The fountain plaza, known as Park Boulevard Park, is located at the east end of California, adjacent to the Caltrain station. The 1/4-acre area has languished in recent years and its "bird bath" fountain, which turns 50 on Friday (Dec. 2), is damaged and not operational.
The city is undertaking a $300,000 redesign of the plaza as part of its overall California Avenue Streetscape Improvements Project, which seeks to attract more shoppers to the retail district. The plaza redesign would create a focal point and community space for shoppers and residents, with shady spaces to meet and relax, according to city officials.
Added lighting in the plaza would improve safety near the train station and pedestrian/bike tunnel. The fountain would anchor the plaza visually, but the park could include tables for games and event spaces and places for bicycles, city officials have said.
Roughly two dozen residents who attended Tuesday's meeting expressed satisfaction with the three proposals by landscape architects David and Linda Gates of Gates & Associates.
The three options — labeled "organic," "the grid" and "historic" — would each entail the removal of eight diagonal parking spaces currently edging the plaza. Jaime Rodriguez, Palo Alto's chief transportation official, said the spaces potentially could be added to another area near the plaza along the street but not attached to the site.
All three designs would shorten the pedestrian/bike tunnel that goes under Alma Street. The tunnel's north wall would have an open area to let in light. The opened side would have some screening with trees or other landscaping in each design.
Option 1, the organic design, would move the fountain further east into the plaza and create a larger venue for events. Granite boulders could integrate the fountain with the surrounding park space so that the fountain isn't sitting in a bowl of hardscaping, David Gates said.
The design includes low seat walls for viewing the fountain and the addition of colorful, low shrubs along the western edge of the plaza. A curvilinear wall would sweep west to east through the plaza in an arc, overlooking a tilted grass plain. Existing pistache trees would remain, with others added along seating areas for shade.
Option 2 sets the plaza in a more grid-like pattern, with two trees at the western end that would branch up high enough to preserve a view of the fountain from down California. The plaza would appear more enclosed, with a series of "garden rooms." The event space would be further east than in the first option, but the fountain would also be moved east from its original position, Gates said.
Option 3, the historic option, would keep the fountain in its current position at the plaza's western edge. A series of trees would edge the plaza to the north, south and east, with seat walls at both ends. This option offers the least amount of space for events and has the least amount of lawn. A trellis could be added above the tunnel's new north opening, he said.
Residents added suggestions for how the seating could enhance interaction between people. Bob Moss said benches in "L" or "U" configurations would enable people to talk face to face, whereas the more linear bench walls would be more isolating. Jan St. Peter wanted to retain west-facing benches with a view of the hills and businesses.
Mike Eager suggested that changes to egress from the tunnel might be needed to avoid bicyce and pedestrian collisions. The area leading from the tunnel to westbound California cuts diagonally across the plaza in the fountain's path, causing the potential for accidents.
Residents also wanted the landscape architects to explore nighttime tunnel safety in greater detail.
Doria Summa said the existing problem of bicycle and pedestrian collisions stems from the retention of seven existing pistache trees, which have inhibited the design.
"The fountain belongs further back to avoid where bikes go," she said.
Several other residents agreed. City officials said three more public workshops would be held to gather community input. The next workshop is tentatively scheduled for mid-January. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the designs in March, with hearings before the Parks and Recreation Commission in March and the Architectural Review Board in April. Final council approval is scheduled for May. Construction is scheduled for fall or winter 2012.
A 50th Anniversary Fountain Celebration is scheduled for Sunday (Dec. 4) from 10 a.m.-noon. The free event will include apple cider and memory books in which people can write their recollections of the fountain, which was dedicated on Dec. 2, 1961, event co-coordinator Jan St. Peter said. Bulletin boards with images of the proposed plaza designs will also be posted.
TALK ABOUT IT
View the three design options on Palo Alto Online, and give your opinion on Town Square, the online discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.