A final design concept to overhaul a corner of Bernal Avenue on the edge of downtown Pleasanton into a more pedestrian-friendly intersection with improved traffic flow was unanimously approved by the City Council on Tuesday night.
Plans have been in the works since last year to add a second left-turn lane from westbound Bernal Avenue at the intersection where Sunol Boulevard merges into First Street, where the Pleasanton Unified School District office is located.
Citing worsening traffic delays on Bernal, the city approached PUSD at the time about right-of-way acquisition for approximately 5,400 square feet of district property, which would allow the addition of a second left-turn lane at Bernal onto southbound Sunol. Three design schemes and accompanying budgets were also presented.
The council in a 3-0 vote ultimately approved the first design alternative, which will expand the intersection north into PUSD property, and cost a total estimated $2.75 million. Mayor Jerry Thorne was absent from the council's Zoom meeting on Tuesday night, while Councilwoman Julie Testa recused herself from voting due to her home's proximity to the project site.
Senior civil engineer Adam Nelkie said the first option "has the best geometrics for the intersection" as well as the lowest construction costs and does not require building any large retaining walls.
Several heritage trees along the district property line on Bernal that are in declining health will also be removed to make room for the project but replaced with appropriate drought-resistant native landscaping.
Enhancements will also be added, like a sign incorporating the historic school bell on district property at the intersection's northeast corner, and creating a gateway feature for the area with a monument sign at 4725 First St. The materials used may include "rustic brick" as well as white stucco and Corten steel. Fencing around the district property will also be replaced with the new standard black wrought iron fence.
Vice Mayor Kathy Narum asked about starting construction sooner instead of waiting as is planned until summer 2022.
"Given that traffic is one of the biggest issues that residents are concerned with, and the financial situation at the school district, is there any way to get this under construction in the summer as opposed to waiting for 2022," Narum said. "What would it take, or is it even feasible to move this up a year sooner?"
City Manager Nelson Fialho said that even an expedited process "takes four to six months for the design element to get either way through, and that's assuming that we can turn and get these review elements all the way through."
"As much as I would love to try ... we don't believe we're going to be able to make that happen," Nelson said.
Narum then inquired whether the completion of work on Highway 84 will "give some alleviation on 680 and Bernal with residents getting off at Highway 84 instead of cutting through Pleasanton."
Traffic engineer Mike Tassano replied that he was "excited for the protected intersection," but even more about the progress being made on Highway 84 and the Interstate 680 express lane.
"Those are projects that, even though Caltrans doesn't like to admit it, they are capacity enhancing, which means that is fewer vehicles that are looking for local cut-through routes," Tassano said.
Construction on the Bernal-Sunol-First intersection is set to start in late 2021 with major work getting underway in summer 2022.
The council also unanimously approved a $361,200 contract with HMH Engineers for related design and biddable construction document preparation Tuesday evening.
In other business
* A presentation on Tuesday about the city's 2020-21 capital improvement program (CIP) budget included both an update from city staff and their assurance that plans for the Vineyard Avenue Trail are on track.
Every two years the council adopts a CIP to ensure the city's capital improvement and infrastructure needs are met.
City staff recently conducted a midterm review of the CIP to assure funds are available for approved projects; to change, add or cancel projects "so they are consistent with the current funding, workloads and scheduling;" and generally assure that everything meets council priorities and community expectations.
That review prepared by Fialho, assistant city manager Brian Dolan and finance director Tina Olson was shared Tuesday night.
The council accepted the report and posed few questions except for Councilwoman Karla Brown, who asked about the status of a planned skate park that she said a group of young people "are desperately waiting for."
Fialho said the project's design should start in fall and include input from the city's Parks and Recreation Department, as well as the Youth Commission.
The Vineyard Avenue Trail plan also received a number of inquiries from the council and members of the public. Fialho told the council that staff "will make every attempt to initiate the community outreach effort and do the engineering for the trail alignment" but first needs to "come back to the council and make sure all of the expectations are in alignment with each other."
"We are eager to come back to you with our work plan that you adopted a year and a half ago but went into effect last July 1, and COVID has impacted some things," Fialho said. "I wouldn't say because of funding but because of bandwidth and available resources from a staff perspective."
