With California Avenue's long-awaited renovation set to begin in about a month, city officials are considering ways to support businesses and shuttle customers while construction is in progress.
The streetscape project, which has been in limbo since the City Council approved it nearly three years ago, aims to add vibrancy to the city's second-busiest commercial thoroughfare by reducing lanes from four to two, adding new plazas, expanding sidewalks and replacing streetlights. Since its approval, the council has undergone a series of delays thanks to lawsuits from merchants opposed to the lane reduction and revisions that have pushed the project's cost from $1.8 million at the time of approval in February 2011 to $4.7 million today.
While the city plans to maintain vehicle and pedestrian access to California Avenue during construction, officials are also looking at strategies to reduce the project's anticipated disruptions. According to a report from the office of City Manager James Keene, this will include an advertising campaign to support local businesses and the use of city shuttles to transport customers and employees from off-site parking sites to the commercial strip.
Additional strategies, according to the report, may include changeable message signage along El Camino, advertising and "extensive signage to direct customers to stores and restaurant and drivers to parking lots."
The city will also require the construction firm to provide regular updates about the project to the community and to have a point of contact available to address any concerns. The budget for this "business protection plan" is $30,000, according to the report.
The controversial streetscape project cleared its final legal hurdle in November, when an appeals court threw out a challenge from area businesses. Yet construction is once again being delayed because of a decision by the city to replace an aged water main before proceeding with the streetscape upgrade. This adjustment has pushed the beginning of construction from fall to January 2014, when the water-main replacement is set to take place.
The rest of the project will follow shortly thereafter, according to the report. The project is currently out to bid and the contracts are expected to be awarded next month.
In addition to the lane reduction and widened sidewalks, the streetscape project includes a a replacement of street furniture, including new benches and bicycle corrals, trees and plants, media racks and "seating walls." It also includes a replacement of the fountain at the Park Boulevard Plaza near the Caltrain station and a flexible plaza near Birch Street, which would accommodate civic events.
The Birch Street plaza could also lead to an expansion of the popular farmer's market on California Avenue. According to the new report, the Urban Village Farmers Market has applied for an amendment to its permit to expand its area of operations from Ash Street to Birch, a change that would increase merchants' visibility and accommodate an increase in vendors.
The project is being funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, $750,000 in vehicle-registration fees from Measure B, and $1.1 million in local funds. In the coming month, the council will be asked to make a budget amendment to make up the $1.7 million shortfall that resulted from the project's expanded scope.