City Hall

The City Council's About to Sign Off on That Expansion of César Chávez Boulevard

Next week's council agenda makes it official: The long-talked-about expansion of César Chávez Boulevard and Pearl Expressway downtown, from Commerce Street to Live Oak Street, is on track to begin in December. The council is set to sign off on paying $12,473,920 to Tiseo Paving Company to do the job, which entails installing ....

... a six-lane divided boulevard with turn lanes, wider sidewalks, landscaping, pedestrian lighting, benches, trash receptacles, signal upgrades, storm drainage, water and wastewater improvements for Cesar Chavez Boulevard (Central Expressway) from Commerce Street to Live Oak Street and Pearl Expressway from Pacific Avenue to Live Oak Street. The contract will also include the removal of the existing pavement sections and be replaced by sod inside the Carpenter Plaza Park. One-way traffic operation on Live Oak Street will be converted to a two-way traffic operation from Olive Street to Cesar Chavez Boulevard (Central Expressway).
Says the time line, work will take a good long while -- till July 2014, which means, for the first time, I won't miss our old home at 2130 Commerce.

But that reminds me: When last we wrote about the project, it was when the city was trying to buy up those properties on Elm that need to be razed to make way for the expansion, including 2226 Elm, which was built in 1896 and is easily among the oldest still-standing structures downtown.

I called the owners of those buildings, including James Walker and Harvard Companies and Pete Fonberg, who owns 2226, to see if the city ever upped its offers. Both men said no -- and said they had no idea the city was but months away from beginning the widening.

Since January, Walker says, he's heard "zero from the city, so we have some talking to do." Fonberg echoes those sentiments.

"No, we haven't talked to anybody at the city," he says. Fonberg says that earlier this year, his appraiser and the city's appraiser traded numbers, which were way off, and he expects the city will just "proceed with condemnation and set up a board to hear it," ultimately resulting in a settlement or a court case. "And, meanwhile, where you had a viable property generating income, you're left with a vacant shell with little or no consideration. It's not a pleasing process by any stretch of the imagination, and if you talk to them they say, 'We did the right thing.'"

I spoke with Assistant City Manager Forest Turner this morning, who said Rick Galceran, head of Public Works, would be able to provide further details. I'll update when he calls back.

Update at 12:31 p.m.: Raj Guntnur, the senior project manager at Public Works in charge of the expansion, just called to confirm that the widening still involves demolishing those historic buildings. And, he says, the construction will take place in two phases: "All the construction north of Pacific will be done in Phase 1, and ll the construction south of Pacific will be in Phase 2, which is about 18 months down the line, so we'll have time to negotiate with the property owners, and if that fails, we'll go through the condemnation process," as Fonberg predicted yesterday.

As for traffic in that part of downtown: Tiseo, he says, "does a good job in managing the construction sequence, and will implement construction phase by phase and redirect traffic daily as needed."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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