Tue09232014

Community Plaza redo not a priority: Editorial

There’s been talk recently about renovating Community Plaza at the intersection of Main and State streets. While we agree that the current design is underwhelming – too much cement, not enough grass, a rather useless gazebo – this is not the time to address the proposal. The city, especially when it comes to the downtown area, has more pressing priorities.

These include a downtown master plan that specifies the layout of the city center over the long term, including resolution of that pesky parking issue; construction of a parking garage, funded in part by in-lieu parking fees from developers whose projects eliminated parking spaces; and a redo on plans for a civic-center overhaul.

A major remodel of the plaza – sometimes called Rotary Plaza because of the project’s major funding from the Rotary Club of Los Altos – has been discussed for several years. City officials developed a new site plan six years ago that proposed closing a section of State Street between Main and Fourth streets to expand the plaza.

But taking on the such a project is not practical at this point. The city holds funds in reserve to rebuild city hall and the police station, a project it can proceed with regardless of a voter-approved bond. There’s even enough stashed away to build a parking structure. And, while city officials could spend in-lieu parking fees on the plaza, they shouldn’t. The first priority is addressing parking solutions.

Yes, an expansion and major refurbishment of Community Plaza could take many years. One less-expensive option is to work within the current footprint of the plaza. Raze the entire area down to one level; demolish the seat walls and the gazebo; add tables, trees and shade; and create a play space for children.

With less work and cost involved, the city could be better positioned to consider the project sooner than later. Even so, we’re still talking way down the road.

Talk of a plaza redo results from the fact that the city didn’t get it right the first time. Two decades ago, as part of an effort to renovate Main and State streets, the city oversaw construction of a plaza that – let’s be honest – was poorly designed. Case in point: the bust of downtown patriarch Walt Singer, with his back turned to traffic. Fortunately, the old stone benches and “decorative” granite blocks at the intersections from that plan have since been scrapped.

As for the plaza, it should remain as is for the foreseeable future, because, frankly, the city has more important projects vying for the attention of its limited revenues.

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