The Elmwood has had the smallest drop in sales tax of all Berkeley's business districts. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Two ongoing surveys in Berkeley are looking to gauge the views of the merchants and residents who live and work in Berkeley — with a long-term goal of improving business conditions for all involved.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has launched a survey to determine whether Elmwood locals are in favor of continuing one of the city’s strictest business quota systems, among other things. Another key issue up for discussion is parking — is there enough of it and should meters be extended from one to two hours? The survey also sets out to get a picture of how people get to and use the Elmwood stores.

“Generally the Elmwood works, “said Wozniak. “There’s a special vibrancy there because a significant number of the people that come there do so on foot and retail vacancies are filled more quickly than in other areas. But the tough economic times have hit everyone and we want to find out if people’s feelings are the same or different from when we did a survey four years ago.”

Downtown Berkeley: zoning issues under consideration. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Meanwhile, the Downtown Berkeley Association is conducting a survey of proposed retail zoning amendments by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Berkeley Association. The Berkeley Planning Commission, in response to a request from the City Council, is undertaking a review of zoning requirements regarding retail establishments and has recommendations for amendments that could help to streamline the permitting process.

Opinions are being requested from members of the eighteen commercial and merchant organizations in the City. The Chamber of Commerce worked with representatives of these organizations to craft the survey.

The results will be reported to the Planning Commission and, after analyzing the results of the survey, the Chamber of Commerce will facilitate a Question and Answer session with City of Berkeley staff.

The Elmwood survey, which can be accessed and completed here, closes on April 21, and Wozniak said he will be looking closely at the individual comments to ascertain what changes merchants and residents would like to see.

Elmwood merchants are divided on whether the quota system should be revised. An informal taskforce did consider ways to simplify the system , which is made up of numerous categories, by streamlining it so that it would ensure a balance between service and retail, Wozniak said. So far this has not been implemented, however. And parking, he said, is a perennial issue.

Wozniak added that in general the Council would like to speed up the process for those starting a new business in Berkeley. As Berkeleyside has documented, it can often take many months for businesses to get the required permits before they can open up shop.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...