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

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...

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10 Comments

  1. I took the Elmwood survey. No, online surveys are far from scientific, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful tools. They may garner more feedback than a city council meeting, where only a certain slice of the citizenry shows up. Online, another slice of the citizenry shows up. Add ’em together, and you’re getting more voices. Still not all, but maybe a wider spectrum.

    Judging by the survey I took, it seems that Wozniak is interested in examining a commercially vibrant bright spot in Berkeley, and figuring out what makes it that way, so lessons of success may be replicated or expanded.

  2. Despite getting out of the way, I still expect the cliched polorized caricatures to come.

    It’s very unfortunate that such cliches are being overly used in Berkeley and on the site by commenters. Totally reduces complex issues into a false narrative that wholly ignores the nuances of various opinions, stances, etc.

    But I don’t mind being called a NIMBY obstructionist if that means that the reflexive detractors are off point and ignoring what I am actually saying. Certainly doesn’t make me look bad.

    I appreciate your insight on the unfortunate dynamics of Berkeley dialogue.

  3. First, I’d like to congratulate you on your use of the definite article. People haven’t much been saying “the Berkeleyside”. Usually its just “Berkeleyside. As soon as I read it there… it just sounds right, at least to my ears: “the Berkeleyside”. One wouldn’t say “San Francisco Chronicle reports….” one would say “The San Francisco Chronicle reports …”.

    Second, the kind of faux consensus building you are describing (which doesn’t really require complicity from the Berkeleyside — they’re just passing along some factoids) is ubiquitous in small town politcs all around the country. Its so ubiquitous that it’s a little hard to figure out who exactly is fooled by it anymore — it’s just kind of part of how things get done.

    Maybe part of the point of such exercises isn’t so much to scientifically establish the majority opinion but, rather to, in a way, give public notice of an intent to change public policy. Any potential opposition to the ideas that seem to be advanced is given a chance to organize itself and step forward. An opposition doesn’t have to “win the survey” it just has to appear in a coherent enough form to be taken seriously. The exact survey results are perhaps less interesting than the presence or absence of a coherent opposition emerging from the crowd.

    Finally, and we should probably just get this out of the way early: clearly (by which I mean – falsely speaking) you are one of those NIMBY obstructionist anti-free market somethig or others that explains why Berkeley politics is always failing. 🙂 It simplifies any debate if we just sort out the cliched polarization characatures early.

  4. Are these surveys scientific? It seems that they are clearly not, and even though they may be a rough gauge, it’s troubling that they will be presented and used in a complex policy discussion as if they are definitive.

    It seems to be that these surveys are being used with a pretense to accomplish a certain agenda. Whether that agenda is right or wrong, I do not know. But it’s trouble, though, that the Berkeleyside seems to be complicit in pushing these surveys without mentioning that there is no scientific/objective value to them and without analyzing why these surveys are being put forward and what are the objectives of those using them.

  5. I’d be interested in others’ views on this as well. What is it about Elmwood that works for people?

    I was downtown at lunchtime and again this evening and three of the things that don’t work for me are: 1) high school kids who can’t share sidewalks with other pedestrians; 2) high school kids who are loudly vulgar (f-this and f-that); 3) a gantlet of street people, some fairy aggressive.

    None of these is *horrible* but together they make the retail experience rather less than it could be. I can’t recall any similar experiences in the Elmwood shopping/restaurant area. At any rate, #1 and #2 on my list are definitely arguments in favor of closing the BHS campus!

  6. Hi Tracey,

    Honestly I didn’t see the restriction until I got to the question about business association membership near the bottom. By then I had filled out enough questions that I figured I’d see what else was on the survey and, oops, there was only one page. So, no malice on my part.

    It is interesting that the Elmwood survey sought resident input but the DBA one does not. I wonder why that is.

  7. Maybe the merchants from the Elmwood district could discuss what they have done right with the Solano Avenue district in North Berkeley. It would be so great to have a vibrant street on Upper Solano.

  8. Probably shouldn’t post the DBA survey link if it’s really intended to survey members of merchant organizations only. I was able to complete it and I’m not in any of those groups, dirtying their results.