San Pablo: College Center at Abella

College Center at Abella Shopping Center (former El Portal Shopping Center), 2300 El Portal Drive or San Pablo Ave. at Laurie Lane, San Pablo. Map

A redwing blackbird, one of many in rain gardenEfforts to revive San Pablo’s failed 1960s El Portal Shopping Area led, after false starts, to transit-oriented housing and a colorful new shopping center, echoing the Hispanic theme of San Pablo’s commercial area and including a library and community center.

Swales and bioretention areas, most landscaped with bands of colorful but tough garden stalwarts, soften the parking areas. Although malls will never be prime wildlife habitat, in fall 2011 the broad swale above rang with calls of migrant redwing blackbirds, like the one at the top of the tree. Below, two years later, in fall 2013, plants had grown in densely. The cobbled drain from the parking lot is all but hidden.

Rain Garden/Swale along central walkway, College Center

Below: While most of the bioretention areas are colorful, some have a cooler palette, even a combination of redwoods, grass, and rushes. Click to enlarge images.

Many tough, common garden plants flourish in swales and bioretention areas.Rain garden with redwoods and rushes, College Center, San Pablo
Neat trimming and color, College Center shopping area, San PabloTough, colorful plantings, College Center, San PabloColor at coffee shop, College Center, San Pablo
Construction of retention, 2011, San Pablo Ave.2011 construction along San Pablo shows plumbing in bioretention areas
Above: Construction in 2011 shows typical plumbing, including irrigation pipes, drains from paved areas, and raised drain boxes that take high flows to storm drains, so that the sunken bioretention areas do not overflow.

Below: Finished area in 2013: Plantings require maintenance, and litter from pedestrians and stores’ temporary signs can collect.
College Center Bioretention Maintenance
College Center, San Pablo, Litter in swale