Michelle Durand/Daily Journal
Left: The overhead utility wires on Middlefield Road are planned to be undergrounded as part of the makeover plan for the North Fair Oaks main commercial thoroughfare. Top right: County Supervisor Warren Slocum and Villa Latina owner Esperanza Vazquez talk about how a $12.5 million makeover of Middlefield Road will be good for business. Bottom right: Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen discusses the results of community meetings and a survey of what North Fair Oaks residents and business owners want to see improved on Middlefield Road.
The line between what is and what could be on Middlefield Road is Fifth Avenue.
On one side, the sky is clear above a shopkeeper hosing down the sidewalk under bobbing piñatas. On the other, the blue is crisscrossed by a maze of utility wires.
With a vision of the future, hours of community input and a $12.5 million pledge by San Mateo County, the length of the main North Fair Oaks thoroughfare between Pacific and Fifth avenues is on the path to put its wires away, too.
Undergrounding the utilities is just one key piece of the makeover meant to make the commercial corridor more walkable, more safe and more alluring to those who may not yet have explored the unincorporated neighborhood.
“It’s about time for people outside our area to come here and have an experience of Latin culture, said Patricia Bodella who owns a nutrition business.
Bodella was one of several Middlefield Road business owners who spoke with Supervisor Warren Slocum and others during a walking tour Monday of the area slated for changes under the banner North Fair Oaks Forward. So far, a community survey and meetings reaching out to 2,100 people have produced a list of what the residents definitely want — wider sidewalks, bike lanes and parallel parking. There is even a short list of ideas where they still aren’t agreed. Should the road be three or four lanes? And what about a median strip?
“They certainly have questions as a lot of us do,” said Bernie Martinez, manager of the North Fair Oaks branch of San Mateo Credit Union at 3117 Middlefield Road.
Some of those questions include impacts to parking and to business during construction. None question how the neighbor’s culture and flavor may change, he said.
Martinez favors the three-lane option because it will allow sidewalk widening and contribute to added safety which will in turn be good for business. Right now, Martinez said community members don’t feel like they are part of something collective but that the redesign will instill a sense of pride.
“It will make it feel like they belong,” Martinez said.
Three in four North Fair Oaks residents identify as Latino and its Middlefield Road businesses are a wide variety of auto repair shops, ice cream sellers, taquerias and pho restaurants. Visitors can see a dentist, buy agua fresca, wire money and try on western wear all within close proximity.
But Middlefield Road is also a popular connector for those driving to and from nearby Redwood City, Atherton and Menlo Park who may not even stop to check out the offerings. Slocum, and the business people he connected with yesterday, say they hope the redesign and utility undergrounding will change that.
Work in progress
The desire to spruce up Middlefield Road has been in the works five to six years but it was only the infusion of Measure A sales tax money that made revisiting the priorities a possibility, said Deputy County Manager Peggy Jensen.
In 2013, North Fair Oaks Forward launched to implement the North Fair Oaks Community Plan and outreach workers like Ellie Dallman went to work walking the neighborhood and meeting face-to-face with business owners and residents.
The last thing they want, she said, is for anyone to say after the fact that they did not know of the planned alterations to the place they live and work.
If the timeline holds, after a few upcoming community meetings on traffic and road options, the North Fair Oaks Community Council should decide on a recommendation at its Aug. 28 meeting and present those ideas Oct. 21 to the Board of Supervisors. The design and construction is estimated to happen between November 2014 and 2019. Jensen concedes that’s a big window but said the county is being conservative with its projections while also optimistic it will happen sooner.
Walking from Fifth Avenue toward Pacific Avenue, the challenges of Middlefield Road are apparent. Traffic, particularly large trucks, zoom down the street as pedestrians hustle to get across in time. Empty coffee cups and half-eaten bowls of melted ice cream pool on narrow sidewalks where joggers and families step into the street to get by others. Bicyclists share the road with cars.
The improvement plan calls for better street lighting, adding trash receptacles and possibly bike lanes and moving large standing utility boxes. Some have expressed interest in gathering places.
Parking will also be changed but exactly how is not yet set in stone. The preference is switching the largely diagonal spots to parallel parking but that does away with 30 percent of the stock, Jensen said.
The goal before changing anything is to first identify an off-street lot that can be used for parking, Jensen said. A garage is another, albeit more expensive, option, too.
Esperanza Vazquez, a 22-year owner of Villa Latina and a member of the community council, would like to see a parking structure because she said some motorists park on the street for up to eight hours a day, blocking spots for customers visiting the store which sells western wear and offers bill paying and notary services.
While the conversation continues nailing down the final design elements of the makeover, Slocum said there are some common desires.
“People want a safer neighborhood. They want safer streets,” Slocum said.
Upcoming meetings, all held at the Fair Oaks Community Center, 2600 Middlefield Road, Redwood City:
• The Fair Oaks Council will hold a study session on the traffic analysis, 7 p.m. Thursday, July 17;
• A community meeting on road options and traffic analysis, 7 p.m. Thursday, July 24;
• North Fair Oaks Community Council will make a redesign recommendation, 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28;
Update on redesign and next steps, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23;
• Board of Supervisors receives recommendation, 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21 in Board Chambers, 400 Government Center, Redwood City.
For more information visit www.nfoforward.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102