PLEASANT HILL -- The boundaries separating Pleasant Hill and its neighboring cities are often winding and seldom obvious, often leaving visitors -- and even some residents -- unsure about which city they are in.
City leaders hope a project to design gateway monuments reflecting Pleasant Hill's identity and character will help define its boundaries, spruce up its entryways and enhance its economic vitality.
The City Council included in the fiscal year 2014-16 budget $75,000 for the design process and $200,000 for construction.
San Francisco planning and design firm Wallace Roberts & Todd has held two workshops to solicit residents' feedback about what the monuments should look like and where they should be placed. A third workshop is scheduled for Oct. 7.
At the first meeting, residents said they love the city's "small-town" feel, strong sense of community and acres of scenic parks and open space. Enhancing the appearance of Contra Costa Boulevard should be a priority, they said, and the gateways should "reinforce a sense of place."
Additional elements, such as directional signage, landscaping, murals or other public art also may be considered. The designers said the city might also explore adding a mural or water feature along the Interstate 680-Monument Boulevard overcrossing to make it more attractive to motorists and pedestrians.
Unlike Walnut Creek, which has a well-funded public art program -- the eye-catching golden head-shaped fountain in downtown has proved to be a draw -- Pleasant Hill does not.
During the most recent workshop, John Gibbs, a landscape architect and urban designer with WRT, described Pleasant Hill as a marriage between a traditional suburb and an urbanized shopping district with open space and rural elements.
"Downtown is ready for that next level of maturity," said Gibbs, noting that the area has an attractive streetscape, entertainment, dining, shopping and a weekly food truck market.
But when he suggested that the creeks running through Pleasant Hill might be a design asset, Beverly Posner expressed skepticism. A Pleasant Hill resident since 1975, Posner described unsightly, polluted waterways clogged with submerged shopping carts.
"Maybe it could be a positive, but I think at this point it's a negative," Posner said.
Attendees at the workshop -- including about a half dozen residents, Mayor Tim Flaherty, Councilman Michael Harris and several city staffers -- identified the Interstate 680 overpass exit at Contra Costa Boulevard, Monument Boulevard, Willow Pass Road and Alhambra Avenue as a few of the top locations for gateway monuments.
Gibbs and his colleagues unveiled eight gateway design options that drew inspiration from the city's history, agricultural heritage, the unique architecture of City Hall, the surrounding rolling hills and the wooden fences that separate the open space from the road.
Two of the designs refurbish the existing gateway monuments by removing the canopy that often casts a shadow over the words "Pleasant Hill." Others include a white wooden arbor, a sculpted column with an inlaid tile or painted mural, and a modern pillar of steel and lighted glass.
Residents will be able to vote for their preferred gateway option on an online survey scheduled to launch next month.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.