Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 1, 2013

Byxbee Park plans still uncertain, but restoration goes on

Last 51 acres of former landfill are being covered, but fate of 10 acres still to be decided

by Sue Dremann

The 126-acre Byxbee Park, located at the center of the Palo Alto Baylands Preserve, is perhaps the most emblematic of the question of how the Baylands should be managed.

The park — formerly the city's landfill — has taken shape in stages. As parts of the landfill closed, levees and trails opened up, providing visitors with roughly 1 mile that connected the Palo Alto Duck Pond, Lucy Evans Baylands Interpretive Center and Harriet Mundy Marsh with the Adobe Creek Loop Trail that leads to Shoreline Park in Mountain View.

But the closure of the last 51 acres of landfill in 2011 has raised questions regarding whether the Baylands should forever be a dedicated open space, or if other uses can be factored in. Open-space proponents, including former City Councilwomen Enid Pearson and Emily Renzel, who were instrumental in preserving the land in the 1960s, fought hard to prevent the 2011 initiative Measure E from passing. The initiative reserves a 10-acre portion of the park for 10 years while the city considers if an energy/compost facility should be built there.

Voters approved Measure E, and a final decision by the City Council on proposals for the facility is expected in February 2014, according to Daren Anderson, Palo Alto's manager of open space, parks and golf.

Eventually, additional trails will open, and the elevated area will afford a panoramic view of the bay, Shoreline Park in Mountain View, the East Bay hills and all of the surrounding Palo Alto Baylands.

Large graders are currently preparing the site, rumbling over mountains of dark brown soil. The earth will create a foundation, and a protective cap will keep hazardous landfill materials from seeping into the marshes.

Nearby, pickleweed and cord grass, used by the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, cover the landscape in large swaths broken up by water channels that wind toward Mayfield Slough. On a recent afternoon, flocks of ducks and geese, disturbed by some marshland denizen — perhaps one of the native gray foxes — created a raucous rush across the water.

When capping is completed in a year, the city will seed native grasses over the area, providing cover and food for insects and small animals.

Anderson is also spearheading a new "vegetation island" concept — native flora planted in low mounds — that would help a variety of wildlife.

The area won't serve the clapper rail or harvest mouse, which stay in the tidal salt marshes and are not attracted to the drier upland area. But the city is looking at ways to welcome the scarce burrowing owl, a small bird that lives underground. Two birds previously inhabited the Baylands, but now they are gone. Only a few of the owls remain in Mountain View, Anderson said.

The Palo Alto Baylands and the rare creatures living there exist today due to the perseverance of several residents dating back to 1960. Pearson, Renzel and the late Harriet Mundy and Lucy Evans all have played prominent roles. Pearson and others launched a lawsuit that stopped a massive commercial development in 1961 and prompted the council to develop the Baylands Master Plan.

But the Baylands' future is not secure, Pearson and Renzel say. Despite climate change, the marshlands' fate lies largely with the will of the people to support keeping wild places wild, Renzel said.

"In the 1970s, there was a new appreciation of wildlife habitat. There was a huge movement to protect open space and wildlife," she said. But generations change, and with them, their priorities, she added.

Perhaps ironically, human progress did help create a greater appreciation for the Baylands. When Pearson first walked there in 1952, the marshes were not easily accessible, she said. But when the city knocked down 101 homes to make way for Oregon Expressway, it used the concrete and other debris as fill for paths and levees along the Baylands' perimeter trail, she said.

Comments

Posted by guy from wherever, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2013 at 10:09 am

I look forward to seeing some growth on the land. It looks like Mars and it just feels "dirty".


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Do any of the people that have anything to do with the planning of this ever go out there?

First - think - and then build some infrastructure.

The parking is inadequate. The facilities disgusting, and the trails unmonitored, and uncared for.

What would be nice is fixing those things, and then thinking about the human factors. The trail to Mountain View is a great hike or run ... but there are no facilities anywhere along the way. Myself and other people get caught out there answering the call of nature at the worst times.

There is really nothing there ... just flat boring fake hills, but it could be nice, but the only thing that has any features is the levee trails. They could be fixed up for hiking and running with some gravel or oyster shell like they did about a decade ago. For a while the start of the trail only was perfect for running.

The other thing is and you see it every day, dog poop strewn across the trail, or in the little bags provided left by the side of the road for someone else to pick up, if you cannot monitor people and their dogs, then disallow dogs out there completely. Let people walk their dogs where they can be monitored and responsible, because we see proof everyday that the average dog owner out there now is not.

Plant some trees but the benches and put some trash cans out there.

It might be a nice idea to have a Baylands users quarterly, bi-annually or annually where someone from the city walks around the Baylands and listens to ideas that people have about what people who actually go out there would like to see done.

One thing that would make a huge difference is something to improve or manage the stench from the sewage treatment plant. That plant is getting old and there has to be better technology to avoid that kind of stink. When I've gone hiking over near the Sunnyvale Baylands, they do not have the smell we do ... why is that? Does Sunnyvale know or have something that Palo Alto does not?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm

If you are really interested and have 3 hours to kill in Redwood City next Saturday (Nov-16), MidPen is having the last of their five "Vision Plan" workshops. -- Web Link

This meeting should cover the baylands -- earlier meetings focused on the hills exclusively.

RSVPs are encouraged but not absolutely necessary. This is your tax dollars at work. See PA Online article -- Web Link

Maybe 100 people show up, and it's the demographic you'd expect -- i.e. they look like hikers, except for a few who look like cyclists. A wish-list of feasible improvements has already been generated, and this is the public's opportunity to vote our preference on nature preserve expenditures, usage, and regulation. Not much time is available for discussion, but questions can be asked, and additional ideas can be submitted on index cards and rated by the audience.

This may have nothing to do with Palo Alto's infrastructure. I'm just a dilettante and don't know where Palo Alto money ends and the $30M/year MROSD money begins, but looks like their bayside bailiwick extends from Bair Island to Alviso.

As an outsider I found the format at these workshops a little off-putting initially, but one of life's lessons is not to criticize unless you have a better idea. It's clear that much work and thought and a fairly hefty professional budget has gone into this planning and public input process.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Hi Musical ... is the fact that Redwood City is in San Mateo country irrelevant? Do they include the Palo Alto Baylands, or are you suggesting just as a parallel effort what they do might be useful to know about?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 7, 2013 at 4:34 pm

MROSD -- Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District -- the agency with the purse strings.

From their FAQ -- "The District has permanently preserved nearly 62,000 acres of mountainous, foothill, and bayland open space, creating 26 open space preserves. The District covers an area of 550 square miles and includes 17 cities (Atherton, Cupertino, East Palo Alto, Half Moon Bay, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Monte Sereno, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Carlos, Saratoga, Sunnyvale, and Woodside)."


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