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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.

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.

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