The pause on some economic activity to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has come with higher rates of vandalism to local businesses, many of which remain closed or with few customers, creating an economic burden for many.
To address this, Berkeley City Council is set to vote at its May 26 meeting to establish a COVID-19 Business Damage Mitigation Fund, which will provide one-time grants to businesses that experience property damage through vandalism or other “problematic behavior” during the local shelter-in-place order, according to the City Council meeting agenda. The proposal, which was authored by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Rigel Robinson, would allocate up to $100,000 to the fund if passed.
Arreguín’s spokesperson Stefan Elgstrand said the source of the $100,000 has yet to be determined but will be figured out at a later time.
“The students aren’t there, the workers aren’t there,” said John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “We’re seeing more aggressive and violent behaviors that have resulted in destruction and … business owners having to clean up the damages. This is expensive on top of the massive loss in revenue.”
According to Elgstrand, Downtown Berkeley and the Telegraph Avenue area have been some of the areas most affected by the damages. He added that, if passed, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley will develop an application process for businesses to request the grants.
Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Byron White previously told The Daily Californian that overall calls to the police department reporting crimes were down about 30%, but according to Elgstrand, thefts have increased, contrary to this general trend.
The City Council agenda adds that theft rates are up about 10.4% — with petty thefts, or those with stolen items worth less than $950, up 7.4% and an increase of about 56.4% in grand thefts, which constitute losses of more than $950.
BPD officers have increased their patrols of the Telegraph and Downtown areas in response.
In April, the Judicial Council of California released a set of executive orders, in part reducing bail for misdemeanors — which petty theft cases and some grand theft cases are considered to be — to zero dollars.
Caner and Alex Knox, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, alleged in a letter to the City Council that this lack of jail time has motivated some of the property vandalism.
“It is unconscionable that any small business owner should have to worry about vandalism or theft on top of everything else going on right now,” Robinson said in an email. “Approving this fund is critical to providing necessary assistance to merchants who have faced unexpected damages during this emergency.”