Shell Beach Road set to get $11.2 million redesign

A decadelong citizen effort to update a major segment of Shell Beach has finally succeeded.

More than eight years after the Shell Beach Improvement Group began formal work on a master plan that would eventually aim to improve traffic, safety and the look of the area along Shell Beach Road, the Pismo Beach City Council has approved plans for an $11.2 million streetscape redesign of the 0.7-mile stretch between Cliff and Terrace avenues.

“I’d like to thank you, council, for keeping the dream of Shell Beach Road alive for so very long,” Marilee Hyman said at the council’s meeting Tuesday. Hyman is a co-founder of the Shell Beach Improvement Group, which was created in 2006 to preserve and improve the atmosphere of Shell Beach for the enjoyment of its residents, businesses and visitors, according to the group’s website.

“Your decision tonight is going to make that dream a reality,” she said.

The council unanimously approved a funding plan for the long-awaited streetscape project Tuesday, amid overwhelming public support for the plans.

“This is going to be an incredible facelift for the downtown core,” Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said. “(It’s) much needed — a 10-year journey for that entire community really to get to this point.”

The streetscape project will move overhead utilities underground, install new streetlights and bulb-outs — or curb extensions — to slow traffic, and build a multi-use path offset from the road that could be used by pedestrians and bicyclists.

The project was initially expected to cost approximately $12.2 million, and would be funded in part by a $4.1 million Active Transportation Program grant from Caltrans. Other aspects of the project were budgeted through a combination of state and federal grants, city funds and credits from PG&E for undergrounding utilities, totaling $8.14 million.

That Caltrans grant fell through, however, forcing the council to consider other ways it could pay for the project in light of a shortfall.

At a meeting in October, the council considered and ultimately dismissed plans to finance the entirety of the project upfront, which would require the city to borrow several million dollars in loans, and directed staff to come back with options for how it could pay for the project in installments instead.

At its meeting Tuesday, the council decided to modify the project and eliminate plans for a “purple pipe” — or a pipe for just recycled water — because the city’s new recycled water project will remove the need for such a pipe, saving the city about $530,000 in project costs.

The city also decided to hold off for now on funding some of the extra redesign elements such as landscaping, bike racks, drip irrigation, trash containers and traffic signs, which will save the city roughly $473,000.

With those changes, the estimated total cost of the project was reduced to $11.2 million, with a budget shortfall of about $3.1 million.

The council unanimously voted to appropriate $1.2 million from the city general fund, and $1.9 million over the next two years from the city’s half-cent tax fund, with the hope that once completed the city would find the money to pay for the amenities they deferred.

“I can’t be sad about any of this, actually — I’m really excited that we are getting ready to approve this streetscape and fund it. I think it’s an investment in Shell Beach,” Councilman Erik Howell said. “I am, as ever, optimistic about Pismo Beach’s future, and this is going to be a great investment.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie