Seeking to create a visible and iconic community landmark, Palo Alto officially kicked off on Monday a design contest for a new bike bridge that would span U.S. Highway 101 and offer residents a new entryway to the Baylands.
After a lengthy discussion and extensive debate, the council voted 8-0 with Gail Price absent to launch a design competition for the new bridge at Adobe Creek, a $10 million structure that is one of the most significant projects in the city's bicycle master plan.
The contest would be overseen by the American Institute of Architects California Council under a $184,790 contract the council approved Monday. The nonprofit will solicit designs from at least 20 firms and then narrow down the field to three finalists. Each of the three would then receive a $20,000 stipend to further develop the concept.
The public, along with a five-member jury selected by the nonprofit and the city's Architectural Review Board, will all have a chance to consider these alternatives publicly and offer their preferences before the council picks a winner. The city hopes to have the new bridge in place at Adobe Creek by 2018. It would replace an existing underpass that is closed for much of the year because of flooding.
The council agreed Monday to slightly change the process that was proposed by staff and recently vetted by the Architectural Review Board. Changes included reducing the number of finalists from four to three, which is more typical in competitions of this sort, and having the jury deliberate publicly rather than privately. Councilmen Marc Berman and Greg Scharff had some reservations about the latter change and wondered if this would make it harder to recruit willing jurors.
"A lot of people simply won't participate in something like that, and I think we'd get a worse design from that, which is unfortunate," Scharff said.
But Council members Karen Holman, Larry Klein and Pat Burt all supported public deliberations, given the highly visible nature of the project.
"It would be very helpful for the council and the public to understand the thought process for how (the jury) got to the decisions," Klein said.
The council also debated the role of the city's commission in the process. Holman stressed the need for the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and its Parks and Recreation Commission involvement in reviewing the selections before the council considers them. Klein disagreed and said this would "muddy the waters" and create too extensive of a review process on the front end.
"What we're looking for is innovative and interesting designs," Klein said. "And the more people you get involved in this, the more you get design by committee."
The council ultimately agreed that the commissions should be involved in the review. Members also added to the design criteria for the new bridge an emphasis that the structure be sensitive to the Baylands habitats. This addition to the design guidelines was made at the urging of Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.
"I don't want see the city to embark on something that's aesthetically beautiful but is incompatible with the Baylands and the life in it," Kleinhaus told the council.
The city plans to start reviewing submitted designs in December and approve a design contract early next year.