Telegraph named a disaster zone to help the fire-affected

The site of the fire at 2441 Haste Street at Telegraph after extensive demolition. Photo: Lance Knobel

Telegraph Avenue has been declared a disaster zone in order to provide federal aid to businesses, homeowners and tenants affected by the November 18th fire at The Sequoia Building.

The declaration, which was signed today at state level, is seen as a welcome move by Al Geyer, head of the Telegraph Avenue Merchants Association, who says several businesses on the street have seen their sales plummet by up to 60% in the aftermath of the fire.

“It’s excellent that the city is working to help Telegraph and this should help the area in terms of future development,” he said.

Those whose property was damaged or destroyed by the disaster will be eligible for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Thirty-year loans of up to $40,000 will be available for homeowners and tenants at the rate of just over 2%, while businesses who qualify will be able to apply for loans of up to $2 million at a rate of 4.25%. Non-profits can also apply.

Ben Raju, a spokesperson for the SBA, said loans could be as low as $500 to replace personal belongings and that those who wish to apply can do so immediately.

The SBA is setting up a store front at 2539 Telegraph Avenue tomorrow morning at 9:00 am in the Center for Independent Living after its Deputy Director, Mark Burns, donated the space. The Disaster Loan Outreach Center will issue loan applications, answer questions about SBA’s disaster loan program, explain the application process, and help individuals complete their application. (See release for full details of opening times, etc.)

Technically, the disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available across Alameda County as well in Contra Costa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Stanislaus. But, said Raju, applicants will have to prove they have been directly impacted by the fire.

Many of the residents of 2441 Haste Street where the fire occurred were students, and UC Berkeley has also been offering loans and other assistance to those affected.

Geyer said he thinks the move could be good news for businesses. “It’s a little speculative, but maybe they will be able to switch outstanding loans to ones with more favorable terms,” he said. Businesses close to the Sequoia Building such as his own, Annapurna, as well as Gifts of Tara, Thai Noodle II, which was closed down by the fire, Sun Shade Optique and Gordo’s, have suffered from a drop in customers in the crucial pre-holiday period.

The news may also be positive in terms of the future development of the street, Geyer said. “Property owners who want to build or finance a project may be able to benefit from the loans.”

The Ent family, who own The Sequoia Building, lost two retail businesses in the fire as well as the 29-unit apartment complex: Intermezzo Café and Raleigh’s. The lot directly across the street on Telegraph, which is owned by Ken Sarachan, has been vacant for many years.

Extensive demolition of the Sequoia Building over the past couple of weeks has left the site as little more than a giant pile of rubble fronted by a one-story façade. It is not clear whether the Ents intend to try to re-open the two restaurant businesses in-situ.

According to Geyer, removal of the rubble is waiting on the result of toxicity tests to determine where it should be taken. Meanwhile, the west side of Telegraph on the block between Haste and Channing is still closed to pedestrians, although all other routes are open to both cars and pedestrians.

Telegraph Avenue’s Holiday Street Fair, which runs over the next two long weekends, kicks off on December 16th, from 11:00 am-6:00 pm.

Sequoia fire aftermath: Cause, rights, future under scrutiny [12.07.11]
Demolition of Sequoia Building halted after wall collapse [12.02.11]
A Berkeley building is turned into a heap of rubble, debris [12.01.11]
Sequoia fire accidental, started in elevator machinery [11.30.11]
Berkeley’s 95-year-old Sequoia Building is brought down [11.29.11]
Sequoia: Demolition imminent as tenants meet to complain [11.28.11]
The Sequoia Building: At heart of Berkeley’s rich heritage [11.23.11]
Friday’s fire “another hit in the face” for Telegraph Avenue [11.21.11]
“Largest fire since 1991″ leaves many locals homeless [11.19.11]
Devastating fire in apartment building, Haste at Telegraph [11.19.11]

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  • Doc

    The real disaster forTelegraph is the ongoing People’s Park occupation, until the shareholders own up to that, this boulevard of commerce and community wil remain a disaster.  

  • the deer!

    This is something. Also, can there be festive decorations in honor of upcoming street vendors and holiday festival? These folks don’t need to suffer sales either due to the drab demeanor of the Ave. at the moment!

