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Downtown Berkeley debuts 'customer-only' seating in public plaza

Plaza by Downtown Berkeley BART Station
Chris Rycroft
Flickr / Creative Commons
Plaza by the Downtown Berkeley BART station, January 2022

Folks passing through Downtown Berkeley’s BART plaza will now see an area roped off for “customer only” seating along Shattuck.

The plaza was created back in 2018 with the stated goal of “creating a public space where commuters and residents want to linger.” The $13 million renovation project has added sculptures, sound installations and bistro-style public seating to revive foot traffic in the area.

The Downtown Berkeley Association says that safety concerns led them to create customer-only seating in the area near the coffee cart, Sliver Pizza, and Ike’s Sandwiches. Imran and Ali’s Coffee Cart—the only restaurant in the area that doesn’t have dedicated indoor seating—was a lead applicant for the permit.

There is additional seating outside the roped off area, but critics say this latest effort is a move to privatize a space that should be public. Homeless advocates say it creates a pay-to-play expectation for use of the plaza, and doesn’t address the root cause of any safety problems.

The chess tables along Telegraph Avenue and People’s Park in Berkeley are similarly contested spaces.

I’m a strategist and storyteller who’s loved audio — and radio specifically — as long as I can remember. After studying radio documentary at the Salt Institute, I contributed to Snap Judgment and WVTF News before bringing my storytelling skills to the marketing world. I’m happy to be back where I feel I belong: the public radio community.