Free parking for Christmas shopping. An end to food restaurant quotas on Solano Avenue. Early bird parking discounts in three of Berkeley’s garages.
These are just three of the measures a trio of Berkeley officials will introduce at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.
In a document titled “Encouraging Economic Development and Increasing City Revenue From Business Activity,” Council members Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf and Daryl Moore have outlined their blueprint for making it easier for small businesses to thrive in Berkeley.
“I think it’s an important issue in terms of supporting the small business community which is hurting right now,” said Capitelli.
The measure has components that would apply to the entire city as well as parts specific to the Solano Avenue business district. Capitelli recently conducted a poll of residents in that neighborhood, and the provisions he is suggesting reflect their sentiments. Here are some of the suggestions:
- Establish a citywide parking holiday for Saturday Dec. 11 and Saturday Dec. 18. This would encourage people to shop in Berkeley, said Capitelli. City Manager Phil Kamlarz, however, told Capitelli on Monday this could cost the city as much as $75,000 in lost parking revenue.
- Allow Solano Avenue businesses to stay open until 11 pm, rather than the current curfew at 10 pm. “That way you can go to a movie and catch a bite to eat afterwards,” said Capitelli.
- Suspend the Solano Avenue food quota. In the 1980s,when it looked like too many antique and second-hand stores were opening on Solano Avenue, residents got together to propose a quota system, said Capitelli. By the time the quotas were adopted by the city, antique stores had gone out of favor. Food stores seemed to be a new threat so a cap of 12 restaurants was established. There are now 18 or so, making it difficult for a new food business to open without going getting a change of use permit. That can take a long time (it took La Farine 14 months to get permission to put a few tables in its bakery) and many small business owners can’t afford to delay that long, he said. There are currently about 13 vacant storefronts along Solano. “A full storefront is better than an empty storefront.”
- Allow restaurants with seating to get a beer and wine license with an administrative review rather than having to hold a hearing before the Zoning Appeals Board. Getting on the ZAB agenda can take 8 to 9 months, said Capitelli. If a neighbor objects to the administrative ruling, it would automatically go before ZAB.
- Allow service business with lots of foot traffic – like yoga studios, exercise and dance centers, massage or physical therapy offices – to open up in spaces currently reserved for retail. The city has a surplus of empty storefronts, a casualty of the requirement that developers build retail spaces on the ground floor of apartment complexes.
- Revise the sign ordinance to exempt businesses under 2,000 square feet from having to have their signs reviewed by city staff. Implement basic design standards to make this easy.
- Mandate a review of the building process so all new business owners know what procedures and reviews are necessary before opening a business.
- Allow the City Manager to defer zoning fees as an incentive for people to open new businesses.
- Provide incentives to property owners to encourage leasing.
- Offer discounts to people who bring their cars into the Oxford, Center Street or Telegraph-Channing garages. These garages are underutilized and a discount will not affect those who need short-term parking.