The new "rain gardens" on San Pablo Avenue have given rise not only to native ground plants and red maple trees but also to kudos and recognition from outside the city.
"They look really great," Assistant City Manager Karen Pinkos told the city's Arts and Culture Commission at its most recent meeting. "We've been getting a lot of attention. Other cities are calling Melanie (Environmental Services Manager Melanie Mintz), asking, 'How do you do that?' "
Mintz appeared yesterday in Albany, one of the cities interested in El Cerrito's project, to talk about the rectangular beds of California Fescue, California Fuchsia, Sticky Monkey Flower and other plants now growing where once there was only wide sidewalk.
"We wanted to show that aesthetics and environmental services really could be synergistic," she told a gathering convened by the Bay Area Urban Forest Council at the Albany Community Center.
Part of a joint venture with the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, the project consists of a 400-foot-long section south of Eureka Avenue near Yummy Chinese Restaurant and a 200-foot section south of Madison Street near Big 5 Sporting Goods. Both are on the east side of San Pablo Avenue and encompass 1.3 acres altogether.
Installed in the spring this year, the planter beds are surrounded by concrete curbs with notches that allow the rain water to enter the gardens from the street and sidewalk. The water sustains the plants and is filtered through the soil. Beneath the plant beds are sub-drains that carry the water into the regular stormwater drains leading to the Bay.
Similar projects exist in some other cities, notably Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore.
"It's bringing a little bit of the Northwest aesthetic down here," Mintz said.
Emeryville is currently installing rain gardens in sidewalk bulb-outs on Adeline Street between 39th and 45th streets, said Peter Schultze-Allen, environmental analyst for the City of Emeryville.
The cost of construction for the El Cerrito gardens was $250,000, which doesn't include the design work or the follow-up monitoring to see how much water is filtered and how much cleaner the water becomes.
The gardens, equipped with a back-up irrigation system for the dry months, are part of a long-term plan for establishing "sustainable landscape" along San Pablo Avenue, Mintz said. Other components include the Baxter Creek frontage project and drought-resistant plants in the street median and around City Hall.
Funding for the rain gardens came from federal stimulus dollars under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and from the California Clean Water State Revolving Fund.