Southside story

Council Watch

Berkeley City Council has approved a zoning amendment that will allow businesses on Telegraph between Bancroft and the north side of Dwight to stay open 24/7. Those between south Dwight and Parker can operate between 7 a.m. and midnight seven days a week.

There are, of course, restrictions — establishments selling off-sale alcohol (selling alcohol to be consumed at a second site) can only stay open until midnight, regardless of location, while on-sale alcohol (selling alcohol to be consumed on-site, i.e. restaurants and bars) can occur until 2 a.m.

I know you’re thinking it, so say it with me: hell yes. More drunchies. Or munchies, depending on the day of the week.

How sad is it that our first thoughts turn to late-night eating options? Actually, it’s not sad. Embrace those extra carbohydrates. If you weren’t thinking “more food!,” you are either not a normal college student or you spend an inordinate amount of time at Walgreens.

Unfortunately, just because the city has granted permission for a 24-hour district doesn’t necessarily mean that businesses will follow suit. I called around to a couple of Telegraph hotspots and I received the following: a “no one wants to stay open 24/7” from Blondie’s, a “no” from Chipotle and a “that’s not something we’ve discussed yet” from C.R.E.A.M.

Goddamn it. So I have to stick to La Burrita for my Mexican food fix? What’s the point of all this if I can’t get Chipotle at 2 in the morning?!

I called up Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district encompasses Telegraph Avenue, in dismay. He confirmed my worst suspicions — no business has actually stepped forward saying it will participate.

What is this gonna do, then? Worthington acknowledges that “it’s gonna take a while before we see practical effects. It will contribute to changing the ambience (of the street), potentially in the long term … If we don’t address parking, signage, lighting, economic issues or safety, this policy will have very little impact at all.”

Hence, Worthington has put forth a Telegraph action plan for short-term improvements, attempting to address the aforementioned issues.

One public commenter at this past Tuesday’s meeting feared that a 24/7 Telegraph would equate to a “24/7 public restroom.” Um, I’m pretty sure that’s the way it already is.

Councilmember Linda Maio, however, brings up a real concern: What about sexual assault incidents in connection to alcohol consumption? She’s not against late hours, but her reason for voting “no” on the policy has to do with the doubling of reported rapes in Berkeley over the last year.

“The general pattern (of rape) is acquaintance rape, the confluence of that with alcohol,” Maio said. “This policy ends retail of liquor at 12, but it allows businesses to appeal the zoning department for later hours. I personally don’t want to open that door.”

I asked Worthington what his opinion was of Maio’s thoughts against the policy. “We’ve seen nearly a doubling in rape without this policy change,” said Worthington. With this policy, “there won’t be an increase in alcohol in late hours. Because of state law, even if a business is open 24 hours, they can’t sell alcohol the entire time.”

Both Worthington and Maio agree that the best way to address the increase in sexual assaults around the city is through education.

While I completely understand the problems we face with sexual assault, I don’t believe there’s much of a direct connection between allowing businesses to stay open 24 hours and a potential increase in rape incidents.

Having the city and university work jointly to improve public safety, education, prevention and enforcement will go a lot further than simply preventing shops from staying open or selling alcohol later.

Craig Becker, owner of Cafe Mediterranean and president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District Board, believes that Maio’s concerns are a misunderstanding of what a 24-hour district is attempting to do.

“The problem of rape has more to do with off-sale liquor. I don’t think this originates in restaurants and bars,” Becker said. “I think (this policy) actually has the potential to improve the safety of the nighttime environment. It’s a strategy that’s been used by other cities to decrease alcohol problems. Now, places can serve alcohol until 2 a.m. but stay open until 3 or 4 a.m. … people can sober up and eat before drifting out.”

Oh, people will certainly eat, all right. If the marijuana doesn’t do the trick, the midterms will. Now it’s up to the city to hold up its end on bettering public safety measures.

And to lobby Chipotle to extend hours. Who’s with me?

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @lynnqyu.