Three designs for the California Avenue fountain plaza were unveiled by Palo Alto officials at a community meeting Tuesday evening (Nov. 29).
The fountain plaza, or 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"-like fountain, which turns 50 on Friday (Dec. 2), was damaged and is not operational.
But the roughly two dozen residents that attended the meeting seemed pleased with the three proposals for the $300,000 plaza.
Landscape architects David and Linda Gates of Gates & Associates displayed three designs defined individually as "organic," "the grid" and "historic." Each of the designs would move eight diagonal parking spaces currently edging the plaza. Jaime Rodriguez, Palo Alto chief transportation official, said the spaces would potentially be added to another area near the plaza along the street, but not attached to the site.
Option 1, the organic design, would move the fountain somewhat further east into the plaza, creating 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 seat 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.
All three designs would shorten the pedestrian/bike tunnel. The 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 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 back 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 available 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. Bob Moss said benches in ell or u configurations would enable people to talk face to face, where 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 bicycle/pedestrian conflicts. The area leading from the tunnel to westbound California cuts diagonally across the plaza in the fountain's path, causing potential collisions between pedestrians and bicyclists. Residents 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 would most likely be held in mid-January. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the designs in March 2012, 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.