Palo Alto plans to break ground on an ambitious plan to redesign California Avenue in fall of 2013, provided the city can receive the anticipated funding for the controversial project.
The proposal, which aims to turn California Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly strip akin to University Avenue or Mountain View's Castro Street, has drawn opposition from some area merchants. A group of those merchants, including owners of Keeble & Shuchat Photography and California Paint Company, have sued the city claiming that the city did not adequately describe the project in its environmental analysis and did not analyze sufficiently the impact of reducing the commercial street from four lanes to two.
Though the Santa Clara County Superior Court ultimately rejected the suits, the litigation prompted the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to hold off on releasing the $1.2 million grant the city was expecting for the project. The city's Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez wrote in a report that the city expects these funds to be reinstated and available for use in the summer of 2013.
In the meantime, the city is banking on two $350,000 contributions from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) vehicle-registration-fee program. These funds, Rodriguez wrote, would be used to implement the latest revision to the California Avenue plan -- an expansion of sidewalks. The first installment of the car-fee funds will be available this year, though the city plans to "bank" this disbursement and use it in combination with the second disbursement to pay for the widening of sidewalks and landscape improvements.
The sidewalk-expansion plan is expected to add another $700,000 to the $1.7 million project, pushing the price tag to about $2.4 million. The city expects to spend about $500,000, with the balance coming from the car fees and the MTC grant. The Planning and Transportation Commission plans to discuss the latest designs Wednesday night.
Though the project has been pushed back by about a year because of opposition from merchants, the delay has afforded the city time to further revise the project design. The latest addition to the design is a proposed plaza at Park Boulevard. The plaza would include public art, a fountain, lighting and seating areas. It would also require the relocation of the existing fountain on California Avenue, near the Caltrain station.
"The California Avenue plaza concept revitalizes and improves functionality of the existing space by creating a larger, flexible space with ample seating and enhanced landscaping," Rodriguez wrote.
The city's streetscaping plan would add four parking spots to California Avenue, raising the total amount from 111 to 115. The street would include two 15-foot-wide lanes with "Share the Road" markings to "allow for comfortable travel between vehicles and bicycles," Rodriguez wrote. There would also be a 3-foot-wide "decorative street band" that would function as a buffer zone between parked cars and vehicles traveling on California Avenue.
The city plans to complete the design work by next spring and, provided it gets the expected grant funding, to begin construction in fall 2013.