WALNUT CREEK -- It's a "living wall" that shows few signs of life.
An original idea in the 1990s to provide a visually pleasing sound barrier has morphed into a mammoth dead weed- and brush-covered wall that many consider atrocious and want fixed. The 8-foot-high, 1,100-foot-long wall installed in 1996 buffers residents of Los Altos Avenue in the Rancho San Miguel neighborhood from traffic noise.
The wall runs along the south side of Ygnacio Valley Road, between John Muir Medical Center and San Carlos Drive.
Perhaps few on Ygnacio notice the barrage of overgrowth on the south side of the road as they whiz past. But the "living wall" was supposed to be a fulfilled promise by city leaders to residents who pleaded for years for a noise buffer from the increasingly busy street.
Instead of installing a typical concrete soundwall, city leaders decided to do something different, opting for a kind of wall that's never been built before in Contra Costa County.
At one time, the wall was filled with waves of colorful flowers and plants such as geraniums, jasmine and ivy that would change colors with the seasons. But as the years have passed, the once-flowering barricade has slowly become the dead wall, according to neighbors.
"It is appalling that the city spends so much time on aesthetics, yet this wall has been an eyesore for many years," said Debbie Frank, a resident who lives nearby. "The city should not prioritize spending money on new signage while a wall of dead weeds lines a major road. We want them to take responsibility and either make the wall work or replace it with a sound wall that is not an eyesore."
City staffers say they are trying to bring the wall back to life, though it's proving difficult. Work has begun on the wall, including the area behind it and a fence to people'shomes, said Mike Vickers, Walnut Creek's public services manager.
But the real problem is with the design of the wall itself. The wall actually consists of two vinyl-coated, chain-link fences that hold soil in between. The irrigation system and tubing, put in to water the hundreds of plants and flowers, has been chewed apart by rodents and squirrels, Vickers said.
"We can't access it without tearing the wall apart."
So the city has worked on a new way to deal with the wall, attacking it from the top.
In the past few months, city workers have replaced and repaired the irrigation system on the top of the wall and put in new plants with the hope that they will flower and drape down to cover the wall, Vickers said.
David German, president of the neighborhood's homeowners association, said he has not noticed much of a difference after the city's recent work.
Others believe the wall may have stayed alive had it been maintained, said Michael Ford, whose home backs up to it. He says some kind of sound barricade is needed and worries what will happen if the living wall isn't maintained.
"Basically, after three or four years, (the wall) started to falter and everything died, so that what we have now is not a living wall but a dead wall," he said. "And if nobody takes care of it, it will start to fall apart, and that barrier will be gone."
Neighbors have offered to help maintain and replant the wall, but Vickers said that is too much of a safety risk.
As for just replacing the wall, there is no money allocated for such a project, which would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Vickers said.
Back in 1996, the city spent nearly $650,000 building the wall. It sits atop concrete footings and piers, which go 15 to 20 feet into the ground to keep it stable during an earthquake. A 32-inch-high gray concrete barrier protects the base of the wall.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.