Saturday, March 17, 2007

How Others See Us

(Originally posted on March 17, 2007 on a different blog)

Walking around North Berkeley it's plain to see how far this neighborhood has fallen. When I first moved here in 1975, and when I bought my home here in 1982, this part of Berkeley was an exciting regional shopping center. Folks came from San Francisco, Marin and Contra Costa to make their purchases and dine in our neighborhood.

We were known throughout the Bay Area for Chez Panisse, the Cheeseboard, Pig by the Tail Charcuterie, Saul's Delicatessen, Peet's Coffee, a fresh fish market, a fresh meat market, Black Oak Books, By Hand clothing, Zosaku fine crafts, Vivoli's Gelato, and other shops. The district was clean and folks cared even though you couldn't find a parking place for blocks.

Things started to go down not with the influx of the homeless, but when Denny Abrams --the public face of the Fourth Street Shopping District-- began poaching the most successful North Berkeley business for his project, which he continues to do to this day.

But, clearly, Denny is not alone to blame, we've become complacent.
We live in squalor and look right past it.

Recycling? Or garbage? Either case it's on the median in front of Black Oak Books.

Our landlords allow their storefronts to remain empty for years.

Once a thriving wineshop this storefront, and another around the corner on Vine, have been empty and neglected for years. Both are owned by Allen Connolly of Earthly Goods

Our merchants don't uniformly take pride in their sidewalks, their storefronts!

Long's loading dock or is it a garbage dump?

Imagine going to eat at Toyo's Japanese Restaurant and having to confront this!
Imagine going to Masse's Pastries to order your wedding cake, and having to smell this?

And we residents are as complicit through our indifference and disregard. We tolerate the decay.

Harsh words, I know, but this is what I saw walking around my neighborhood on Friday.

Anyone know why there's a garbage bag next to the trashcan on the corner of Vine and Shattuck on a Friday afternoon?

The ironic thing is that many of those businesses that were here in the early 1980s are still here today, or they have been replaced by very similar businesses.
Zozaku's gone but you can still find exquisite hand-made items at Terrestra.
Vivoli's gone but you can still by gelato in the Epicurious Garden.
The old wineshop is gone but Vintage Berkeley is bigger, better and prettier.
By Hand moved to Solano Avenue but we've four or five women's clothing shops in the neighborhood now.
The Cheeseboard is bigger and better than it was back then.
Black Oak Books is still open and hosting authors and selling books,
and Chez Panisse still serves world-class food to world's elite on a regular basis.

And the commercial rents are four or five times what they were in the early 1980s!!!
And homes in the neighborhood are literally selling for ten times what they sold for in the early 1980s!
Why do we tolerate this level of cleanliness? This might be acceptable in New York City, but this ain't New York City. This is one of the highest tax-paying neighborhoods in America!

Maybe what we need isn't a $3.5 million construction project/public plaza so much as a community clean up day!

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