People hanging out on Telegraph Avenue on Memorial Day. Photo: Nancy Rubin

While UC Berkeley students eat regularly downtown and on Telegraph Avenue, they generally go elsewhere to shop for clothes, get their hair cut, buy sundries, or go out on the town, according to a new survey of 1,800 graduate and undergraduate students.

While 40.3% of the respondents say they eat weekly on Telegraph Avenue, at least half said they visit the street less than once a month to shop, work, or get personal or professional services. Instead, they go to Emeryville or San Francisco. The numbers were similar for downtown.

But the students said they would frequent Berkeley’s shops more frequently if the selection was better, the streets were cleaner, and they felt safer walking around.

“The shopping districts near campus are under-performing,” City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said in a press release. “And yet there are over 35,000 students nearby who are potential customers. If we are going to revitalize our local business districts we need to understand what the campus community wants to see here. Otherwise we are going to continue to lose business to Emeryville and San Francisco.”

Safety seems to be one reason many UC students steer clear of Telegraph Avenue. More than 66% of the respondents – who were overwhelmingly female – said they would patronize Telegraph Avenue more often if they felt safer. Seventy-five percent said they would walk around more if the streets were “cleaner and more inviting”, and 65% said they would visit more often if there were fewer panhandlers. The percentages were slightly lower for the downtown area.

“The survey underscores the fact that a high proportion of students do not feel safe in the business districts, particularly on Telegraph Avenue,” said Clara Botstein, Graduate Assembly Legislative Director for City and Community Affairs, who coordinated the survey.

Telegraph Avenue. Photo: Nancy Rubin

The results of the survey come at a time when business owners in the downtown and Telegraph Avenue areas have been expressing concern about keeping sidewalks clear from congregating groups of homeless people and youths.

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce held a seminar in early April to discuss whether Berkeley should have a sit-lie ordinance like the one enacted by San Francisco last year. That prompted a number of marches and rallies against any sit-lie ordinance in Berkeley, even though no city official has introduced one. If Mayor Tom Bates or any city councilmember ever had an interest in suggesting a sit-lie law, they no longer do as the protests seem to have had a chilling affect, according to city insiders who asked not to be named.

The survey was conducted by the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly and Associated Students of the University of California. More than 1,800 UC students and staff responded to an online questionnaire. Fifty-two percent of the respondents were undergraduates, 38% were graduate students, and the rest were faculty and staff. The majority of those who answered the questions were women – 65% — and most were between the ages of 21 and 35.

The Telegraph Business Improvement District, Downtown Berkeley Association, UC Berkeley’s Local Government and Community Relations Office, City Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Susan Wengraf, Gordon Wozniak and the City of Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development were partners in the project.

In the survey, 86.9% of the students expressed a desire for an “all-purpose” store that sold general items, like a Target, a “basic clothing” store (79.6%),  an “upscale” clothing” store (86%), an electronics store (78%), a household appliance store (78.5%), and a grocery store (78.3%).

Target won’t come to Berkeley because the company already has stores in Albany and Emeryville, said Dave Fogarty, the acting director of economic development. Berkeley is interested in bringing an all-purpose store to downtown, but has not yet attracted one, he said.

The survey “shows both the severe problem but it also shows the potential, “ said Fogarty. “If we could have adequate policies in place to create a sense of safety and well-being on our sidewalks and we had a few more stores that sold articles that students were interested in buying, the sales tax situation would improve for the city of Berkeley.”

EXTRA: The respondents to the survey left more than 4,000 comments to various questions about Telegraph Avenue and the downtown area. Councilmember Capitelli’s office hopes to organize the answers and release them this summer. Here are some selected responses from the UC Graduate Assembly 2011 Student survey:

I would frequent Telegraph Avenue more if:

…there was more public art, environmental/sustainable/urban forest design, and appreciation for Telegraph’s history as a symbol of the Counterculture of the 1960s

I can deal with the streetlife, though being cursed and followed for a block by panhandlers or hecklers is disturbing. But my wife really prefers to avoid the area if possible.

The traffic bottlenecks created by the worthless street vendors was eliminated. Telegraph became one way in response to a Berkeley traffic plan. Allowing street vendors greatly impedes traffic, produces more smog and undermines brick & mortar business forcing stores to cater to low-end merchandise to meet the demographics. COB should create an attractive central market like most of the rest of the world.

outdoor eating places, kid-friendly eating places (Raleigh’s is ok but it’s the only one), healthier eating places

It is not panhandlers per se that make Telegraph Avenue intimidating, but the fact that I have had several experiences of people behaving aggressively toward me and others (shouting profanities, making unpleasant comments). The groups who sit on the sidewalk would probably make me uncomfortable in any case, but more so in this context.

It certainly isn’t the panhandlers and the homeless people who keep me away from Telegraph Avenue, and I would be very upset if the results of this survey asking for an improved Telegraph Avenue were used for Giuliani style persecution of street people. Telegraph Avenue caters almost exclusively for undergraduates, and I would appreciate better places for lunch–no chains! Bancroft has nice stores and places for lunch, and I go there much more frequently than to places on Telegraph.

I hate Berkeley because of street kids. They make me extremely uncomfortable and have ruined many a good mood. Telegraph has become a dirty street that I walk down as fast as possible just to get to class. North Berkeley, College Ave, Solano Ave, and the gourmet ghetto and much better places and if the surrounding neighborhood catered more to the large student population, Berkeley would be a much more desirable and happy school to go to.

