A push to clean up and improve Sacramento Street, driven by Berkeley city staff as well as local residents and merchants, continues to gain momentum.
Last week, staff from the city’s Office of Economic Development met with community members to provide an update about public safety, commercial growth and beautification efforts that are part of the city’s plan to address some of the neighborhood’s chronic problems.
According to a report prepared for Wednesday night’s community meeting, the city has been working on a variety of issues in the area “for many years,” though the effort has crystallized over the past 12 months. Last March, city representatives met with members of the CalJulia neighborhood group as well as local merchants to begin to come up with solutions to a variety of neighborhood concerns, particularly in connection with the commercial district.
Read more about Sacramento Street on Berkeleyside.
Since then, Sacramento Street in South Berkeley has seen a spate of growth, with the opening of several new businesses, and projects underway that include a new neighborhood restaurant called Creekwood, a “shipping container village” called Green11, and the possibility of a new life for a long blighted property near Ashby Avenue that developers hope to convert into a mixed-use project.
A popular beer and burger spot coming up on its one-year anniversary, Moxy Beer Garden, has also helped revitalize the area. Nearby, a coffee shop called Take 5 has opened, along with a small café called Nanna’s House, and a produce market and halal meat shop where residents can find a wide range of goods. Several blocks east, in the Lorin District, restaurants are popping up at an even faster pace.
(View the Lorin District and Sacramento Street guide in a larger map.)
Wednesday night, Elizabeth Garcia, of the Office of Economic Development, shared updates related to commercial growth, public safety and beautification on Sacramento Street. About 25 people attended the meeting at San Pablo Park’s Frances Albrier Community Center, which was a follow up to a city meeting last October about similar issues. As part of the current “action plan,” the city tried to focus mostly on short-term improvements that could help bring quick results, she said.
Increased shopping options, including healthier offerings at liquor stores
One of the most ambitious efforts in the action plan is a “corner store initiative” designed to introduce healthier foods onto liquor store shelves. The city has applied for a grant from UC Berkeley to work with Bob’s Liquors, as well as M&H Market nearby, to “transform” the shops to increase shelf space and make room for a variety of healthy products.
If the city is successful in getting the grant, staff would work with consultants who have done a similar project in San Francisco and report positive results. Because the aim of the project is on increasing shelf space, as well as helping business owners track sales, Garcia said it allows merchants to see how adding healthy products can bring in new customers and sales without cutting back on their existing inventory.
In a similar vein, Garcia also pointed to neighborhood programs that are already underway by the city’s Public Health department to address community health issues, from monthly mobile clinics and screenings to outreach and education efforts in partnership with local businesses, including two barbershops on Sacramento.
New life for blighted property?
As part of its efforts to boost the local economy, the city also works with property owners and brokers to try to fill long-term vacancies, including those on Sacramento, Garcia said.
One project that’s generated cautious enthusiasm from neighbors is interest from a small developer to convert a long-blighted property into a mixed-use commercial and residential project at Sacramento and Julia streets.
Faced with years of graffiti and trash problems on the vacant property at 2951 Sacramento, neighbors and volunteers have been working since last summer to clean it up on their own. They’ve painted murals and removed garbage, and provided regular updates to the city about code violations on site. But, while those efforts have provided short-term, temporary relief, residents have said a better longterm solution would be new ownership and on-site occupancy of some kind.
The city has tried to help broker numerous deals over the years, but none have been successful. That may be about to change.
A representative from a development team looking at 2951 Sacramento attended last week’s meeting and gave an informal conceptual overview of the team’s ideas. Benjamin Kimmich, of Envision Investment Group, said the idea would be a new building with two commercial spaces on the ground floor topped by two stories of residential units. Parking would be provided on site.
Initially, Kimmich said the goal had been “a much smaller project,” but developers ultimately realized it would not be financially viable to build on the property without adding stories.
The group is looking at prefabricated framing to speed up construction. The materials under consideration are “one of the most sustainable ways to build,” Kimmich said. (Update, March 25: The company AVAVA Systems makes the materials the design team is considering.)
He stressed that the small development team — most members of which live within two miles of the site — cares about what neighbors want, and hopes for an ongoing dialogue with nearby residents.
“We want it to be something the neighborhood wants to have happen,” he said.
The project is still in the very early stages, and whether development will actually happen remains to be seen, but Kimmich said notices about the proposal may soon be appearing on the property if negotiations about purchasing the lot are successful.
Other district improvements underway
Elizabeth Garcia said a variety of public safety and beautification efforts are also moving forward.
Berkeley Police officers have been working to address problems with “general street behavior” related to alcohol and drug issues. Traffic safety has also been a focus, with increased attention paid to parking and speeding violations.
In response to concerns noted by merchants, the city has stepped up parking enforcement on Sacramento to increase turnover and make more room for new visitors.
The city’s Mobile Crisis Team has continued to address “problematic street behavior” related to mental health issues and public inebriation.
On the horizon are also improvements related to bicycle safety, as the city is in the process of revisiting its community-wide bicycle plan, Garcia said.
To clean up the neighborhood, the city is taking a variety of steps, from assessing its current trash pick-up schedule to see if more pick-ups are needed, and adding more trash receptacles along the street to help with litter problems.
Urban forestry staff will be taking a look at the tree canopy to see about adding trees along Sacramento below Dwight Way, particularly if nearby residents or business owners are willing to “adopt” tree wells and promise to care for young trees and other plants put in by volunteer groups.
The city has committed to quarterly pressure washing of trash receptacles and bus stops to help keep the area tidier, too.
Garcia said the Civic Arts Commission has allocated $10,000 to pay for a consultant to look for public art opportunities on Sacramento and Adeline streets. That’s in addition to another $40,000 set aside by the commission for a public art project in South Berkeley, though that would also require “leveraged funding” moving forward.
(The city is also in the early stages of planning improvements in the Lorin District along Adeline Street, and held a community meeting Saturday to begin brainstorming what that might entail. Email Mayor Tom Bates’ office to stay in the loop about that process.)
In addition to the money coming from the Civic Arts Commission, the city is in the final stages of a project to spruce up several nearby utility boxes after having received artist submissions for it late last year.
And that’s not all. To help build community and shore up a “sense of place,” Garcia is also planning to roll out a new website for the commercial district soon, as well as Twitter and Facebook pages.
“We’re in the beginning of a conversation,” the city’s economic development director Michael Caplan said Wednesday night. “The neighborhood’s changing. It’s not a revolutionary change, it’s incremental. And it brings people along.”
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 email@example.com.
Shop Talk: The ins and outs of Berkeley businesses (12.03.13)
First shipping container ‘village’ headed to Berkeley (11.08.13)
Berkeley’s Sacramento Street corridor on the rise (11.01.13)
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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