09-07-21 | Feature

Depleted Downtown Becomes Heart of Vista

Tony Lawson, ADL Planning Associates

Following the guidance of ADL Planning of Carlsbad, California, the City of Vista, California downtown was revitalized through a three-part renovation which was completed in 2020. A gateway arch welcomes visitors at both the north and south entries to the renovated Paseo Santa Fe district. Travertine stone veneered columns support an internally lit arch that displays "Vista" and "Paseo Santa Fe." The arches span 60' and features a hummingbird, the city's official bird.
Traffic is now reduced to two lanes and offers ample parking, traffic calming elements and Date Palms that guide travelers through the district. New multi-use development, shown in the background, is quickly replacing the once-blighted area.
South Santa Fe, (previously a section of Hwy 395) was a four-lane road that consisted of asphalt, had limited parallel parking, overhead utilities, minimal or narrow sidewalks, little vegetation, a mix of auto-oriented businesses, and was not pedestrian-friendly.
This graphic illustrates how the Paseo Santa Fe Green Street works. A ridge or high point that runs along the middle of both travel lanes directs stormwater inward toward a median strip with permeable pavers and outward toward the curbs. This double high point approach is referred to as an "M-Section." Below the median is an engineered channel that treats and filters the water before directing it to the storm drain system. Water from the parking portion of the street, along with water from the parkway and building roofs is collected in the street gutter, then directed to curb intakes at each of the parkway trees. Here Silva Cells provide a stormwater management system and a beneficial root growth area for the trees.
A bronzed plaque acts as a reminder of Vista's history in the avocado industry while also adding artistic element to the 'avocado capital of the world.
Located within the roundabout at Guajome Street, sits the "Aspire" sculpture. "Aspire" was created by local artists, Melissa Ralston and Robert Rochin. Each roundabout features a 30' diameter raised planter/platform which is designed and finished with travertine stone, a continuous "V" frieze, and illuminatead street name plaques.
Looking north, the phase 1 improvements makeup over a quarter mile and include the city's first-ever roundabout with "Prima Vista," a sculpture that was designed by artist Michael Angelo Venturella, and the northern project gateway arch in the distance. Trees now dominate the reduced asphalt street and articulate the parkway. The near-mile-long Paseo Santa Fe includes three roundabouts that eliminate signalized intersections, promote traffic calming, and provides prominent settings for the city's public art program.
In this view north of one of the roundabouts, what was once a road dominated by asphalt, is now a safe and inviting pedestrian streetscape. The Society of Municipal Arborist 2005 urban tree of the year, the Pyrus Calleryana, mirrors the street. At all intersections and roundabouts, bulb-outs shorten the length of crosswalks and create mini-plazas with seating, bollard lighting, information kiosks/columns, and fencing to buffer from vehicles. Belgard pavers were specified throughout the project for the crosswalks, 3' wide strips between parkway trees and Gaslamp-style lights.
The goal of creating a family-oriented, pedestrian-friendly streetscape lead the design team and the City of Vista to create these wide and safe paseos for shopping, strolling and the entire family, if only out for a walk.
As four bus stops were planned within the project boundaries, the city agreed to the creation of a custom shelter. ADL developed numerous 3-D design concepts utilizing SketchUp for review and selection by city staff. The shelter shown here is composed of a metal standing seam roof and a tall CMU panel wall finished with travertine stone. This wall panel was designed with a recessed plexiglass display for the bus route schedule and a slot opening to reduce the visibility impact and mass of the wall. A travertine V shaped seat wall is also provided for those waiting for the bus.

The City of Vista, located in North San Diego County, is about seven miles inland along State Route 78. The community has a long-standing history connected to early California Ranchos and the agricultural industry. Over the years, major highways in this area changed traffic habits and molded a new identity for Vista. The '395' became a highway in 1935. Prior to that it was State Highway 71. Since then, there have been several different alignments-the first version passed through Vista and in 1947 it was realigned again to follow the 15 between Escondido and Rainbow. Then, around 1948, Hwy Route 395 took over as the main street and the town became incredibly prosperous. Vista was even dubbed the 'avocado capital of the world' after hillsides were planted with avocados. In 1963, Vista became incorporated and developed into a vibrant multicultural city, however, the original Vista Santa Fe downtown area had lost its identity and began to struggle.
The Road to Renovation

Over the years, studies and community meetings were held to determine what to do with Vista Santa Fe and, when the redevelopment district was created in 2009, the City of Vista selected ADL Planning Associates to create and prepare a master plan.

ADL joined forces with Buccola Engineering of Oceanside, to prepare a streetscape master plan and bid-ready construction documents for the new first Phase of Paseo Santa Fe. Then worked with Dokken Engineering of San Diego on Phases two and three. Construction on the resulting three quarters of an acre streetscape-only project began in 2014 and was ultimately completed in December 2020.

The area, now known as the Paseo Santa Fe District, encompasses the South Santa Fe Avenue corridor between Vista Village Drive and Civic Center Drive. The city envisioned a mixed-use area with retail, commercial shops, restaurants, and offices topped with living spaces to revitalize this older downtown area.

The initial work was coordinated by the city's Redevelopment and Engineering Departments and was considered an aggressive revitalization approach to attract urban developers to redevelop the area. The vision was to transform this blighted, underutilized land into a premier destination-oriented, transit, and pedestrian-friendly district. Unfortunately, in 2011 Sacramento shut down the state's redevelopment agencies throughout California, leaving Vista with redevelopment plans but no funding to implement.
Still, the city and staff embraced the design concepts and, through creative problem solving, re-invented the project to enable its implementation. They focused on street improvements as a catalyst to attract private development. This process facilitated a partnership with an urban developer to introduce multi-use higher density housing with ground floor commercial along the revitalized street, near one of the city's light-rail transit stops. This public and private partnership provided a mechanism to move the project forward while public funding was scarce.
Construction soon started, and Phase I (.25 mile) was completed in April of 2016. However, while construction was moving forward, the city applied for additional funding for future Phases. Requirements with the grant lead to a consultant shift and in 2017, ADL teamed with Dokken Engineering, located in San Diego, to prepare construction documents and provide construction support services for Phases II (.20 mile) and Phase III (.30 mile).


