City Council debates eliminating Telegraph restaurant quotas

Mary Zheng/Staff

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Berkeley City Council remained divided on a proposal to consider temporarily relaxing the quota system on Telegraph Avenue at its meeting Tuesday night.

The city currently has numerical and size limitations on businesses such as restaurants, gift shops and barber shops in the Telegraph Avenue commercial district. A proposal brought before the council on April 30 proposed that the city planning commission consider temporarily relaxing the quotas for three years. Tuesday’s meeting reconsidered the proposal, and council members voted to table the item for a later date.

Much of the debate focused on restaurant restrictions. The current quota system allows 19 quick-serve restaurants and 30 service restaurants to operate, and although there is still room for more service restaurants, the quota for quick-serve restaurants has been met.

But some council members, including Gordon Wozniak, support the proposal to relax quotas, saying that the current system is outdated and does not allow the area to adapt to changes in consumer spending.

According to a May 21 report by the city’s Office of Economic Development, retail sales on Telegraph have decreased by 56 percent since 1990, while food service sales have increased by 19 percent.

“The problem with setting quotas is that business changes, and retail is a much different business now with the Internet,” Wozniak said. “Keeping the quotas now will keep Telegraph the way it is now — a state that is slowly dying.”

Others, including Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, oppose the proposal, saying that relaxing the quotas will harm the retail stores that currently occupy space on the street. According to Worthington, Telegraph Avenue will become a “food court” if the quotas are relaxed, and landlords will favor renting their properties to restaurants because they can charge higher rents.

Owners of quick-serve restaurants are also concerned. They fear the relaxation of quotas will create a competitive environment that would be destructive for their businesses.

“If the quotas are relaxed, the number of restaurants will increase, and no one will really make a lot of money, because there will be so much competition,” said Jahanshah Jowharchi, owner of Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiana.

Owners of Gypsy’s, along with 33 other restaurants, including Thai Basil and CREAM, signed a petition against removing the quota system prior to the April 30 meeting.

However, not all restaurant owners are opposed to the proposal. Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum and president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, agrees that the quotas are not beneficial for Telegraph.

“My business is one that will supposedly be protected by the quotas, but even I don’t support the quotas,” Becker said. “I think they restrict business.”

Contact Jane Nho at [email protected]