The Vault Cafe in busier days

Most of the tables at The Vault, a restaurant at 3250 Adeline Street, were empty Wednesday at lunchtime. A few groups sat scattered around the large dining room that was dominated by a neon “Vault “sign on the wall, but the place was not buzzing.

It’s been that way since late August, according to the owner Houshmane Ghaderi, ever since the city installed parking meters on Adeline between Woolsey and Alcatraz. Where patrons once could park for free on the street for two hours, they now have to pay 25 cents for each ten minutes.

As a result, stores in the area have seen a substantial drop in business. The Vault Café has seen a 35% drop in sit-down service, while People’s Bazaar, a furniture store a few doors down, has lost about 30% of its sales, according to a recent city report. The Other Change of Hobbit, a bookstore that recently moved from downtown to Adeline, has seen its sales drop 50%, putting its business in jeopardy, according to the city report.

“The meters have really had a devastating effect,” said Ghaderi, who has owned The Vault for 12 years.

Lots of parking on Adeline

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council agreed that the parking meters were detrimental to the neighborhood and passed a six-month moratorium on using them. While parking control officers were still issuing tickets on Wednesday, the meters’ heads will soon be covered.

The parking meters were installed in late August, as part of a larger plan to increase parking revenues for the city. When Berkeley switched over to multi-space meters (also called pay-and-display meters) in heavily trafficked commercial districts, officials decided to relocate about 850 of the single-space meters to new parts of the city.

The single-space meters were installed on Shattuck Avenue between Derby Street and Ashby Avenue and surrounding streets; San Pablo Avenue between Harrison and Ashby Avenue; Adeline Street between Stuart and Alcatraz Avenue; and Gilman Street near San Pablo Avenue.

Various parts of the city generate very different rates of revenue from parking meters, according to a city report. Average city revenues from meters is $5.54 per day per meter. But meters in the Elmwood District average $9.87 per meter per day, and those along Solano Avenue generate an average of $9.27 a day, according to the report. Those along the lower part of University Avenue bring in an average of $2.70 a day, according to Michael J. Caplan, the city’s economic development manager.

The parking meters in the Adeline-Alcatraz corridor, in contrast, are bringing in less than $1 a day – an indication of how few people are parking their cars there. A city survey showed numerous empty spaces during the day.

The economic climate in the neighborhood is fragile, said Sam Dyke, an owner of People’s Bazaar and the chair of the Adeline-Alcatraz Merchants’ Association. It’s the poorest zone in the city, with the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest longevity rate. So the merchants need to draw visitors from other parts of the city, too, and the meters wiped out any incentive people had to come to this area of south Berkeley,

“The meters here have been counterproductive because they have killed a lot of business,” said Dyke.

Sam Dyke, ower of People's Bazaar

Ghaderi, the owner of The Vault, used to have a few groups who used his restaurant much like a community center. They would come over midmorning to meet, talk, have coffee, and stay a few hours. Those groups have stopped patronizing The Vault because of the parking meters, said Ghaderi.

“This used to be a place where people came as a group,” said Ghaderi, “Parking was available – that was the attraction of the area. Once they started getting cited, they stopped coming.”

City officials estimate that the six-month moratorium will cost Berkeley between $13,000 and $14,000 in forgone meter revenue. It’s such a small amount that merchants hope that the city will eventfully make the moratorium permanent and revert to two-hour parking enforced by officers chalking tires.

In one bizarre twist, the city did not install the single space meters on the block of Adeline that runs into the border with Oakland. So patrons of the popular Sweet Adeline Bakery don’t have to fumble for change when they dash in to get a cupcake. If they decide to get a pizza at the bakery’s sister business, Addie’s, just a few blocks away, they need spare change.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...