The Street Plan

The design vision was to create a pedestrian-oriented, green, and sustainable urban oasis that would attract other private developers, commerce, restaurants, and urban housing.

One of the initial challenges was to create a street section within an 80' right-of-way that would standardize parking, lighting, street trees, incorporate green-street stormwater principles, and maintain a pedestrian-friendly parkway throughout. The team's goal was to create a layout template that would work as well in Phase 1 as it would half a mile down the road in Phase III, even though the existing businesses were quite different.

Historically, this portion of South Santa Fe had significant drainage problems. Tory Walker Engineering (TWE), a stormwater consultant, became an integral team member to address this critical issue by collaborating on unique design solutions to improve thousands of feet of underground drainage through low-impact design storm water treatment. TWE suggested an "M" road cross-section that utilizes three drainage low points, draining to the center of an at-grade median of permeable pavers and to the east and west side curbs.
Having experience with urban street trees and concern for their health and root growth, ADL suggested utilizing Silva Cells in association with the pedestrian-oriented street trees. The city was intrigued and embarked on a small test project to try this modular building block system that fully supports surface loads while providing loose engineered soil and volume for stormwater treatment. That test project was a success, and silva cells were incorporated into the plans. Once construction was complete, signage and graphics were placed on-site to inform the public of this unique project feature.

Taming traffic by narrowing it to one vehicular lane in each direction solved typical congestion found before the renovation. Roundabouts replaced signalized intersections, and landscaped bulb-outs were incorporated throughout and at intervals to minimize jaywalking.
Nine-foot-wide, angled parking was laid out on the entire west side of the street and shifted slightly to accommodate tenant driveways and utility vaults where necessary. Parallel parking with small tree planters approximately every 72' provided complimentary vegetation for the east side of the new roadway.

The Streetscape Details

Standardized curb-to-curb distances allowed for 12' minimum pedestrian promenades on both sides of the street. A parkway paving pattern was developed for trees and promenade lighting, improving the amblers experience with safety and shade. Gas-lamp style lighting and pedestrian scale trees alternate every 24'. The parkways were divided into three zones. The first, adjacent to the curb, provides a two-foot buffer to parked cars. Next, a three-foot utility/amenity zone is provided for public utilities, lights, street furniture, and trees. Last and most importantly, a seven-foot clear zone gives pedestrians an unincumbered walk. Custom-designed by ADL are enhanced pavers with bronze-themed avocado medallions that are found on the promenade sidewalk.

Plant material for the project was influenced mainly by functionality, effectiveness, and support from the city's Maintenance Department. Mature Date Palms were selected as a bold effect that directed attention down the street. Collar ring lights add dramatic nighttime illumination. Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticeer,' aka "Cleveland Select' was used for the parkways. This narrow, pyramidal-shaped tree was chosen for its size, upright form, and reasonable predictability, in addition to it being selected as the 2005 urban tree of the year by the Society of Municipal Arborist. The trees were located within 3'x5' cutouts in the paving with branded tree grates and tree guards. Each of these locations were prewired for future seasonal lighting added after the trees had sufficiently matured. At the roundabouts, Crape myrtles were selected to accent these locations. Lomandra breeze, Carex, Callistemon Little Johns, Bird-of-Paradise and other shrubs in smaller amounts were planted throughout the streetscape.

Aesthetic branding goals of a cohesive streetscape with rich, unifying features were of great concern for the city. Accepting the challenge, ADL developed initial concepts for a project gateway arch, project branding elements, unique site furnishings, and dependable, effective landscaping. "Vista Pride" was introduced and incorporated by injecting a "V" into tree grates, fencing, a precast frieze and into custom-designed benches.

To complement the nearby City Hall's architecture and offer rich and timeless material to the project, travertine stone was used on the design of the gateway arches, roundabout walls, seat walls, and iconic information columns. These nine-foot-tall columns with battered walls, two art panels, a "V" frieze, and an open info kiosk for city announcements were located throughout the project corridor.
The city also desired to highlight its public art program and feature pieces by local artists. As a result, large sculptures were commissioned by the city and placed in the three project roundabouts. Additionally, ADL designed the information columns with an art niche where individual mosaic tile scenes, by local artists, are displayed. There are 30, 16"x16" colorful tile exhibits scattered throughout the paseo. Custom tree grates and custom bronze avocado plaques were fabricated by Iron Age Designs. TB Penick installed all the concrete flatwork throughout.

River of Life

William Whyte, 20th-century American urbanist, sociologist, and mentor of Project for Public Spaces, once said, "The street is the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center." Back in 2009, ADL's approach to this project was rooted in the vision of South Santa Fe becoming that river, full of life and vitality, a shopping, dining, and strolling area recognized by the community as that "Center". The Downtown is now vibrant, revitalized, and attracts life and activity that few would have imagined for the dilapidated downtown years earlier. In recognition of this success, Paseo Santa Fe has received numerous planning and design awards, including the 2017 Complete Streets Award from the Circulate San Diego, (a non-profit dedicated to advancing mobility and vibrant, healthy neighbors), a 2018 ASLA Merit Award, and the 2021 APWA Project of the Year Award. That river of life does now flow through Vista.


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