The city of Berkeley’s recent approval of Caffe Mediterraneum’s bid to keep its doors open 24 hours a day has pushed ongoing efforts to turn Telegraph Avenue into a 24-hour business district one step further.
Amid the Telegraph Business Improvement District’s endeavor to extend Telegraph businesses’ hours with the hope of creating a livelier commercial zone, Caffe Med individually applied for an administrative use permit March 15 — which was then approved by the city’s permit service center June 6 to allow the cafe to stay open longer. The cafe, which is currently open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to midnight, did not need approval from the Berkeley City Council because there was no public appeal opposed to its permit application.
But Craig Becker, Caffe Med’s owner, has yet to decide when the new hours will take effect. Becker said he is happy to have the choice of whether to implement a different schedule, especially because he said business is always changing.
“We thought we’d jump the gun and get our own permit ourselves,” he said. “We haven’t decided the hours yet, but we wanted to get the permit to be able to have a choice … if it’s busy enough at night, we might decide that we need permanently extended hours, and that would have to involve trial and error.”
Becker is the first on the avenue to apply for an individual permit solely to extend his business hours. In doing so, he chose not to wait for the city to approve the district’s proposal to extend all retail hours on Telegraph from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m.
“The general feeling of merchants is that the 24-hour concept as a whole, with proper security, would be a good thing for Southside, considering students are studying all night,” said Al Geyer, chair of the Telegraph Merchants Association. “This is an individual proposal — if Caffe Med feels this is good for business and potential and if they feel they can handle it, we won’t be opposed to it.”
The district’s 3 a.m. proposal — part of a larger plan to transform Telegraph into a 24-hour commercial zone — is still being reviewed by the city’s planning commission, which is legally required to vote on changes in land-use policies before reporting back to the City Council.
Factors involved in the commission’s approval include restricting it to establishments that do not sell alcoholic beverages and the financial implications the proposal will bring — mainly the cost of overtime pay for police officers involved in maintaining Telegraph security, according to Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District.
“State law requires that anybody that sells alcohol is all ceased and serviced … by 2 a.m. — one of the things that came up in discussions with the planning commission was that only the places that do not sell alcohol stay open til 3 a.m.,” he said. “Our point has been that those services are especially what you want to have open till 3 — people who have too much alcohol in their system would have time to sober up before hitting the streets.”
Though Becker may have been alone in getting a permit to have his business operate all day, at some point it will be decided whether all storefronts on Telegraph are able to remain open past 2 a.m.
“My understanding is that people who live in the immediate vicinity around campus have a particular interest for having things open later,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “It will be an interesting trial balloon. The fact that (Becker) is willing to try it out and be successful — it would be more successful if more businesses tried this extension of business hours.”
Worthington said he believes that the council’s involvement with the Southside Plan — which proposes to abolish the quota on Telegraph’s full-service restaurants while maintaining the other quotas to encourage small business establishments — will push positive activity for the proposal.
“During discussions of the Southside Plan, many students came out to our meeting saying ‘we want businesses open for later hours,’” Worthington said.
Anjuli Sastry covers housing.