Back to the Avenue

By Mayor Paul Fadelli

Now that El Cerrito has gotten through a tough budget year and we’ve hopefully seen progress on COVID-19, it’s time to finally turn our attention to the center and heart of our community — San Pablo Avenue — and begin assisting and enhancing our businesses and developments so we can improve our city and our long-term financial sustainability.

On June 22, the City Council passed a balanced budget with a small surplus and no new taxes. But we are far from out of the woods financially. Even with major new directives passed by Council to get us back on track, our city needs to make important long-term structural changes and refocus on ways to bring revenue to our city coffers.

That means we need to literally look up and down our major thoroughfare and around our two BART stations to see where we can help — by assisting planned developments, helping the businesses who barely survived the pandemic, seek new retail or other businesses that can fill newly vacant properties, and spend time and get the community involved to plan for significant new growth that will enhance our city.

There are a variety of things we can do and be aware of to ignite greater economic development. I’d love to hear more ideas in the coming months, but here are few things that businesses, our city and residents can do to jump start our lagging economic development:

  • Assist our local businesses, landlords and tenants in the post-COVID-19 environment by providing information on state and federal financial assistance. Aissia Ashoori of city staff is available to discuss grants that are available; contact her at AAshoori@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us (510-215-4361).
  • Work to shore up our city permitting process so critical improvements and changes needed by businesses can proceed in a timely fashion.
  • Encourage local residents to buy local. A new program established by the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce, I {heart} El Cerrito (elcerritochamber.org/shop-local), seeks to encourage purchasing from local businesses in ways that improve our economic stability.
  • Like the two new tax generating cannabis dispensaries opening soon on San Pablo Avenue, we should seek to find and encourage new businesses to open in this corridor where several future housing developments will be home to new residents — with new retail demands.
  • Now is the time to get involved and make your voices heard on BART plans to develop the El Cerrito Plaza Station with tax-generating new housing, possible retail space and a new library. On August 17, the El Cerrito City Council will focus on this development and how best to access the station with less parking.
  • Public input will be encouraged on forthcoming plans to improve San Pablo Avenue by the city of El Cerrito, when we update the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan. Also, the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee (WCCTAC), along with the Alameda County Transportation Committee (ACTC), is seeking significant public input into how San Pablo Avenue can be improved —from Oakland all the way to Hercules — in ways that will make our main thoroughfare more pedestrian-friendly and more amenable to all modes of transportation.

This is exciting stuff. El Cerrito must have an extended time for planned frugalness and healing after COVID-19 and its own budgetary problems. But, as we focus on getting back on track, attending to the economic assets of San Pablo Avenue and our two BART stations can help set plans for a better economic future.

This article first appeared as the cover story in the El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce August 2021 Byline Newsletter

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