The “big clean-up” of downtown Berkeley begins

An $850,000 clean-up operation will take place in the 30-block downtown Berkeley area over the next three months. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A clean-up has begun in downtown Berkeley, part of a larger campaign to improve the area’s environment and boost economic development. It is being funded to the tune of $1.2 million by the Property Based Business Improvement District (PBID) that was passed by 71% of local property owners last June.

Last Friday, following three days of training, ten members of the new Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA) Cleaning Team in their neon yellow shirts hit the streets en masse. The first day was spent painting furniture and fixtures, and general litter removal and weeding. On Sunday, the team started pressure washing sidewalks on Shattuck north of University.

The downtown cleaning crew: Front row, L to R: Jerrid Hilliard, Drakori Glaze, Jamie Bush, Valentina Austin, Larry Kazuo. Back row, L to R: Kirk Jacob, Marcus Miles, Okoye Jones, Nelson Chavarria, Operations Manager Lance Gorée

The intention is to deep-clean and beautify the entire 30-block area of Downtown Berkeley, and the work will include the removal of all graffiti and gum stains, painting all furniture and fixtures, and new landscaping, including new hanging flower baskets. Around $850,000 is being allocated to beautification services and improvements.

The DBA hired Louisville KY-based firm Block By Block to oversee the clean-up and ambassador services. The company has worked on similar projects in downtown Oakland, Santa Monica, and Pasadena, among others. Block By Block is also committed to hiring employees locally, as well as second-chance programs for hiring from social service agency partners.

The clean-up will be followed up on April 2nd by the launch of a new $200,000 brand and marketing strategy for the area. Also at that time, Downtown’s Host Ambassador program — which sees staff patrolling downtown, providing visitor assistance, neighborhood watch, merchant support, and homeless services outreach — will be expanded.

More information on the PBID can be found on the relevant DBA brochure and the PBID section of the DBA’s website. A power-washing schedule is also available.

How to improve downtown Berkeley: Have your say [10.19.11]
Downtown PBID passes overwhelmingly [06.29.11]

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  • Lhasa7

    Good job on the Flora.  The Fauna is going to be the tricky part.

  • BHS student

    Lovely! Though I’m not sure how long it will last…

  • Batard

    Need a truncheon-toting night crew to deal with urinators and taggers…

  • Guest

    This is awesome.
    I wonder what the plans are to keep the area clean long term….
    Also with all the vacancies downtown I’m looking forward to seeing how they are going to try to attract more people to the area.
    I like just a mile away and go downtown often but not sure about others who might have better options….

  • Guest

    This is  good and long overdue news.  Is there a way for Berkeley residents who are not
    downtown businesses to become involved with seeing that this cleanup is sustainable?
    I applaud the plan and will thank the workers as I encounter them doing their work downtown.

  • TWheat

    This is really good news. Downtown centers are so important to a sense of community pride, and those that are clean and well managed can inspire economic growth. I’ll make a point to visit our downtown more often – I have been deliberately avoiding it because it was so depressing! 

  • berkopinionator

    Now they should install some security cameras and add more police on foot and bicycles..

  • Charles_Siegel

    So when are they going to overhaul the BART plaza?  I thought the city had adopted a plan and gotten funding for that.  Am I wrong? 

  • Stefan Lasiewski

    That’s a good question. I hope it’s still happening.

    They had adopted a plan, and they did get funding, and there was a City Council meeting in July 2011. This funding came from the City of Berkeley, BART and from the MTC. However according to rumor, the MTC has had to cut back on a few projects.I see news about this project from April, May & June 2011 but haven’t found any recent news since then.The documentation phase was to be completed in late 2011, and construction was supposed to start in early 2012. However, I can’t find any recent information about that.See these Google search results , which show various plans, meeting agendas, information from the MTC, etc.

  • Stefan Lasiewski

    I have lived in Berkeley for 12 years. I’ve worked in Oakland (Uptown) for 3 years.

    The local Business District provides ambassadors here (cleanup, and security) and it’s made a big difference in how this area feels. I’ve been here at a variety of hours between 8AM and Midnight, and it feels safer then Downtown Berkeley. 

  • Charles_Siegel

    Stefan, thanks for the information.  I appreciate it. 

  • Siliminagic69

    Are you all crazy or something?  This is a false flag operation if I ever saw one.

    For one thing, there are city workers who do clean up duties in
    Berkeley.  Secondly, this is a privatized police force masquerading as a
    “clean-up crew.”

    Did any of you read last week’s article in the East Bay Express?

    If not, it is page 8, and it’s entitled, “Private Cops on the Public’s
    Dime,” and I highly suggest you read it.  Also, this is Fascism working
    here, because the Downtown Business Association is applying pressure to
    the city council and mayor’s office, and then there’s the almost
    million-dollar price tag to fund this “janitorial service”… for that
    price you could put all the homeless and mentally handicapped indoors!

    Oh, and why did they (Block By Block) not hire homeless people?

    I got a quote, from someone who works on the inside, and that quote was,
    “We’re going to ‘get rid’ of ‘them.'”  When I asked this person what
    they meant by that, this person said, “The ‘mentally ill’ and
    ‘homeless.’  Block By Block wants to ‘get rid’ of all of them.” 

