Berkeley city staff are taking aim at a South Berkeley neighborhood that has struggled economically in recent years by teaming up with residents, as well as business and property owners, to make improvements hoped to make a difference in the near-term along Sacramento Street.
Last week, some 30 people attended a meeting at San Pablo Park to review possible changes and collect community feedback for efforts that are underway. Among attendees were the city’s director of public works, Andrew Clough; director of parks and recreation, Scott Ferris; public works engineer Ahsan Kazmi; Jim Hynes, assistant to the city manager; and Berkeley Police Capt. Erik Upson.
(One attendee, Zach Franklin, created the video above to tell the stories behind several local businesses and institutions around Sacramento Street and Ashby Avenue.)
The city invited stakeholders to attend the Oct. 24 meeting and “Be part of the future of Sacramento Street” to discuss how to make the corridor “a friendlier place to work, shop and live.”
Michael Caplan, who runs the city’s Office of Economic Development, said this year’s work built on conversations that started in 2011 and 2012 to address how to tackle some of the area’s longterm, chronic problems.
In March, that effort was rekindled after a neighborhood group, the CalJulia neighbors, called a meeting to figure out how to make some of their ideas to improve the neighborhood a reality. City staff attended that meeting, and came away from the session with plans to carry the momentum forward.
Since then, the Office of Economic Development has been working with neighbors and the Sacramento Street Merchants Association “to identify challenges and opportunities” in the area “to try to crystallize the three No. 1 priorities” that could guide an action plan. City staff have met with five neighborhood groups as well as the merchants’ association to collect input.
And one city staffer, Elizabeth Garcia, has mapped all the vacancies on Sacramento — from Dwight to Alcatraz — to have a better understanding of the area’s economic needs and the status quo. Garcia has been building relationships with local property owners and real estate brokers to try to fill those spaces. (City vacancies are listed online here.)
She thanked those in attendance for their input in recent months: ”Your participation and input has really driven this process,” Garcia said.
City staff said some of the primary neighborhood challenges identified this year have included long-term business vacancies, a lack of healthy products for sale, a dearth of trees on Sacramento south of Dwight, casual drug dealing, problems with parking enforcement, open containers and public drinking, and “problematic street behavior.”
Thursday, Caplan said various department heads were in attendance to help “frame the next steps” in response to questions and ideas from the group about how to address those challenges, as well as several others.
(View NOSH: Lorin District Restaurant Guide in a larger map.)
Attendees said, if they had their choice, they’d love to see businesses on Sacramento such as an ice cream or frozen yogurt shop, art studios or sporting equipment. Gardening products and gifts, after-school enrichment activities, and more restaurants were also suggested. Two restaurants have recently opened on Sacramento, and two others are in the works, with many others that have either opened or are planned nearby on Alcatraz Avenue and Adeline Street in the Lorin District. A new halal market is also slated to move in on Sacramento, on the same block as Take 5 Café and Moxy Beer Garden, along with another cafe north of Ashby called Nanna’s House.
Included on a list of possible opportunities for neighborhood growth were the installation of additional street banners, the organization of a Saturday stroll or other family-friendly events, the creation of a dog park at San Pablo Park, the investigation of public art in the medians, and the possibility of multiple parklets along Sacramento.
Garcia outlined a range of plans already in motion or projects that have been completed recently, such as a new mural on Sacramento north of Ashby; a “call for artists” to decorate several nearby utility boxes; last weekend’s Berkeley Project Day; and a new website that’s being designed for members of the local merchants’ association.
City staff also described a new effort underway to spruce up one local liquor store, and help its owner offer healthier alternatives to junk food and alcohol. The city is seeking grant funding for that project, and the owner has already agreed to participate if the city secures the money needed to follow through with those plans.
Community activist and local resident Laura Menard told city staff that the most important step the city could take is “solid and reliable code enforcement when we see problem properties.” In the past, she said, enforcement has been “inconsistent and unreliable,” which has led to many persistent issues despite neighborhood efforts.
She also said the neighborhood needs to work on becoming a destination for residents who live in other parts of the city, whether via food truck events such as Off the Grid, or other festivals or flea markets.
Councilman Darryl Moore, who represents the district, said he’d like to see better maintenance to address constantly full trash receptacles and less-than-adequate street sweeping.
Residents also brought up traffic congestion and a lack of streetlights as areas of concern.
Caplan thanked the group for their ideas, and noted that, at this time, the city is looking for “things we can pretty much do quickly because we’ve got some momentum right now.” He said the city plans to start implementing changes from the action plan over the next month or two.
Learn more about the CalJulia neighborhood group at http://caljulia.wordpress.com. For more information about the city’s plans for Sacramento Street, call city staffer Elizabeth Garcia at 510-981-7536, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duo to open Creekwood restaurant in South Berkeley (10.24.13)
Calling all artists: Chances to make your mark in Berkeley (09.19.13)
Sacramento Street mural honors history, brightens area (08.16.13)
Partners to open Take 5 Café as new Berkeley hub (07.31.13)
South Berkeley neighbors ask city for help to improve (04.19.13)
New beer garden, burger spot for South Berkeley (03.15.13)
New street banners give Berkeley neighborhoods identity (03.04.13)
Neighborhood revival: Kick-starting the Lorin district (04.27.10)
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