  • Al Geyer did mention that holiday decorations are going to be put up soon on the Avenue.

  • @tktaylor:disqus  — is this typical?  I’ve not heard of “disaster zone” designation being used on such a small scale before.  I am not belittling the experience of the people affected, but it’s a ways off from Katrina.  Can you put it in context?

  • Arrastape

    Declare the perimeter of the “disaster area” a free parking zone to attract commerce.

  • GPO

    Good point.  Let’s band together and get People’s Park declared a Superfund Site.  At Love Canal, for example, 33% percent of the residents had undergone chromosomal damage; in a typical population, chromosomal damage affects 1% of people.  Among People’s Park permanent residents, I am guessing chromosomal damage approaches 99%.

    Let’s break out the hazmat suits and get this cesspool cleaned up!

  • Haselstein

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and propose that Telegraph needs at least one major anchor business, like a Container Store, a Trader Joe’s or a Target. I know the main parking will be supplied by the city lot, but the stores could provide loading zones. The university lots could be become friendlier to public users. We keep complaining about parking, but Telegraph–as well as downtown–has very sizable pedestrian numbers that should be marketed to investors.  Downtown SF manages to have a Container Store and is getting a Target, I believe without additional parking.  And yes, we need to make the street friendlier. I rarely go to Telegraph because I have experienced verbal abuse just because I’m walking down the street. And the drug paraphernalia businesses need to go. The street hasn’t been working very well, and it won’t unless it becomes a more positive destination. 

  • Alan Tobey

    I’ll second that thought.  In Berkeley we’ve been so afraid of big-box retail (for some good reasons) that we’ve been blind to the opportunity for “medium box” stores that can better provide a lot of the daily-needs shopping that’s gone to the malls (or to yet another chain “drug” store).

    Recent “development” projects have all been housing-driven, providing at most some small-scale ground-floor retail spaces.  It’s now time to also think of retail-driven mixed-use projects, with a medium-box store anchoring dense housing while staying within overall zoning limits (and providing any needed parking underground).  The University Ave Trader Joe’s is one example of how to do that, while the looming rebuild of the Shattuck Safeway as only a grocery store surrounded by surface parking is a prominent example of lost opportunity.

    Think how Telegraph could be changed by a people’s-prices Fresh & Easy in the Andronico’s space and two mixed-use medium-box projects in the Haste vacancies.  Foot traffic to and from campus would help every other retailer along the way.

  • resident

    A Container Store would be the perfect business for all the dorm dwellers and other Cal students in the neighborhood. I’m 20 years removed from my student days, but would probably make the trek to Telly to shop at a useful place like that. And stop in at Amoeba for fun while I was there.

  • Anonymous

    Amoeba records is in a building that was originally a Lucky’s supermarket (in those ancient days when supermarkets would open without on-site parking).

  • Two thumbs WAY up, Haselstein!
    It would also be great to get a “medium-box” store in the old ROSS building at the corner of Shattuck & Allston, which has been empty for three years now. It’s so close to BART and other shopping areas that it seems like it should be easy to fill.

  • Anonymous

    The street fair was very busy, lively, and attractive today.  It looked to me like businesses were doing well, and there were definitely lots and lots of people filling the street.

    If you didn’t go today, I recommend that you go at least one of the days of the street fair.

  • Michael DeKeyser

    I’m about six years removed from working at the Hot Topic store on telegraph so take these thoughts with a grain of salt. I world there for a couple of years and the street fairs were not very beneficial to non street fair businesses. In fact I recall the organizers soliciting us to buy a table on the street with a prime location right in front of the store. They said businesses that did that saw 30% sales increases. I found that to be very funny because traffic was nearly non existent during the street fairs. I remember the owners of the convenience store in the Rexall storefront complaining about the street fair causing business to dry up.

    The street fairs are good for The quirkiness of Berkeley, but not the existing businesses.

    I won’t attend the street fairs for the same reason I rarely visit telegraph or shattuck. Lack of parking.

    At this point Telegraph needs a radical re-imagining. The 60’s are over. Some of the past should be maintained but not at the expense of a living and vibrant downtown business district.