District 5 councilmember Laurie Capitelli has a new action plan for Solano Avenue after a survey of the community shed light on what local residents would like to see changed in the neighborhood.
“We now have a number of short- and medium-term goals,” Capitelli told Berkeleyside. “We are working on a mini-economic stimulus package which we will send to the City Council in December.”
Capitelli’s to-do list includes suggesting that the quota system on food businesses on Solano Avenue be suspended. He would also like to see use-permit fees for new businesses deferred. He says at present it is costly to secure permission to open a business in the area and cites ice-cream store iScream which aims to open soon after spending many months going through the permitting process. “They had to pay $9,000 for a use-permit as well as building permits,” he says.
Also on the agenda: creating incentives for landlords to rent retail spaces, as well as disincentives to keep spaces vacant. “And we would like to eliminate putting change-of-use parking requirements on businesses,” Capitelli says. As it stands a retailer needs to provide two parking spaces per square feet of business space — and it’s three spaces for a food business. “There are no parking spaces to create,” says Capitelli.
Finally, the councilmember favors extending hours of business from 10pm to 11pm after many survey respondents expressed a desire to see more businesses with late-opening hours.
The survey, conducted by Capitelli and the City of Berkeley, and which we flagged up in September, drew 1,300 respondents, 64% of whom live within eight blocks of Solano Avenue. Capitelli says he was very pleased with the response. “I expected 200-300 people to take the survey but we had 1,300 responses and over 500 very thoughtful comments.”
Generally, Berkeleyans who live near Solano Avenue are pretty happy with their neighborhood. But, when asked, they can certainly see ways to improve it. They would like to see more sidewalk seating on the shopping street, for instance, more trees for shade and restaurants for choice, better parking, improved pedestrian safety and fewer empty storefronts — and enough with all the nail salons!
Respondents appreciated that there were few chains and many independent businesses in their community. One respondent remarked: “On look and feel, I really only care about keeping Solano workable for the old businesses that perform services well and reasonably: the bookstores, Oaks Jewelers, Ajanta, Oaks Theatre, Sue Johnston, Supercuts, Ensler Lighting, Payne’s.”
Not all Solano business owners were satisfied with the status quo, however. One wrote: “I have two stores on the upper part of Solano and we have been in business 22 years in spite of the City of Berkeley. It feels like we are the forgotten community within Berkeley. It’s not a pro-business community. The neighbors don’t really spend money like they used to, but our landlord is still raising the rent! If we go away, this part of the Solano shopping district will lose. But how long can we continue to have our rents go up and our sales go down?”
The quota system currently in place for food businesses came in for some criticism, not least because, as several respondents pointed out in the comments, there are too many vacant retail spaces on the Avenue.
More than one respondent compared Solano to Fourth Street which they saw as more vibrant and appealing. “It would be nice on evenings to have a place to go for coffee and dessert or live music and drinks,” they wrote in a comment. “It seems that Upper Solano becomes a ghost town after 8pm other than Zachary’s. [We need] a marketing campaign of some sort to make it a destination like Fourth Street for holiday shopping. [And we] need some sort of anchor stores to make people want to come to Solano. Right now, there’s nothing like that.”
There was consensus on one item at least: the imminent arrival of ice cream store iScream which many respondents said couldn’t happen soon enough.
Read the full survey results, including comments from respondents, on the City of Berkeley website.