Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 29, 2013

Planned dog park in north Palo Alto hits a snag

New options needed at El Camino Park after design violates environmental law

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's plan to give residents in the north part of the city their first dog park is now in limbo after officials learned that visiting pooches would be exercising too close to another local species — the steelhead trout swimming in the nearby San Francisquito Creek.

Now, city staff and consultants are struggling to find a new location in El Camino Park for the proposed dog run as well as another space where the historic, Julia Morgan-designed Hostess House could be placed. The house is currently at 27 University Ave., occupied by MacArthur Park restaurant. But a massive project proposed by developer John Arrillaga for that site would require the Morgan building to be moved.

The Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission discussed the dog-park and Hostess House problems Tuesday night, March 26. The project's shifting nature and large number of potential amenities have become a design nightmare for the city's consulting firm, Siegfried Engineering. Paul Schneider, the firm's vice president, described the exercise as "trying to stuff 5 pounds of potatoes into a 2-pound bag."

Parks commissioners proved sympathetic to Siegfried's and city staff's struggles to revise the design, which was approved by the City Council almost a year ago and included a dog park, two athletic fields, an expanded parking lot and other amenities.

But while lauding the efforts of the consultant and staff, the commissioners were blunt in their assessment of the new design, particularly if the Hostess House is crammed into the 12-acre park near the Menlo Park border.

"I don't think any of us like this plan with the building in the park," Commissioner Pat Markevitch said at the meeting, a comment that was not challenged by anyone.

Her colleagues agreed that the new design, with an option to place the Hostess House on a grassy field, tries to accomplish too much, leaving El Camino Park with virtually no open space.

Siegfried's new proposal shifts the dog exercise area — originally planned for north of Alma Street — to south of Alma, next to the park's two playing fields. The commission's concerns didn't center so much on the new location of the dog park, though, but on the changing nature of the park project.

"The issue is just that there's just too many things there," Chair Ed Lauing said.

Vice Chair Jennifer Hetterly agreed and took Schneider's metaphor a step further.

"We end up with mashed potatoes, not just a bag of crowded potatoes," Hetterley said, later adding that she thinks it's "crazy to try to include the dog park and the field and all the extra parking."

The discussion Tuesday followed more than a dozen hearings on the project spanning two years. In April 2012, the council approved the $2.6 million project that includes a dog park, with several members arguing that this amenity is sorely missing in the north part of the city. The city's only existing dog parks are at Greer, Hoover and Mitchell parks.

But recently, the city's environmental consultant reported that the dog run would infringe on the 100-foot setback zone next to the San Francisquito Creek, which is home to steelhead trout. Even with a chain-link fence separating the dogs from the creek, the site would be unusable because of environmental restrictions.

Siegfried accommodated the new direction from council by moving the playing fields, stripping what little open space was still available in the park design. Commissioner Dierdre Crommie agreed with the majority that the new design is too ambitious for the small site.

"I feel like we're not better off than when we started," Crommie said. "I feel we're squeezing in the dog park."

While the relocation of the Hostess House is tentative — the 27 University redevelopment hasn't been formally proposed — the city is considering El Camino Park and the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course as potential new homes for the historic building.

The commission didn't vote Tuesday on the new design, which would still need to go through reviews by the city's various commissions before it returns to the City Council for fresh approval. The project is expected to be completed in late 2014 or early 2015.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Paloaltogirl, a resident of University South
on Apr 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

It's hard to tell from the commissioners' quotes, how they are prioritizing the dog park. We need one in north Palo Alto, a big one. This is likely the only opportunity to get one, in the near, or distant, future. Dog owners, please let the commissioners know how you feel!


Posted by Just as Well, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 3, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Veterinarians say that dog parks are not a good thing. They promote dog fights and spread parasites. Proof of vaccination is never required, either, so potentially they spread illness among dogs. It is extremely rare that they are well-maintained or cleaned. Dog owners often do not clean up after their own dogs, and they usually share drinking water.

They just are not healthy for dogs due to poor hygiene practices!


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