Editor's note: Happy April Fools' Day!
In what some might call a Public Works mea culpa, Palo Alto officials are embarking on a new $7.2 million streetscape project to transform California from a loud, bustling shard-infested "destination strip" back into a quainter, quieter, kid-friendlier street geared toward local neighborhoods.
The project includes as some of its major components the increase in driving lanes from two to four, a traditional "bird-bath" water fountain, a narrowing of sidewalks and the replacement of recently installed glass shards in the sidewalk with a thick rubber surface billed as "injury-free" by Public Works staff.
"It's a little frustrating starting a new project just after completing the prior one, but our first and foremost concern is the health and safety of the community," said Brett Angles, assistant director of Public Works.
Mayor Karen Holman and the City Council will usher in the new project with a "ground breaking" event on April 7. Business leaders, neighborhood activists and various dignitaries will be on hand to sink a golden shovel into the recently repaved sidewalks on California Avenue and dig up the glass shards that were embedded last year as part of the project.
The new streetscaping project was sparked by growing citizen outrage over what's become known in the community as "Shardgate." The tumbled glass that was installed into the sidewalks last year by the city's contractor, Corona Fish, Tacos and Construction Services, was determined to be defective and has already resulted in four lawsuits against the city. Two of those cases involved bare-footed children who suffered lacerations from playing tag on the recently expanded sidewalks. The other two involved a stumbling rollerblader and a Pomeranian with a bloody paw.
Donna DeVito, a former member of the California Avenue Merchants Association, first flagged the flaws with the shards six months ago, when she brought to a City Council meeting a jar filled with colorful glass bits that had disengaged from the sidewalk. She warned at the Sept. 26 meeting that the tumbled glass fragments will result in injuries and lawsuits.
"I don't know who thought it was a good idea to install sharp pointy objects into the sidewalks, but this is a scandal! We're literally walking on broken glass!" DeVito told the council.
The city responded to her complaints by applying a slurry solution to the damaged glass bits, hoping that the cement mixture would neutralize the jagged glass edges. That, however, did not have the intended effect. After the slurry settled, the shards continued to protrude, prompting the council to undertake a more radical solution.
In approving the new streetscape project, the City Council acknowledged that things haven't gone as planned on California Avenue since 2009, when the city first began its ill-fated quest to turn the strip into another University Avenue.
"The message from the residents has been loud and clear," said Councilman Pat Burt, a frequent shopper at California Avenue. "The city is changing too fast there too much construction, too much activity. This is a rare chance for us to restore order and turn one of our most cherished business districts into the whimsical, eclectic and painless street that it was two years ago, before we dug it all up the first time."
Mayor Karen Holman agreed and quoted one of her favorite German writers, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
"In the wise words of Goethe, 'Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago.' " Holman said. "Our foremothers and forefathers decreed many decades ago that California Avenue should be a scaled down, neighborhood-serving, shard-free strip and I think it's incumbent on us to honor this decision."