The site of the fire at 2441 Haste Street at Telegraph after extensive demolition. Photo: Lance Knobel

Telegraph Avenue has been declared a disaster zone in order to provide federal aid to businesses, homeowners and tenants affected by the November 18th fire at The Sequoia Building.

The declaration, which was signed today at state level, is seen as a welcome move by Al Geyer, head of the Telegraph Avenue Merchants Association, who says several businesses on the street have seen their sales plummet by up to 60% in the aftermath of the fire.

“It’s excellent that the city is working to help Telegraph and this should help the area in terms of future development,” he said.

Those whose property was damaged or destroyed by the disaster will be eligible for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Thirty-year loans of up to $40,000 will be available for homeowners and tenants at the rate of just over 2%, while businesses who qualify will be able to apply for loans of up to $2 million at a rate of 4.25%. Non-profits can also apply.

Ben Raju, a spokesperson for the SBA, said loans could be as low as $500 to replace personal belongings and that those who wish to apply can do so immediately.

The SBA is setting up a store front at 2539 Telegraph Avenue tomorrow morning at 9:00 am in the Center for Independent Living after its Deputy Director, Mark Burns, donated the space. The Disaster Loan Outreach Center will issue loan applications, answer questions about SBA’s disaster loan program, explain the application process, and help individuals complete their application. (See release for full details of opening times, etc.)

Technically, the disaster declaration makes SBA assistance available across Alameda County as well in Contra Costa, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Stanislaus. But, said Raju, applicants will have to prove they have been directly impacted by the fire.

Many of the residents of 2441 Haste Street where the fire occurred were students, and UC Berkeley has also been offering loans and other assistance to those affected.

Geyer said he thinks the move could be good news for businesses. “It’s a little speculative, but maybe they will be able to switch outstanding loans to ones with more favorable terms,” he said. Businesses close to the Sequoia Building such as his own, Annapurna, as well as Gifts of Tara, Thai Noodle II, which was closed down by the fire, Sun Shade Optique and Gordo’s, have suffered from a drop in customers in the crucial pre-holiday period.

The news may also be positive in terms of the future development of the street, Geyer said. “Property owners who want to build or finance a project may be able to benefit from the loans.”

The Ent family, who own The Sequoia Building, lost two retail businesses in the fire as well as the 29-unit apartment complex: Intermezzo Café and Raleigh’s. The lot directly across the street on Telegraph, which is owned by Ken Sarachan, has been vacant for many years.

Extensive demolition of the Sequoia Building over the past couple of weeks has left the site as little more than a giant pile of rubble fronted by a one-story façade. It is not clear whether the Ents intend to try to re-open the two restaurant businesses in-situ.

According to Geyer, removal of the rubble is waiting on the result of toxicity tests to determine where it should be taken. Meanwhile, the west side of Telegraph on the block between Haste and Channing is still closed to pedestrians, although all other routes are open to both cars and pedestrians.

Telegraph Avenue’s Holiday Street Fair, which runs over the next two long weekends, kicks off on December 16th, from 11:00 am-6:00 pm.

Sequoia fire aftermath: Cause, rights, future under scrutiny [12.07.11]
Demolition of Sequoia Building halted after wall collapse [12.02.11]
A Berkeley building is turned into a heap of rubble, debris [12.01.11]
Sequoia fire accidental, started in elevator machinery [11.30.11]
Berkeley’s 95-year-old Sequoia Building is brought down [11.29.11]
Sequoia: Demolition imminent as tenants meet to complain [11.28.11]
The Sequoia Building: At heart of Berkeley’s rich heritage [11.23.11]
Friday’s fire “another hit in the face” for Telegraph Avenue [11.21.11]
“Largest fire since 1991″ leaves many locals homeless [11.19.11]
Devastating fire in apartment building, Haste at Telegraph [11.19.11]

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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...