By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group East Bay
What to do about violence connected to drug dealers, transients and mentally ill who hang out in Berkeley's People's Park and on Telegraph Avenue is getting a lot of play in the City Council race for District 7 which includes both locations.
Another hot topic in the race is how to make it easier for businesses to thrive on Telegraph Avenue.
Incumbent Kriss Worthington, who has represented the area for 14 years now, is going up against George Beier, who is on his third try to unseat Worthington. Newcomer Cecilia Rosales wants to be the city's first lesbian Filipina to represent the area.
Berkeley City Council District 7 essentially follows Telegraph Avenue from Woolsey Street to the UC Berkeley campus and includes a couple of blocks on the north side of campus near Hearst Street.
Worthington said if UC Berkeley walked away from managing People's Park and handed it over to the city, the city could do a much better job keeping it clean and making it a place where a violent criminal element might not want to call home.
"If our park guys were managing it, it could be so much better," Worthington said. "UC Berkeley's neglect of that park is totally outrageous. No other city-run park in Berkeley is in such disarray as People's Park."
In addition, he said he would add pedestrian lighting on Telegraph Avenue to make it harder for the criminals to hide in the shadows at night.
Worthington said he has been pushing a property owner to build housing on a vacant lot at the corner of Telegraph and Haste Street in order to get more law-abiding residents into the area, and he was able to persuade the City Council to lift a city lien on the property to make it more attractive to do so.
A project by UC Berkeley currently under way across the street from People's Park to build student housing at the Anna Head parking lot should help in the same way, Worthington said.
Worthington acknowledged that the problems at People's Park and on Telegraph Avenue have been going on for years, and "there is a lot more to do."
Worthington said he has worked to speed up the permit process for businesses on Telegraph Avenue and he wants to extend that to other parts of the city.
Worthington said his work over the past 14 years like combating crime by getting police on bikes and foot patrols, create a plan for police to focus on areas where violent crime is spiking and create a rainy-day fund for the city to use when the economy is bad will be remembered by voters on election day.
"The No. 1 best predictor about how you will do in an election is what you've done in the past," Worthington said.
Beier said if elected he would like to see more outreach to people with drug and alcohol problems to combat the violence that surrounds People's Park and Telegraph Avenue.
"We need to encourage people on Telegraph to get treatment," Beier said. "The city has been doing some of that, but we need more."
Beier said he is watching how a first-time program that coordinates crime fighting in the area between UC Berkeley and city of Berkeley police works. If it is successful in bringing down crime in the area, he said he will look for permanent funding to continue it.
"The biggest problem we have is a lack of coordination with UC and city police," Beier said. "At People's Park I would like to see the meadow expanded, maybe put in a cafe and add recreational opportunities. It needs to be returned to the students." He would also put in video cameras to "stop the drug deals" and he would add emergency phones.
"I think all that is possible without infringing on anyone's rights," Beier said.
For businesses on Telegraph Avenue, Beier said he would eliminate a current quota system that dictates how many and what kind of businesses are allowed on the street.
"It's harder to get a coffee shop in there than it is a tattoo parlor," Beier said. "The quota system was put in place 30 years ago to protect the mix of stores at that time, but the economy has changed and the system needs to be scrapped."
Rosales said the main reason she decided to run for the District 7 seat is "the issues on Telegraph Avenue."
"There's been a steady decline in business there over the last 10 years because of the homeless, transients, drug addicts, alcoholics and people who just hang out," Rosales said.
"When you go looking for a place to eat, you don't go back, and when you bring relatives from out of town you are embarrassed," Rosales said.
She said the city needs a multiagency approach to getting people help. She would like to see a mobile health clinic in the area 24 hours a day.
"When you approach a person who should not be in the state he is, you come with police, a mental health advocate and a homeless advocate," Rosales said.
"I would love to make that happen as a standard."
Rosales said Telegraph Avenue would be much better off if the city allowed a grocery store, a hardware store and a sporting goods store to open there.
"I want to make it easy for business to set up there," Rosales said. "There are ways of making this work."