Vacancies harm city

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Thank you for J.D. Morris’s article on the online poll regarding shopping on Telegraph Avenue.

People seem eager to misinterpret this poll, in which students express a wish to see less homeless people on the street. I believe it is safe to suggest that all of us, the whole community and perhaps the whole world, hope to see an end to homelessness someday.

That does not mean anyone, certainly not UC Berkeley students, should be mischaracterized as embracing anti-loitering or anti-sitting laws which burden law enforcement and send vulnerable people circling through the courts, making it harder to escape the cycle of poverty.

The students had valuable suggestions for more appropriate goods, more public art, more music, more dancing. The business associations should pay attention to those suggestions instead of abusing the poll to fuel more discriminatory laws.

The more serious burden on our commercial districts is the over 200 empty storefronts waiting, sometimes for years, for tenants who are in turn waiting for landlords and property owners to lower their outrageous commercial rent rates. Large property owners can write off these paper “loses,” and have no incentive under the current system to lower their rents.

Our city’s general plan refers to a vacancy tax, which has been successfully implemented in other cities (Washington, D.C.) but has yet to be implemented here. We need to implement a retail vacancy tax and curb the blight of empty storefronts so that we can once again have thriving commercial districts.

Carol Denney, Berkeley resident

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