The large orange planter pots that line downtown Santa Rosa sidewalks will be removed under a makeover plan approved by the city.
Santa Rosa Mayor Ernesto Olivares praised the plan to remove many planters, install bollards and establish consistent design themes for everything from street lights and garbage cans to benches and bike racks.
"I think this is an exciting plan. It's almost like a complete makeover for the entire Railroad Square and downtown area," Olivares said.
The idea is to update the urban streetscape to better reflect the downtown today, which has more restaurants and bars and pedestrian activity than it has in the past, said Raissa De La Rosa, an economic development specialist for the city.
"We're due for an update, because the avocado green faux marble countertops aren't working anymore," De La Rosa said.
Now that there are more restaurants with patio seating the pots can restrict pedestrian flow in places and lend a cluttered feel to the area, De La Rosa said.
In the early 1980s, Fourth Street was narrowed from four lanes to two and the sidewalks were widened to create a better experience for pedestrians, said public works director Rick Moshier. About 10 years ago diagonal parking was installed on the north side of Fourth Street along with numerous large planters aimed at bringing greenery downtown, he said.
Work on the Street Furnishings Palette Plan has been underway for about a year as part of the city's boarder effort to improve pedestrian and bicycle access downtown in preparation for the arrival of the SMART train station in Railroad Square, currently slated for 2014.
The city sought input from merchants and others in both areas hoping to preserve the unique character of seven different downtown sub-areas. The current plan only addressed two of the seven areas.
Railroad Square, for example, chose more ornamental features for some of its furnishings in keeping with its historic designation, while Courthouse Square selected more contemporary features, De La Rosa said.
Councilman Scott Bartley said he was pleased to see the changes because he often finds the sidewalks on Fourth Street downtown narrowed by the orange planters.
But Councilwoman Susan Gorin reminded her colleagues that the pots were installed in part to protect pedestrians from vehicles after diagonal parking was installed on the north side of Fourth Street.
Bernie Schwartz, owner of California Luggage on Fourth Street, wonders whether the upgrades should be the city's top priority downtown.
"In 30 years of doing business downtown, I have yet to have a customer who complained that we have too many pots or too few benches downtown," Schwartz said.
The plan and upgrades are funded by redevelopment dollars. The plan cost $48,000, and this year $257,000 is budgeted for the improvements, with another $190,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission grant to fund additional improvements, De La Rosa said.
She hopes some pots can be removed and the bollards installed by summer.