Palo Alto’s California Avenue Beautification Project Coming to a Close

Palo Alto’s California Avenue, the city’s proverbial ‘second downtown’, has been getting a $6.9 million facelift over the past year. The hope is to make the eclectic district, home of Palo Alto’s well-attended Sunday Farmer’s Market as well as numerous merchants, restaurant and businesses, more welcoming for pedestrians and to hopefully in turn, boost its economic vibrancy.

The impressive streetscape project entails widening of sidewalks, making the street two lanes VS the current four lanes as well as replacing all of the street furniture and lighting, adding new landscaping along the entirety of the Avenue, adding a fountain to the renovated plaza at Park Boulevard near the Cal Train station and creating a ‘flexible’ square between Birch and Ash Streets.

Before breaking ground, the undertaking faced four years of public hearings and passionate opposition from a group of local merchants. In August of 2014, the project encountered another challenge in the form of a 75-year-old water main, which was slotted to be replaced but during the process, was found to be too close to a gas line. This halted the project as the water main then had to be rerouted, something not in the initial scope of the plan.

The latest thorn in the project’s side has to do with its artistic glass-imbued sidewalk. As part of the California Avenue sidewalk transformation, pieces of tumbled, polished glass were embedded in the concrete, but, apparently, some of colored shards are coming loose and causing safety concerns. Designed specifically for use in sidewalks and similar to aggregate, the glass has no sharp edges, but contractor, Redgwick Construction, will resolve the issue at no additional cost to the city, ensuring the glittering walkway is not only spectacular but fully functional.

California Avenue merchants can finally see the light at the end of this year-long noisy, dusty and disruptive beautification tunnel. Many have reported losing as much as 25 percent of sales. Businesses noticed the detrimental economic ‘eye of the storm’ peaked when construction was directly in front of their establishments. Most merchants are optimistic that the dramatic redecoration will lure shoppers and ultimately increase revenue.

March 2015 is slated for the project’s completion, assuming all goes smoothly during the next 30 to 45 days. Once the dust settles, California Avenue will offer Palo Alto residents and visitors a pleasant place to grab a cup of coffee, savor a delicious meal and partake in a little retail therapy.