Highway 101 plan moves forward

The much-anticipated Highway 101 streetscape master plan took a significant step forward Feb. 25 when the City Council approved $350,000 for preliminary engineering of the project many consider vital to revitalize the economic engine of the small city.

Conceptual design plans to improve walkability, parking and slow traffic along the 101 were completed in 2006.

Nasland Engineering will now pick up where those plans left off, conducting the necessary studies to determine which design features are physically feasible. By mid-September, they will have the engineering details needed to draw final construction plans.

“This is the next step in the vision to make it become a reality,” said Mayor Mike Nichols, who helped design the conceptual plans in his professional capacity as a landscape architect before being elected to the council.

Three community workshops will be held in the fall and winter to discuss Nasland’s findings and possible alternatives, with final plans presented to the city council in February 2010.

“We are very committed to this,” said council member Lesa Heebner. “I can’t wait to get this information to see how the design changes.”

The work is funded by the majority of the city’s $400,000 allocation of Proposition 1B funds, which was approved by California voters in 2006 and must be spent on streets and roads.

Once the plans are finalized, the council will provide direction on how to proceed with the project. Money has been set aside for the improvements.

City Manager David Ott identified $1.4 million in specialized funds that must be spent on transportation projects or along the 101, including TransNet and the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

However, not all city projects are looking quite so rosy.

“No General Fund capital improvement projects are funded for next year,” Ott said, referring to the city’s primary operating budget. “We simply don’t have the money to do all the projects.”

That includes expanding city hall and replacing its outdated heating and air conditioning system, repairing the lifeguard station’s roof and numerous wheelchair accessibility improvements, to name a few.

One of most significant projects that remains unfunded for fiscal year 2009-2010 is updating the city’s general plan, which is required by law and was estimated to cost close to $500,000.

Ott said the city may focus on updating at least the housing element in the coming year and finish to the rest when funds become available.

“We can’t keep pushing that off,” he said.

The local coastal program is another critical planning document that has been in the works for years and it is unknown where funding will come from to complete and implement it, Ott said.

Projects currently underway, including the Eden Garden sewer pump station, will continue as scheduled.

And some items, such as street repairs, will continue to be funded by restricted revenue sources like the gas tax and TransNet.

At budget workshops later this spring, city staff will work with the city council to determine what projects and services should take priority and whether or not to dip into reserve funds.

“We have to provide services, maintain our existing infrastructure, meet state and federal requirements,” Ott said. “That’s going to be our challenge to find money to do that.”