revenue from downtown, and mitigate parking issues. When we pay such massive amounts of property tax already, it feels annoying to get nickel-and-dimed with $2 bucks each way on AC transit to go to the center of our own town.

  • deirdre

    I second that.  I’ve been burned by enough parking tickets that I think twice before I’ll stop at our great local stores like Black Oak Books, EcoHome, etc.  The last time it happened, I walked back to my car and found a ticket on the windshield, and by my watch the time on the meter was not yet expired!  So: if you want to park in Berkeley, set your watch 5 minutes fast.

  • Whuede

    Huh? Why are you assuming that the  bums are all black? Have you even been to downtown Berkeley? They have all kinds, the only thing consistent among them are the panhandling, defecating and urinating on the streets.
    This type of radical-left-let’s-pull-the-KKK-card-mentality and stupidity is what gives liberals a bad name, and allows for so much bum activity on the streets.

  • The KKK?
    Are all pan-handlers in Berkeley black?
    Are all people who think that something needs to be done to clean up the problems with vagrancy in downtown Berkley white?
    Does referencing the KKK in this context make any sense at all?

  • The vagrants who I notice being the biggest problem in downtown Berkeley are usually the late-teens/early-20s white gutter punks camped out on the sidewalk with pit bulls and “funny” signs asking for handouts so they can buy weed.

  • I second this proposition!

  • I. elioff

    Require owners of vacant buildings keep the premises clean and cover windows with paper.  The storefront two doors north of MacDonalds  on Shattuck is a disgrace.  Once a restaurant (Crushons) now vacant for many years it is probably full of rats and is a health hazard.  Walking past with out of town guest, it is difficult to let them know
    how unkept is city is…

  • How about enforcing the No smoking law. So there isn’t some nasty person lighting up every 3 feet. Its already illegal but nobody enforces it. Thats what makes Downtown feel blighted that and the homeless but they come with the territory and are easily ignorable. Its gotten better in the 2 years I’ve lived in Downtown. That one lady who yells” Mr hey mr. can you spare some change” at everyone who passes by but then whips out her gucci purse on the 18 bus and chats on her cell phone has gone.