LAFAYETTE -- City leaders this week gave the go-ahead for a project aimed at sprucing up parts of the downtown.

The City Council on Monday approved a construction contract that will bring sidewalk improvements to a portion of Mt. Diablo Boulevard, clearing the way for work to begin early next year.

The project will include new brick pavement, new streetlights, benches and bicycle racks, among other improvements, along Mt. Diablo Boulevard between Oak Hill Road and Mountain View Drive.

City staff says the project is aimed at increasing accessibility and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists traveling through the area.

A $1.96 million federal grant will fund much of the $2.19 million project. The grant requires the city to provide 20 percent in matching funds. The council on Monday approved spending $150,000 of Lamorinda Regional Mitigation Fee money and $140,000 from the city's traffic calming reserve on the project.

The council had previously set aside $350,000 for the project from its streetlight replacement fund, most of which was spent on design.

The lowest bid, $1,962,200, was nearly $300,000 more than what the city had estimated the project would cost. Despite the slow economy, there are several construction projects competing for bids, City Engineer Tony Coe said in his staff report, and some companies did not want to take on the administrative burden that comes with a project paid for with federal dollars.

In other City Council action Monday:

  • Council members agreed to stick with a review schedule for the downtown specific plan that calls for the Planning Commission to examine the plan and its environmental impact report concurrently.

    The Lafayette Homeowners Council had asked the city to certify the environmental review before approving the downtown plan. Planning staff said Lafayette has typically reviewed and approved both documents at the same time, particularly those for city-initiated projects.

    Residents can still bring their concerns about the review to staff or the council at any time, council members said.

  • The council approved a five-year extension that will reduce its rent for office space at Desco Plaza.

    Under the terms of the lease, the city will pay $20,475 per month rent beginning in July, increasing to $21,695 in July 2015. The city currently pays $25,442 per month for city offices, police headquarters and a conference room.

    The city can opt out of the lease in June 2015 or June 2016. City leaders are looking into purchasing the old library on Moraga Road to use for city offices and staff will likely move there in the next three to five years, according to the staff report.

    Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048. Follow him at Twitter.com/sosaysjonathan.

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