We, the Telegraph Business Improvement District, or TBID, have long believed that Telegraph Avenue should be the primary shopping and dining destination for Cal students, faculty and staff. For most of them, it is the closest commercial district, and students do support the district in significant numbers. We also realize that many others avoid it, and we are working to address this in a variety of ways.
It is an elementary axiom that businesses need to meet the desires and needs of their customers, or they will fail. The same goes for commercial districts as well. The Telegraph district next to campus has both some significant advantages and challenges for commercial success.
First, Telegraph is both a student district and a neighborhood district. At the north end of Telegraph, the businesses appeal more to students. As one ventures farther south, businesses depend more on the support of nearby residents from principally the Willard and LeConte neighborhoods. Of course, Telegraph draws from all over the Bay Area and world, but the district would never succeed without local support. So, venturing south, one sees more full-service restaurants and businesses that appeal to a wider range of ages.
Districts need to be flexible and change with broader social, technological and economic trends. Consequently, the TBID champions conversion of Telegraph into a 24-hour district with the hopes of it developing a vibrant night time economy. This can be done and has been done in many places. We recognize that students, younger adults and foreign residents are not tied to traditional schedules. Connecting with friends and colleagues is now a 24-hour activity and people may be “chatting” with their closest friends many time zones away. Therefore, we want to see more businesses stay open later, accommodating students and others at all hours. This effort has met with mixed reactions at the city, but we intend to persist and are confident that we will eventually succeed.
We recognize that for Telegraph to have a vibrant nighttime economy, it must feel safe. That is why we have championed the role of host ambassadors who patrol Telegraph on foot Wednesday through Saturday evenings and why we advocated for the new increased police foot and bicycle patrols — currently every day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. We are developing plans to make it possible for the city to apply for pedestrian lighting grants and are also working with UC Berkeley staff on decorative light garlands that we hope to unveil in a few months.
Safety also includes addressing problematic behavior. A poll taken by the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly almost two years ago of approximately 1,800 students showed that about one-third of all students avoid Telegraph and the downtown because of people who sit on the sidewalks and harass passers-by. Critics have assailed the methodology of the survey, but they cannot criticize the sheer enormous size of the sample, which in itself overcomes a huge amount of any possible “methodological error.” Therefore, by any measure, over 10,000 students avoid Telegraph and the downtown. It comes as no surprise, then, that the TBID strongly endorses Measure S, the proposed Berkeley Civil Sidewalks Ordinance.
The real oddity is that last year the ASUC Senate voted overwhelmingly to oppose any sit-lie ordinance. This was before any proposed law was even written and was in spite of the fact that such a measure would directly address the fears of 10,000 or more students. It might have been the most anti-student resolution in ASUC history — one that could negatively impact thousands. We hope that the new ASUC Senate will re-examine this issue and change their position. In any case, the TBID will, in the face of mostly exaggerated and inaccurate opposition, persevere in its support for this ordinance because it directly addresses threatening behavior and supports both students and merchants.
Perhaps nothing symbolizes the changes in the economy more than what we all see on Thursday evenings with the Off the Grid food trucks. Food trucks are a hot, growing phenomenon all over the country and they are now here on Telegraph every Thursday evening. Hundreds of people come to socialize on the sidewalks and street while enjoying a tasty meal. Our challenge, which we are still working on, is how to meaningfully tie Telegraph as a destination into such a fun event. Some individual merchants have done so already. Moe’s Books has poetry readings many Thursday evenings and Caffe Mediterraneum has interesting coffee tastings in front of their café during Off the Grid.
We do realize that having the right merchant mix is essential. We welcome the recent arrival of The Melt, and before that, The Toaster Oven and Pappy’s Grill & Sports Bar. We see repeatedly that food is often the necessary pretext for socializing. TBID cleans the sidewalks daily. Host ambassadors outreach to the needy. TBID continues to work on trying to encourage more late-night businesses. Our number one challenge remains the most amorphous — to be relevant. TBID wants to welcome all students and wants Telegraph to be their home.
Roland Peterson is the executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District.
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