"What I can tell you for sure is we got funding for design, and I can tell you for sure that once the council reviews the amended work plan and means of priority ... we will initiate that process, work with the community, and work really hard to design that trail," he said.
Councilman Jerry Pentin empathized with one resident who phoned in to express their frustration about a perceived lack of progress on the trail.
"We have funding, we have a plan, but the city also still works off council priorities and unfortunately this was put into a second year," Pentin said. "We're just beginning the second year of priorities so, as the city manager said, we're moving forward with it now, so I know it's a long wait. It's not the answers you want but you can believe it's on track."
The midterm CIP estimates expenditures this year to be about $4.4 million more than originally projected last year. According to city documents, the total of expenditures of fiscal year 2020-21 are about $29.6 million, or a 14.2% increase from the previous year's $25.2 million projection. All of the projects are funded from revenue dedicated to the CIP, including $2.5 million from the city's general fund -- half of the original $5 million that was allocated to the fiscal year 2020-21 CIP in June 2019.
The midterm CIP has not deleted any projects, and recommends adding and funding an additional ten projects -- six new and four existing. The bulk of the $1.6 million for all ten projects -- $1 million -- would be for improvements like UV disinfection robots and ventilation system modifications. to eventually reopen city facilities to employees and the public, and come from the $4.4 million increase.
Another $230,000 would pay for major repairs to the Fire Training Tower, and $180,000 would be used to install fiber optic cable along Santa Rita Rita that will connect to the city's Traffic Management Center and "help facilitate managing traffic with real time data."
Other six-figure projects on the list include $100,000 for design of the Val Vista underdrain, $240,000 for the library roof and to improve six study rooms, add new electrical wiring, and retrofit light fixtures at the library, upgrading bicycle detection equipment at signalized intersections throughout the city for $150,000, and improving the city's water and sewer systems to better handle power outages for $100,000.
Staff have also suggested consolidating the $800,000 Pioneer Cemetery South Hill Improvements project "with the Pioneer Cemetery CIP Master Plan Implementation funding to create a separate project," though it does not require extra funding.
There are also several proposed fund level transfers: a $370,000 reallocation from the general fund CIP reserve "to cover a shortfall in the miscellaneous CIP general fund caused by the $2.5 million reduction," transferring $183,000 from the city hall office building and civic center site improvement reserve to the CIP reserve, and reallocating $720,000 from the traffic impact Bernal property fund to the traffic impact fees fund.
* A council review and discussion on the city's legislative framework with the 2020 focus areas has been tabled until later this month, citing Thorne's absence on Tuesday.
Originally slated for a possible vote that evening, the council is expected to eventually establish its legislative positions on several housing related bills for this year and ask staff to "monitor remaining legislation throughout the 2020 legislative cycle to determine whether the city council should take a formal position."
Narum said the framework conversation should be held off until Thorne could attend the Aug. 18 council meeting for a "robust discussion," but Testa argued the matter was "time sensitive."
"It's time sensitive; there are hearings on those bills, and you take away the ability for the entire council and the entire city to take positions on those bills in a timely manner," Testa said.
Narum replied that there would be "ample time" if the council waited until the Aug. 18. Pentin concurred and said, "There's time, these bills will be heard, and heard again."
"They could be stuck in committee, there's a lot of things that could happen, but I believe we have time, and confirm that we have time until the 18th to hear this item and have both of the Legislature Committee members -- the mayor and myself -- to share in discussion," Pentin said.
City staff clarified that council rules allow any item not subject to a legally or city-appointed deadline to be continued until the next council meeting or to another date that's agreeable to the majority of the council.
"I believe it is the right of any council member to extend, even though I agree with Councilmember Testa," Brown said. "These are time sensitive bills and I respect the fact that we have two people on the legislative committee, but nevertheless we have two people on the Water Committee, and it is still a vote of five individuals on this council.
Brown continued, "We only have privy to some small site committee meetings. It is not that we rubberstamp your leadership, we also have votes in these decisions and I know it's (Narum's) right to continue, but the jostling, us getting city emails five minutes before a meeting -- the sooner you get those letters of support or oppose, the more you can make an effect on the projects that come forward."