Berkeley’s Mr. Telegraph Ave. Honored by City

by Steed Dropout
April 13, 2015


Mr. Telegraph: last tour. Photo by Ted Friedman.

A big bunch of Berkeley officials, businessmen, and former street ambassadors showed up at Remy’s Restaurant near People’s Park, last week, to express its appreciation for Roland Peterson, Executive Director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, who was leaving his sixteen year job.

His departure from the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District, (TBID) after 16 years at the top, was not voluntary, he told Berkeley Reporter.

“In this job, you make both friends and enemies,” Peterson said. His departure from ‘the Bid’ followed criticisms of his performance in a TBID evaluation questionnaire. “The criticisms quoted me out of context,” Peterson countered.

But there was only praise, and lots of it, at his send-off.

“I didn’t know whether two, or twenty, would attend,” his send-off, Peterson said. More than thirty showed up, a who’s who of Berkeley officialdom.

Berkeley bunch at Remy's to honor Roland Peterson. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Peterson was charged with promoting TBID’s campaign to outlaw sitting on business district sidewalks, a measure that was defeated at the polls in 2010.

Craig Becker, president of the businessmen’s group Peterson served, told Reporter the group was seeking a successor [to Peterson] who would have “a different skill-set.”

Becker has received thirty applications for Peterson’s job, which could produce stepped-up marketing of the often troubled Telegraph ave. brand, he said.

Peterson, the spokesperson for Telegraph’s businessmen and property owners, had long lobbied for improved policing on Telegraph, which has noticeably improved, just as he is departing.

Peterson was not a supporter of Berkeley’s Peoples Park, echoing then (2010) District 7 council candidate, George Beier’s calls for “change” in the park. “Park activists would take an interest…that I was bull-horned off the park, in 1972, when it was still dirt,” Peterson quipped.
He was in high school at the time, he said.

“I live and breathe Berkeley,” Peterson told me, recently, at the Caffe Mediterrraneum, where he often conducted TBID business with TBID president, Craig Becker, owner of the Med. Peterson vowed to visit his old Berkeley haunts.

Many at Peterson’s send-off expressed their personal appreciations, characterizing Peterson as a stabilizing figure amidst the Berzerkeley aspects of Telegraph Ave.

Peterson–always dressed as a square by Telegraph Avenue standards–well-pressed khakis, starched button-down Oxford shirts, sports-coat, and fifties car cap. There was no doubt he was a man of the avenue, however.

I walked with him many times as he made his rounds, twice daily, on the avenue, checking new graffiti, vandalism, and street litter. Peterson’s direction may have cost him his job, in part, when TBID hired a costly team (more than half its yearly budget) of Telegraph ave. ambassador’s, who took over Peterson’s former clean-up role. TBID spent more than half its annual budget on the costly ambassadors.

“Did you foresee that hiring ambassadors might cost you your job?” I asked him.

“I knew it was the right thing to do,” Peterson told me.

Peterson has no retirement plans other than a three-plus week European vacation with his wife, Camille. With his extensive knowledge of California business improvement districts, he could be a consultant to California business districts, he said. He has been approached by political brokers as a candidate for city council, but the incumbent of his (then) district has the seat for life, he told me.

Peterson, Camille Peterson, Craig Becker, Doris Moskowitz.
Photo by Ted Friedman.

As many said at Peterson’s farewell, he was a figure of stability on whom they relied. Dave Fogarty, recently retired from the City Manager’s Office, sent a personal statement of appreciation from Washington state.

Berkeley Reporter said that he was losing a mentor, key source, and friend. “Roland taught me a lot about city government,” Reporter said.

“What I do best is government/ community relations,” Peterson said. He has a B.A. from SF State, in Political Science, where, as a student, he conducted a symposium on state politics.

Peterson remembers his first day on Telegraph for TBID, June 2, 1999, recalling the sidewalk chalking that day: “chalk nazis have taken over.”

Cleaning up after free speech chalkings and abundant graffiti, became as much as sixty percent of his job, but with the hiring of Block-by-Block Ambassadors–which Peterson supported–Peterson’s TBID role shrank.

Peterson remembers Russell Bates, a veteran South side activist, who was ordered by a cop, in 1999, to put out his cigarette, Peterson recalled. Bates, who bills himself as “the good Bates,” refused three warnings and was cited,” Peterson remembers Bates’ repeating, Seig Heil and giving a Nazi salute.

There were plenty of salutes, at Peterson’s send off, but no stiff-armed ones.

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