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Our View: Back-to-basics approach right fit for Streetscape II

Our View
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High on infrastructure and low on frills, the second phase of Auburn’s Streetscape project is ratcheting up in Downtown. The Auburn City Council made the right choice for these budget-conscious times. The $820,000 project will include new streetlights, curbs, gutters and sidewalks between Elder’s Bus Stop and Pine Street, near the Old State Theater. Overhead utility lines will be installed underground, stormwater drains will be rebuilt, and buckled planting areas will be graded and reconstructed. A contingency reserve and a number of project alternatives, including paving, signals, sign pole painting and landscaping could bring the project to a little more than $1 million. While some might argue that $1 million could be spent more prudently, city leaders are wise in carefully extending Streetscape without the extras that made the first phase so crowded, controversial and, ultimately, unique. They’re also showing the value that redevelopment funds bring to a community when managed correctly. The Journal has been critical of Central Square’s complex mix of statue pedestals, informational kiosks, trees and landscaping for taking up a disproportionate amount of meeting space in the square. The square holds up well on nights and weekends for people to eat, visit and stroll the shops and stores, but special events are having an increasingly difficult time using the square efficiently. Throw in a large event like last week’s Amgen Tour of California stage start, and navigating the square becomes clumsy, almost claustrophobic. Tents and canopies, if not placed properly, get in the way of efficient foot traffic. The square’s amenities get bypassed or overlooked. That said, there’s no doubt Central Square has brought a cool vibe to the intersection of High Street and Lincoln Way, and continuing the look and feel of the square for another two blocks is a great way to leverage the earlier investment. By fixing the streets and sidewalks west to Pine Street, this project effectively ties the Old State Theater into the Streetscape plan – essential for continued expansion of the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center and connecting it to the thriving restaurant and business district just down the street. By the end of the year, it’s feasible to see large crowds attracted to a show and, architecturally and structurally connected to Central Square, spending a couple of extra hours dining and shopping. That would be a great thing for Downtown renewal. Against this backdrop, Gov. Jerry Brown continues to beat the drum for the demise of redevelopment programs like Auburn’s, saying the programs harbor waste and property taxes that could be used for state programs such as education, public safety and social services. Republican lawmakers, redevelopment interests and local government officials statewide have successfully defended redevelopment up to this point. Two senate bills – SB 450 and SB 286 – are currently under review to address the issue. If approved, they could create reforms, increase accountability and allow redevelopment agencies to contribute some $2.7 billion toward schools during the next decade, more than the $1.7 billion that Brown would capture by dissolving redevelopment agencies statewide. Since encountering some issues with project transparency regarding public art selections for Central Square early on, Auburn city leaders have been open, transparent and focused on delivering as much civic improvement as possible with the money they have. First projected as a 10-phase, $20 million project, Streetscape’s buildout is as certain as the economy returning to its glory days. In other words, there are no guarantees. If this is the last phase of the project for the foreseeable future, Auburn is getting a big bang for its buck.