    So I started digging a little bit.  I’m a writer and a student at
    Berkeley City College… and I am also “homeless.”  Although, I am
    homeless by choice, because this is how I have to get stuff done.  Don’t
    ask me why, it’s just the way I get stuff done.  However, that is not a
    crime… but these Fascists would like to make it a crime.  Anyway,
    back to the researching: what I found out bothered me.  What I found out
    was, this “janitorial service” has ties to the “Department of Homeland
    Security,” and ties to top Republican Law Makers, like Dan Lundgren. 
    Block By Block also has ties to a union-busting corporation known as:
    SMS Holdings.

    This is a large corporation with seven subsidiary corporations beneath
    it.  They are claiming to be “‘Christian,’ ‘Faith-Based’ Organizations,”
    but their actions say otherwise. 

    This is an insidious corporation doing insidious things to American
    Citizens, and nobody has done anything about it… until now.

    Read this article:

    Then read his blog (by the same author of above link/column):

    And you can read some of my side (Berkeley) of things here:

    Of course my blog is not as extensive as the other one, but it goes to
    show you the level of concern people need to have, because both of us
    started writing about this independently.  About my third post (or blog)
    I found the blog, “Sung a Lot of Songs.”  And his blog is very
    extensive.  The links match up and the information is damning.  They are
    claiming to be “Christians,” but they are acting anything like that.

    Whatever your take on homeless people sits, you can’t condone American
    Citizens being spied upon by Secret Police masquerading as street
    janitors.  Because, they aren’t only spying on the homeless and mentally
    disabled.  What is even more absurd about all of this is, it’s being
    funded by tax dollars.  “Property Owners” voted “71% to “clean up the
    streets of Berkeley.”  Now, number one, they didn’t need to be “cleaned
    up” to that extreme.  The people who clean these streets downtown do a
    very good job, and there was never any big trash concerns before, so
    this is obviously a rouge.  And, if you see what I see on a daily basis,
    and what and how they are “cleaning” out here, you’d laugh.  It’s
    farcical!  And I’m not the only one who sees this.  I know a scientist
    who works at the UC, and he sees all this crap, too.

    We are watching the watchers.

    And, you all should be concerned, because it is your tax dollars funding
    a private corporation, to spy on all of you… this it ridiculous!

  • Saveberkeley


    Not ONE Tax dollar has gone into this project!!!
    The business owners of the area VOTED to provide the funds for this project. Just as you wrote in your reply but then you say that TAX dollars are being used.
    Look at that picture, do you see a Private Security Team there?
    YOU take a look at Downtown Berkeley and try to tell me it isn’t cleaner, nicer.
    Since I am in a position to monitor the Ambassadors and the Downtown Berkeley Association, I know for a fact that they Have NOT engaged with the Homeless, Panhandlers or any other of the street population in a negative manner.

    The services being offered to Oakland by Block By Block are Apples to Oranges to what is being provided, and asked for, by the Downtown Berkeley Association.

    The Ambassadors are a diverse group of people consisting of Berkeley residents, Second Chance opportunists (some were homeless at a time) and those previously unemployed. Many of the ambassadors are graduates of Berkeley’s Options Social Service program.

    I am not saying that this program is perfect, that Block By Block is perfect or that the Downtown Berkeley Association is perfect. But for you to attack a program with misinformation, gossip/hearsay, innuendo, conspiracy theories and your own factless fears isn’t fair to the PEOPLE of the program. They have families to feed and rent to pay.

    We just want Downtown Berkeley to be nicer. We want economic development but we want it done in the right way. Providing a downtown that many in the Bay Area would enjoy spending time in is NOT a lot to ask. That has NOT been the case for quite awhile and many businesses have left for that very reason.

    Are you part of the problem? Is that what you fear? It would definitely make one think

  • Roman

    I am a student at BCC and the most I’ve seen the ambassadors do is strut around and every now and then bend down to pick up a cigarette butt, they harass the homeless people and buskers ALL THE TIME. Even if the local businesses do fund this project and there is no public funding going into it (which I highly doubt) why do they need segways? It seems like a waste of funding which could be making a real change for the better downtown.

  • Bruce Love


    Not ONE Tax dollar has gone into this project!!!

    The truth is that every penny of this project is paid for by tax dollars.

     The effort is funded by tax collected in a special tax district (a  “property based improvement district” — PBID).   That is to say, it is paid for by tax dollars.

    Only businesses within the district get to vote on whether to impose such a tax.  If 2/3 say yes, then 100% of them pay the tax.

    71% of the vote was in favor of the tax.   That is to say, that there are people being taxed to pay for this program — who voted against paying that tax.

    Moreover, we all pay tax dollars into this:

    There is city owned public property within the district.   According to the rules:  The City of Berkeley’s own downtown property is assessed and the city pays the tax, too.

    Berkeleyside reported in 2011 that Berkeley’s share would be $104,072 per year.

  • Suze55

    Add lots of green, plants, awnings, good lighting.  Re-face the bart building, looks Icky.  Try and attract more interesting businesses, bookstores, music, cafes with out side seating, have it be much more pedestrian friendly, bring the creek up, landscape around that.. get rid of tacky signs and art.  Put some design in to it….