Before the days of easy credit, planned obsolescence and instant gratification (ok, that’s pre-1980’s, folks), for most people it used to take years to outfit and decorate a home. Furniture was passed down, major purchases lasted a lifetime and kitchen remodels were practically unheard of. Formal living and dining rooms were often the only rooms that were seen by guests in middle class homes; the family spaces were pretty basic.
The same principal could be extended to our humble town: change has come slowly, carefully, over time as budgets allow. Because we are land-locked, we have not had the rapid growth that generates the kind of dollars needed to make an overnight transformation. But as our income demographic has shifted, so have our expectations. And so change has come to Benicia, project by project, step by step. If you compared our downtown with what it was 35 years ago, you might not recognize it. We’ve been dusted off, whitewashed and redecorated. Like it or not, Benicia has been gentrified.
Consider some of the improvements that have occurred over the past 15 years: restoration of the Depot, the complete overhaul of what was once lovingly referred to as “the spit,” now renamed as the First Street Promenade and Peninsula; the First Street Green, new signage, matching blue light posts and garbage cans, benches, additional historic clocks, signs, and markers, major upgrades to the intersections at First & Second Streets and Military West, additional public parking and new buildings providing retail and public spaces.
If these improvements spruced up an already lovely downtown, the most recent improvement, the dazzling, spectacular lights on 200 First Street trees was the frosting on our community cake. If you haven’t seen them yet, for heaven sakes, GO! I have seen people weep in awe at the sight and, I confess, I did too. So it would seem as though our redecorating is complete and our community living room is now in order and proudly awaits its visitors. So what’s next? Are we finished?
As it turns out, there is room yet for further refinements. A plan is in the works for restoration of/improvement to the land between the waterfront and B Street from First Street to the Harbormaster building, encompassing the First Street Green and the surrounding marshland. The City applied for a grant with the California Coastal Conservancy and an amount up to $140,000 was awarded in 2011 for the design phase. A committee is being formed with representatives from City commissions and local non-profit organizations. The design calls for paths and raised walkways, a possible plaza, landscape and streetscape improvements, additional parking, public sculpture, benches and signage.
According to Vic Randall, Management Analyst at Parks and Rec and Project Manager for the waterfront plan, states that the marsh area may see some restoration but will remain in its natural state, and that the plan also provides for a sea level rise assessment. There will be four community advisory meetings and 2 public workshops, one in the spring, one in fall. Once complete, the design will be submitted to the City’s Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission, which will in turn will submit the final plan to the City Council for approval. Randall says, “This ties in really well with what’s happening on First Street. It should also help increase participation at downtown events.” Randall is hopeful that future grants will cover the construction phase of what promises to be another great addition to our town.