After years of planning, renovations to the Rockridge BART plaza’s exterior began last week.
According to the Rockridge Community Planning Council’s website, the new configuration created by landscape designer Greer Alley was inspired by the community’s desire for improved seating and better lighting in the space. The goal of the renovation is to take a now-unusable area and create a community gathering space where community members may sit and talk or enjoy a cup of coffee.
In the coming weeks, the construction team will transform approximately 1,000 square feet of space. They will install benches and a bronze compass rose set in the sidewalk, arrange boulders and install a sign that will spell out “Rockridge.” A landscape architect will instruct the engineering crew about the best way to shape the landscape to resemble the rest of the Rockridge area, said Wai Chan, the senior construction engineer for BART.
Construction workers will dig trenches for the installation of new electrical lines and an irrigation system that is required as part of the redesign of the plaza area. The trenches and new electrical lines will be located directly across from the escalator leading into the BART station.
Already some changes have been made. The station’s bike racks were relocated last week, and the Acacia tree was removed from the area in front of the entrance to the BART station between College and Keith Avenues. It was donated to the Oakland Zoo to provide food for the elephants.
According to Chan, the work performed in the plaza will not interfere with traffic nor will it interrupt nearby business operations. The installation of the electrical lines and irrigation system will take place within the plaza area itself.
On Friday, workers were using a backhoe to redistribute mulch and wood chips around the Redwood trees that will remain in the space. Curious neighbors stopped to watch the work for a short time before moving on.
The machine is quite noisy, but business owners in the area said that so far, the construction has not adversely affected business. Carmen Varron, the owner of Cactus Taqueria across the street, said she is happy about the redesign. “I think it will draw more people to the area,” Varron said. “This area has been really busy all the time, especially when we have BART on the corner. So I think it will bring more people. Everything will be beautiful. It’s going to be another face of Rockridge and I’m really excited that it is going to improve the area.”
The refurbished plaza will be a nice place for people to have lunch, said Frank Womack, the owner of Maison d’Etre, which has been in the area for 11 years. He said he places tables out in front of his shop all the time because the neighborhood has limited public spaces where people can sit and eat.
“The area will be more aesthetically pleasing and add to the neighborhood,” Womack said. “Whether people stop or don’t stop, it’s going to make it a nicer place to hang out.”
Oakland resident Kira Gould said cosmetic improvements to the area are lovely as long as they do not come at the cost of funding something else, such as libraries or schools. Just last year there was a discussion about closing 14 of Oakland’s 18 libraries, she said. “I love the area and I love the walkability of it,” Gould said. “We use that feature of the neighborhood frequently. Any of those kinds of improvements are always welcome, assuming that they are not coming out of a fund that is taking away from something else that needs it more.”
Nine years ago, the Rockridge Community Planning Council began conducting surveys to determine what the community wanted in what they previously referred to as the “under BART” area, said BART Board of Directors District 3 Director Bob Franklin. Later, an architect drafted a design for the area that estimated the cost of the refurbishments at approximately $250,000. Since that time, the plans have been slightly modified, a new budget is in place and the project is now referred to as the Rockridge BART Plaza redesign, according to Franklin. The final cost of the entire project is now estimated at $500,000, Franklin said.
Both Franklin and North Oakland councilmember Jane Brunner said it was a challenge to get money for the redesign because leadership changed on committees and individual and business needs changed over the years. The Rockridge Community Planning Council and the Rockridge District Association contributed $20,000 each to the project, and the city of Oakland contributed $40,000. Other businesses in the area and Brunner’s office also contributed to the redesign fund. BART contributed the largest share—$400,000—using funds generated from parking charges collected at the Rockridge station over three years.
BART has actively participated in the development of this project, and in the end the agency will be responsible for the upkeep of the area, Franklin said. “Once this is complete, hopefully it will encourage other people to step forward and begin the process for another corner or an area that needs improvement,” Franklin said. “Hopefully this can serve as an example of improvements that can liven the area and make it more of a community gathering, useful space.”
“People walk up and down College Avenue,” Brunner said. “It is very pedestrian friendly and anytime you have places that people can sit and hang out, it actually helps businesses.”