Berkeley City Council Hesitates to Fund More Sunday Streets Events

Berkeley residents are clamoring for more street openings following the city’s first Sunday Streets event last October, where an estimated 43,000 people enjoyed 17 car-free blocks of Shattuck Avenue. But the Berkeley City Council has been hesitant to make a full commitment to bring back the events on a regular basis.

Photo: Judy Silber

Livable Berkeley, the sponsor of Sunday Streets Berkeley, has asked the City Council to set aside $59,098 for two more events in fiscal year 2013-2014 (which begins this July). On Tuesday, when the council considered the grant, council members approved only an initial $7,500, with the rest to be considered along with a vote on the entire city budget in June.

Council members roundly agreed the event was a huge success, and acknowledged the health and economic benefits such open streets events bring to the city. But some were reluctant to approve such a large grant just yet, citing the need to fund other city programs.

Sunday Streets Berkeley Director Emunah Hauser said organizers are “very encouraged by the Berkeley City Council’s unanimous praise for the success of our first event, and appreciative of individual councilmember pledges of discretionary funds.”

“We’re looking forward to the finalization of the budget in July with the city allocating sufficient funds to cover city-related costs for Sunday Streets Berkeley — a level of commitment that has led to the success of Open Streets around the country,” she said. “With the city as a partner, Berkeley can join the Open Streets movement for years to come.”

At the City Council hearing, Hauser touted a stack of supportive comments and an online petition which currently has about 950 signatures urging the city to fund continued Sunday Streets events.

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said that during the first Sunday Streets, surveys showed that business jumped 30 to 50 percent. “The police estimated 43,000 people. That is four to eight times what we had planned,” said Caner. “It was moving — the arts, the strolling, the community, and I think more than anything, what it was about, was building community, and the magic of coming together and sharing our public spaces. I think that’s what the revitalization of downtown is about, that’s what streets open space is about.”

Still, council members said they didn’t feel comfortable signing off on the funds without looking at the entire budget, and the amounts that would be given to other events, which, unlike Sunday Streets, are typically commercial-oriented.

“We have many groups that have been doing events for decades, and they get $3,000, $4,000, maybe $5,000 and those groups have been cut in recent years,” said Council Member Kriss Worthington, who questioned proponents’ claims about the increase in business during the first event. “It’s almost inconceivable that there could be an across-the-board [increase] of 30 to 50 percent,” he said.

Read more on the hearing and budget details at Berkeleyside.

  • If they don’t fund the events, they should put at least add some protected bike lanes on the major arterials — allow people to get out and get some exercise and get where they need to go without having to depend on public motorized transit.

  • mikesonn

    They aren’t going to give $50k so ask for multiples more? Um…

  • Emunah Hauser

    Open Streets projects aren’t true Open Streets Projects without multiple events per year. In some countries, Open Streets happen every week. In most cities in North America, they happen at least several times a year, and in San Francisco, more than once a month.

    From Sunday Streets Berkeley FAQs to the City Council:
    Frequency is key to the intent, spirit and definition of Open Streets. This is because the community benefits of Open Streets are tied to its regularity. Multiple events per year are crucial to fulfilling “the broader goal of promoting and extending the myriad benefits associated with active transportation,” (From the Open Streets Project Best Practices Guide.)

    Multiple events per year also help ensure program stability and sustainability because they provide economy of scale, economy of efforts, continuity of staff, and strength of relationships in the community, with business owners and activity leaders and performers, which is so crucial to Open Streets success.

  • Anonymous

    It’s perverse that something as simple as not allowing cars onto a road “costs” $30k.  Sure, that requires enforcement, but then allowing cars on the road also requires enforcement: we fund the police with public moneys and so enforcement is already paid for.  Imagine if the city demanded funding for allowing cars on the road, instead, if pedestrian access was the standard, not the exception.

  • yes, but that’s really besides the point.

    instead of asking for $50k for a throwaway party without cars, ask for $500k to throw away a bunch of cars for eternity. plan and build the protected bike lanes so we can have a party all day, any day of the year, for $0 cost.

    some city is going to propose doing something meaningful to allow biking eventually — it might as well be Berkeley. Berkeley has lost whatever street cred it had left — time to step it up.

  • mikesonn

    Berkeley lost its street creed because it never really had it. Much like Palo Alto, they like to act green but never take any steps towards actually practicing what they preach. They still want their Prius and free parking at home and at Berkeley Bowl.

  • mikesonn
  • @mikesonn:disqus wow that’s something, but…where’s the beef? to be of real significance in my book, we’d have to see something like:
    * two-waying a one-way street
    * creating a protected bike lane
    * created a buffered bike that would lead to a protected bike lane
    * removing a raised center median
    * etc.

    that plan looks like more greenwashing/bikewashing to me.

    too late and not nearly enough imo, but then again, almost everything is wrong in bicycle advocacy, so i don’t expect more at this point.

  • mikesonn

    I thought it was pretty weak also. Your first and last bullet points would be really easy to fix with little fight.

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