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By Heather World
Guerrero Street will get greener this fall, as volunteers descend on the busy street's medians to replace torn-up concrete with trees, brush, and plants.
"It's the closest thing to a block party on Guerrero," says resident Gillian Gillett, who has led the planting effort as part of a traffic-calming plan.
On Saturday, Oct. 25, neighbors zeroed in on the block between Cesar Chavez and 25th Street. They got busy planting arrangements designed by Flora Grubb of Flora Grubb Gardens, once located on Guerrero. Not all of the plants are native, Gillett says, but they were selected with an eye toward surviving heat from the blacktop, glare, and cars' exhaust.
"Sometimes it's 200 degrees there," says Gillett, who has measured the temperature while weeding, pruning, and picking up trash.
Since 2006, hundreds of volunteers organized by the San Jose/Guerrero Coalition to Save Our Streets have worked to widen and green the median strips on Guerrero. They first tackled those from 30th to Cesar Chavez streets; by December the group should reach 20th Street. Along the way, the coalition convinced the city to replace one lane in each direction of Cesar Chavez with a bike lane, reduce the speed limit to 25 mph, and add a light at Duncan Street.
When Gillett, a mother of two, first went door to door with a traffic-calming application five years ago, she spent hours listening to stories about people injured in car crashes and vehicles slammed into buildings. Now, she says, the number of collisions on Guerrero has dropped by more than 50 percent.
Support from the neighborhood has been overwhelming, Gillett says. Residents have donated hundreds of dollars and organized bake sales and neighborhood teas to add to grants and money donated from businesses like Safeway and Zephyr Real Estate.
Gillett says the green medians effort costs about $8,000 per block. But the city pays to lift the concrete, and blocks off a lane in each direction on planting day.
Volunteers show up rain or shine, happy to dig, eat, and listen to music from the Aaron Cohen Jazz Trio. The socializing has brought residents closer together.
"We have a dozen families who expressly stayed in this neighborhood because of this," says Gillett.
To volunteer, visit the coalition's website at www.sanjoseguerrero.com. Or show up at one of the upcoming plantings on Guerrero:
* 24th to 25th streets: Saturday,
Nov. 8, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* 23rd to 24th streets: Saturday,
Nov. 22 , 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* 21st to 22nd streets: Saturday,
Dec. 6, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* 20th to 21st streets: Saturday,
Dec. 13, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
* 22nd to 23rd streets: Saturday,
Dec. 20, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.*
*Demolition of this block is expected to begin in early November. The developer of a nine-unit condominium project recently received a permit to begin work.