By Doug Oakley
The number of "ambassadors" who roam the streets of downtown Berkeley reporting inappropriate behavior to authorities and assisting visitors is more than doubling to 16, representatives of the Berkeley Downtown Business Association announced Tuesday.
The newly revamped association, which started Jan. 1 with $1.2 million in new property taxes, held an official kickoff at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza.
The association took over for the former Downtown Berkeley Association, a fee-based association that had a $300,000 budget, and will use its new money to make the area "clean, attractive, safe and welcoming," said CEO John Caner who spoke before about 200 business people, city officials and residents.
The ambassador program, which started in 2008, will go from five members to 16. All 16 will have dual roles as ambassadors and clean team members who pick up trash.
Seventy percent of the association's budget will go to making the streets safe and welcoming, said Caner.
"When we proposed the new organization we knew downtown could be better and a business based district was the best way to do it," Caner said Tuesday.
He said 71 percent of 187 property owners in the area voted to be taxed to pay for the new services.
In addition to the increasing number of ambassadors, the new association has been involved in a "cleaning blitz" of the area for three months.
"From 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. we've been power washing the streets five days a week," said Lance Goree, operations manager of the new organization. "We've got it cleaned up, and now the hard part is going to be keeping it clean."
The cleaning crews say they have removed 25,000 gum stains and hauled off 8,500 pounds of trash. Crews have painted 71 fire hydrants, 426 light poles, 34 utility boxes and 92 trash cans. The association also has installed 180 hanging flower baskets and added eight flower planters.
Caner said in the coming years, the association will take on more responsibilities such as expanded marketing of the downtown, attracting new businesses and hopefully filling up some of the vacant storefronts.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.