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Public outcry tables square name change

By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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The Auburn Urban Development Commission will hold off on plans for Auburn’s Central Square after close to 50 residents showed up to a public meeting Monday night to share their differing views on what parts of Auburn’s history the area should showcase. The commission, which is comprised of the Auburn City Council, made a motion to table two items that would have officially named the intersection of Lincoln Way and High Street as “Historic Central Square” and created an “Endurance Walk of Fame” honoring athletes. Both are part of the first phase of the city’s Streetscape renovations. Crews are currently ripping apart the intersection with plans to create a central plaza with public artwork, planter boxes, benches, commemorative pavers, a fire pit, living Christmas tree and more. The council instead directed city staff to communicate the vision of the Central Square with the public after several residents who spoke at the meeting claimed they didn’t know enough about the plans and said the process lacked transparency. “Tonight I’m here primarily to try to put a temporary stop to the runaway train called Streetscape and put Kevin Hanley’s (Central Square naming) resolution on hold until we do a bit of due diligence and have more of an understanding of what we’re doing,” said Michael Otten, president of the Placer County Historical Society. While Otten called for a stop of the project, others wondered if there was a better location for the Endurance Walk of Fame, such as the School Park Preserve. Others questioned whether commemorating endurance athletes and events on engraved pavers really captured the essence of Auburn’s history. Auburn resident Jerry Wilfley said Auburn’s true claims to fame were the discovery of gold 15 miles away in Coloma and the transcontinental railroad coming through town. “Those two things changed our country as much as anything else,” he said. “Why aren’t we taking advantage of that?” But others said it is endurance that makes Auburn unique. “We have one thing at which we are the best. Nobody can claim to be above us and that’s the Endurance Capital of the World,” said Gordon Ainsleigh, founder of the Western States Endurance Run. Ainsleigh said in the midst of a recession, Streetscape plans may be the best way to help prevent businesses from closing. “The most compassionate thing we can do is go after the mighty tourist dollar and save as many friends and neighbors as possible,” he said. Endurance Capital Committee member Harvey Roper said the pavers would be a visual claim to fame for the endurance sports that put Auburn on the map. Others spoke of Auburn’s renown worldwide for drawing competitors to the Western States Endurance Run and Tevis Cup Ride. After close to 20 speakers, the commission shared their thoughts on the proposals. After citing a majority of speakers opposed to the project, Councilman Bill Kirby said the endurance tiles dominate the square and called them “inappropriately excessive.” “I am absolutely opposed to going ahead with the cosmetic design,” he said. “I am 100 percent opposed without better consensus from our residents than I have.” Hanley made a motion to postpone the resolution in order to gain a consensus from the council. City Manager Bob Richardson was directed to find ways to share the proposed plan with the public, perhaps through a night meeting. Mayor Mike Holmes was absent from Monday’s meeting.