Efforts to increase housing pushes out downtown businesses


Twenty years ago, six movie theaters were within easy reach of downtown Berkeley-goers. With the closing of Shattuck Cinemas in late May, Regal UA, on the same street, is the last one remaining, and the 90-year-old Art Deco building is soon to leave as well. Panoramic Interests, a cityspace development company, plans to preserve Regal’s front-facing architecture in its replacement of the theater with a 293-apartment, 17-story housing complex. 

The project includes space designated for people in a low-income bracket. The building proposal puts the structure at over 187 feet high — three times higher than the block’s other establishments. Four blocks down, also to be replaced by a high-rise, is the busy intersection of Shattuck and University where McDonalds currently sits. Trachtenberg Architects, which is also licensed in the Regal proposal, is working with Rhoades Planning Group to dismantle the corner to construct a 26-story apartment building that would, upon construction, hold the title as the highest building in Berkeley, according to Berkeleyside. Current Berkeley zoning legislature does not allow for buildings this high, but the developers are hoping to push against the 18-story restriction. Spats Bar, which neighbors McDonalds, would be reinstated in some form in the building’s commercial ground floor, but the fates of the other three businesses remain uncertain. 

Mark Rhoades, CEO of Rhoades Planning Group, is on the board of directors of the Downtown Berkeley Association and has lived in northwest Berkeley for twenty five years. His goals as a designer are to combat the inequities he sees in Berkeley’s housing system.

When Rhoades got started as a city planner, he realized the control the city of Berkeley had over its architectural projects was inhibiting construction progress. Old zoning laws were creating a housing affordability crisis and compounding institutionalized racism. 

“(We can even the) playing fields for housing equity once we build more, and build taller, to bring down the costs of new housing,” Rhoades said. “Over time, the new housing Downtown and along our transit corridors will help our community become a more equitable place.” 

However, Rhoades and his team still fight an uphill battle. In 1970, Berkeley voters passed the Neighborhood Preservation Act, which caused great “damage to our diversity and equity,” according to Rhoades. “(It was) institutional racism, but this time by the voters.” Forty-two years later, the act’s remnants impede progress in regards to Berkeley’s diversity.

“Even with all of the housing we are currently producing … our town has been on a sharp curve of a population that has become older, whiter, and richer,” Rhoades said. Some progress can be seen in the speed of which Rhoades’ new building is being established — while in past years getting a project like his permitted would take over seven years, one nowadays can be approved in four to five.

Of the large chain corporations that have closed, the Shattuck CVS pharmacy shut its doors during Berkeley High School’s summer break. In a nationwide shift in motive, CVS is shuttering eight percent of all its stores according to Monica Prinzing, head of CVS’s western region corporate communications. 

All prescriptions with the establishment have been shifted to neighboring locations on Telegraph Avenue, San Pablo Avenue, and University Avenue. 

“Maintaining access to pharmacy services in underserved communities is an important factor we consider when making store closure decisions,” read a statement Prinzing sent to Jacket. It added that there are four remaining locations in Berkeley, and that CVS’ decision may have been influenced by “local market dynamics, population shifts, [or] a community’s store density.” 

Smaller businesses have also been pushed out of Downtown, like restaurants Tako Sushi, Shen Hua, and Sushi California. 

For the owners of Sushi California, Berkeley’s construction has been an impeding factor since it opened 36 years ago. 

“Ever since (my husband) came to the Bay Area from Okinawa in ‘72 … it was his dream to start a restaurant,” said Jahlee Arakaki, Ryoji Arakaki’s wife and co-owner of Sushi California. Now in their seventies, the Arakakis have decided to shut down their restaurant. “You get tired of doing everything yourself,” Arakaki explained. As the owners aged, people with requisite training left the area and Sushi California’s service slowed. 

“For years, (Sushi California) was open 7 days a week, then (it became) 5 days a week, then lunch and dinner, and then just dinner the last fifteen years,” Arakaki said. In the “grueling” industry, reducing the restaurant’s hours was the only way the Arakakis could take time off for themselves.

The owners kept Sushi California open well into their sixties, partly due to the community the restaurant attracted, including BHS students. 

While maintaining the business during Berkeley’s developments, the associated construction is not always a bitter topic for Arakaki — next door to Sushi California, another residential apartment is being constructed, and she hopes that the next restaurant to take her lease can enjoy the type of next-door style patronage she and her husband desired.

Berkeley’s residents and store owners continue to stay afloat amidst a sea of inequity and unaffordability.