There are only a handful of places to go dancing in Berkeley (most places that count as “nightlife” are bars). The ones that do exist suck. Please do something about this. You don’t want students heading out to SF constantly and risking the incidents of drunk driving. Do something to keep them around Berkeley!

I was born and raised in Berkeley. Telegraph has always been a retched hive of scum and villainy. When I was 13-23, that was kind of cool and exciting. Now, it’s just sad. Especially with the losses of anchor tenants like Cody’s and Blakes. I can honestly say there is ZERO draw for me to that business district currently.

I would frequent the Downtown more if:

Meter rates are outrageous. Parking tickets, excessive. I shop in Albany and Oakland and avoid Berkeley. Albany has one-hour free parking in most areas and the stores are doing better than Berkeley. Ditto for restaurants.

The area by the main entrance to the bar could be a fantastic place for people to gather and relax if it were not for the people who currently make it uninviting. Although they are doing absolutely nothing wrong, I openly admit that I would enjoy sitting there if they were not there. Instead, when i get my gelato at Almare, I sit inside. Business in that area would much increase if it were nicer and more inviting (think Elmwood). Businesses like Almare should be encouraged and protected: local, great quality, affordable.

Parking is a huge problem — which ties in with the safety issue. How far away I would have to park and then walk and how safe I would feel. I would go downtown even less if I didn’t belong to the Y.

More stores, shops, nightlife, and places to go for students. Berkeley needs to admit to itself that it is a college town and start representing that more.

Yep. I’m going to work in Palo Alto. People who like a clean and inviting environment once they have a job get out of dodge. I think if Berkeley cleaned up a bit (it doesn’t have to lose it’s quirky character, just take a shower and maybe put on a clean t-shirt) you would retain a lot more taxpayers.

It is better than Telegraph, though less exciting.

No matter what time of day it is I always feel unsafe walking around the downtown area. There are always people loitering; they stand and sit in front of the doors and windows of stores and on street corners-anywhere they can. No one wants to say anything to them because they are scary, mentally unstable, gang members, sex offenders.

Downtown Berkeley is a hella lot nicer atmosphere-wise than South side. Way less ghetto, and more public transport leaves from there. I could do with out some things but compared to Telegraph, this is the better place.

There is a really good variety of resturants which is lovely, but everything in berkeley closes so early. I would love to see some more late night places like AuColet Cafe that provide internet and food late at night.

More nightlife and more late night food!

Downtown isn’t as grungy as Telegraph Ave, but it just feels too big (Shattuck is so wide and busy) and it just doesn’t feel as inviting as other shopping districts. The closest area that I like to go that is like it is Gourmet Ghetto…say from Virginia through Rose on Shattuck. That is much nicer. There are less people sitting on the street/panhandling. I really like the shops/cafes/restaurants there…Gorilla Cafe, Cheeseboard, the fancy foodcourt with the garden in the back by the Chinese tea shop, Chez Panisse, Cesars…these are Berkeley gems. The block right around the Downtown BART station, particularly on the west side of the street often feels sort of intimidating with all the people hanging out there, often panhandling you. I feel like I’m running the gauntlet in that block sometimes. I love that the library is there…that’s the thing that brings me downtown most often as well as my bank and 2 or 3 restaurants. What is moving in the right direction is the block that goes from Shattuck on Center St. up toward campus. That’s nice with all the potted plants and the outside tables at restaurants. The updated area with the theater and Freight and Salvage is nice too. I think finding ways to make side streets calmer, slower, greener, prettier, more inviting would be really useful for Downtown. I heard they were talking about daylighting the creek through the Center St area. I think that would be a lovely idea.

Downtown needs more nightlife / late night options. I prefer go to SF on weekend nights because there is so much more to do. Also, I don’t feel completely safe at night.

Bike lanes on major streets like shattuck, telegraph, MLK, etc, would help to encourage more sustainable modes of transportation and also attract way more people to the nearby shops and restaurants than are served by the few parking spaces.

There’s nothing i can get in downtown berkeley that i cant get in oakland, emeryville or sf, all of which i’d rather spend time in. downtown berkeley is soulless. sorry.

Lack of parking and buses that actually run on time are the biggest drawbacks to shopping downtown for me.

Downtown Berkeley is scummy at night. The area near the downtown BART area should be turned into something useful. A garden? Or even better: to install heavy duty spin bicycles that generate power for the lights in the area by cycling and a ruling that states you can only hang out there if you pedal and help give to the community!

Downtown is much better than Telegraph.

In general, all parts of Berkeley seem to lack inviting places to sit outdoors. Often in downtown Berkeley, I’ll buy an ice cream or a coffee and want to sit in the sun, but I end up just leaning on a bike rack since I get bothered every time I sit in the main area near the BART entrances.

The area is over run by people who don’t seemingly add much value, and instead treat public spaces like it is their personal dumping ground. The downtown area is simply an embarrassment. “Liberal” doesn’t have to mean dirty, unsafe and disrespectful for the public good.

It certainly isn’t the panhandlers and the homeless people who keep me away from Downtown Berkeley, and I would be very upset if the results of this survey asking for an improved Telegraph Avenue were used for Giuliani style persecution of street people. All of these things listed in the survey would be nice, but I do go to places in Downtown Berkeley quite often, I bike a lot, and rarely use my car

Are you guys trying to kick out the homeless?

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...