Park Street Business Association needs better communication, say some merchants

Park Street Business Association needs better communication, say some merchants

Lucinda Ryan
Heather Rider, owner of Monkey Bars on Park St., wants more PSBA transparency

Correction: An earlier version of this article offered inaccurate information about public meetings and approvals for the Park Street Streetscape project. Planning Board and City Council meetings held in 2009 and 2010 that were referenced in the article included discussions about a master street tree plan. The Project regrets the error.

A shop owner’s letter to the president of the Park Street Business Association has prompted other merchants to voice their concerns about communications between merchants and the association’s leaders.

Heather E. Rider, proprietor of Monkey Bars on Park Street, wrote a letter that was published last week in Alameda Patch and ran as a commentary in the Alameda Sun. The gist of the content was her concern "about the way PSBA conducts business" and a lack of communication between its board and leaders and its membership.

Rider was sparked to write the letter after reading an article in the February 29 Alameda Patch, http://alameda.patch.com/articles/park-street-trees-update, about the February 21 council meeting, during which Park Street Business Association executive director Robb Ratto said no one had come to the association’s board meetings for months to discuss the issue of the tree removal.

(For a condensed background on the tree removal from Central to San Jose avenues, see “Phase 2 street plan background” at the end of this story.)

Ratto also said if any association members had concerns about the trees, they should have attended City Council meetings.

Rider said she had attended association board meetings and council meetings until sometime in October to speak about the tree issue and to work with the city and the association to best handle the situation.

Rider said she stepped back from the discussion, feeling she had “accurately represented the concerns of both my customers and myself to the appropriate parties.”

During the February 21 council meeting Ratto also said the business association supported the city’s preference to plant smaller trees, which was not, said Rider, what she recalled from her discussion with the association’s representatives. She said instead their aim was for the public works director’s proposal to plant 20 percent of the new trees in 36-inch containers and the remainder in 24-inch containers.

Ratto declined to comment on the issue in a phone call last week.

Association Board President Lars Hansson told the council at its next meeting that the association’s preference would be for the city to plant the mix of 80 percent small and 20 percent larger trees. The council approved that plan.

Hansson said he and Rider have scheduled a meeting in mid-April and he believes they can resolve the issues that concern her.

Rider said it won't be a difficult challenge to get everyone to work together to improve the district.

Books Inc. manager Nick Petrulakis said the association’s representatives could do a better job communicating with constituents.

“The ability has certainly been there; we’ve been on e-mail forever, but I don’t feel the lines of communication are as open as they could be or should be.”

Association member and architect Veronica Hinkley-Reck, who did the Phase 2 renderings displayed on large posters in the downtown area, said though there are some “good representatives in the association’s leadership, more transparency about how the merchants’ fees are spent would be helpful.”

Kate Pryor, owner of Tucker’s Super-Creamed Ice Cream, said a number of business owners, herself included, would like to be more involved in the association’s plans but they feel they’ve “been totally excluded.”

She said the district “is polarized when the idea of an association is to draw businesses together.” She said it’s not uncommon to attend mixers where either none or only one or two board members are present.

Rider said there have been some improvements in communications since more association members have provided their e-mail addresses, but there is still room for improvement. She also said her beef isn’t personal, but there needs to be a better Park Street Business Association and there needs to be accountability, which would include employee reviews for staff and an audit of how the members’ fees are spent.

Lori Taylor, the city’s community development director, did not respond by deadline to a question regarding any audits of the local business association. But her assistant, Nanette Mocanu, division manager for the Economic Development Department, stated that since Taylor took the job in September, “she's wanted to beef up the reporting requirements done by our [fee-based] business associations. She has wanted the reports to be more detailed and in line with what other associations in nearby jurisdictions submit to their respective cities.”

SHOPPERS CITE SIDEWALK WOES

While the association is dealing with this, it has been relieved of one of its former tasks of handling the sidewalk cleaning.

Judy Wehe, senior management analyst for the Public Works Department, said the business association had an in-house employee who cleaned the sidewalks. Last year, the city took over the task and hired an outside contractor. The equipment needed to remove gum uses steam, but the machine currently being used is not a steam machine.

Nancy Hird, current advisor and former president of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, said she is very disappointed in the "big green machine,” referring to the riding machine that sweeps and picks up litter from the sidewalks. “It’s not picking up enough in terms of ground-in gum. The sidewalks downtown look really tacky. Something needs to be done; appearance is an issue in the downtown area.”

Former City Council Member Karin Lucas stated in an e-mail: “Park Street deserves to become a first-class business district. The excellent restaurants in the district benefit the city coffers with sales tax revenues. The city should improve the sidewalks on Park Street, which are now an ugly patch job. The fake brick intersections are cracked and damaged and should be replaced with real brick or tile. The problems have become much more noticeable since the trees were removed. Well-maintained business districts like 4th Street in Berkeley and Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek have uniform, clean sidewalks.

“Chewing gum on the sidewalks is a huge problem. Some businesses do not even remove it in their entry areas beyond the sidewalk. A few restaurants put outdoor seating on top of filthy sidewalks. The litter around the benches outside Peet's Coffee is a turn-off. One business I admire is (La) Penca Azul at Park Street and Santa Clara Avenue. They keep the sidewalk in front of their restaurant beautifully clean and also take care of the many attractive plants in front of their windows.”

Revenues for sidewalk cleaning come from an assessment to the district’s property owners.

PHASE 2 STREET PLAN BACKGROUND

Deputy City Manager Alex Nguyen presented a document for the public in response to the outcry over the banished trees. Following is an abridged version of his document.

The current project is the second phase of the Park Street Streetscape Improvement Project (between Webb Street and Central Avenue) that was completed in 2006. Its development process included numerous meetings between 2001 and 2003 to elicit input from the community to come up with various design alternatives.

A Citizens Advisory Committee and a Technical Advisory Committee helped develop the plan. The citizen-based committee included downtown business owners and operators, business association representatives and residents. The technical group included city staff from a number of departments, the Mayor's Committee on Disabled Access and the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society. A broadly advertised public meeting was held in November 2003 to present the final design. The improvements were well received by the public and the businesses.

Meetings were held between 2007 and 2010 about a master street tree plan which "acknowledged that trees on Park Street were performing unsatisfactorily, and that priority actions should include removing street trees along Park Street that are in decline and replacing them with new ones," the document says. The roots of many trees were raising the sidewalk from the Phase 2 area between Central and San Jose avenues that required costly repair and replacement, it says. This street tree plan went before the Planning Board in 2009 and the City Council in 2010.

The Phase 2 streetscape project includes roughly two new trees for every one removed, decorative/historic street lights, bike racks, bus shelters, and parking fee kiosks.

Comments

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Mon, Apr 9, 2012

Park Street's Phase I streetscape improvements were developed with extensive public input and received a thorough airing at numerous public hearings. Many of us who contributed to that process were surprised and dismayed when the Phase II streetscape improvements did not receive similar public review.

Had the Phase II project on Park Street been reviewed--as it should have been--by the Transportation Commission, the Planning Board, and other city boards and commissions, as well as the City Council, the tree fiasco
and other problems with Phase II would have been prevented or at least ameliorated.

The city's lack of transparency in this mirrors PSBA's oft-cited (usually in private) lack of responsiveness, closed-system governance, and its lack of financial accountability to the city and the public.

If PSBA adopted a more open and responsive business association model--like the one available close by in the West Alameda Business Association--it would benefit our entire community, including PSBA's membership. I wonder how long it will be before PSBA's powers-that-be recognize this?