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Landscape Designer, Greer Alley, sits in the close to complete redesign project outside the Rockridge BART station that she designed in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, July 26, 2012. The project, that has been in planning for the last 10 years, is almost complete giving commuters and Rockridge residents a new area to enjoy. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

Oakland -- Chain-link fences surrounding portions of the plaza at the Rockridge BART station are the last thing separating commuters from a lively place to meet.

New benches, landscaping and a sign will be unveiled in the coming months as part of a complete redesign to the open area below the station.

"It was just ivy -- really just dark and dank," said Greer Alley, lead landscape designer, about how the plaza previously looked. "There's sunlight now. People are really looking forward to using the space. ... People go to sun."

Acacia trees and the ivy were removed as part of the construction that began in March to bring more light to the area. With the non-native foliage blocking out the sunlight and housing rodents, community organizers behind the project found the area unfriendly to commuters and pedestrians.

"It was really to make sense of -- when you got off the BART train and down the escalator -- is to know where you are, that you're in Rockridge," Greer said about her concept behind the design. "Prior to this renovation, there was no sense of place."

Greer, who runs her own home landscape design business, is introducing native and drought-tolerant grasses to the plaza along with terra cotta benches and a compass rose so that commuters will know in which direction they are heading.

She has been planning the design for the last two years, but the renovations have been in the works for the past 10, said Sara Wilson, co-owner of Rockridge Market Hall and chair of the Rockridge District Association.


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The RDA and the Rockridge Community Planning Council wanted a change to the location because "you had this big dark hole right in the middle" of College Avenue, a main street for shops and restaurants, said Wilson.

Original ideas for the space included an outdoor theater and skate park. Interest in the renovations ebbed until former BART board member Bob Franklin became involved and the creation of a plaza became the general consensus among community members.

With the cooperation of BART, the organizations gained access to the space and the $216,000 required for construction. The project received about $176,000 from the BART access fund, money set asides for improvements from station parking fees, said BART spokesman James Allison. It also repaved the sidewalks in the plaza area.

The city of Oakland contributed another $40,000, and $20,000 apiece came from the RDA and RCPC to pay for the sign, lights and compass rose.

"These things are not easy for any bureaucracy to push through," Wilson said. "It needed refurbishing anyway so they were willing to bite that bullet and go forward with it when they could of just said 'no, leave it alone.' "

Wilson credited the community and surround businesses for securing the plans and funding.

BART does not have similar projects planned at other stations.

"That's a big thing for BART -- to let people meddle in their property," Wilson said jokingly.

Organizers have planned for the plaza to be done in August and intend to inaugurate it at Rockridge Out and About, an annual street festival in October.

"I can't wait for the fences to come down and to see people sitting on the bench and just reading the paper, reading, talking. I want the life to come back," Greer said. "We hope we'll hear people saying, 'we'll meet you at the plaza.'"