Palo Alto's bustling El Camino Park will soon be equipped with a new synthetic turf, a granite pathway and a dog park as part of a $1.4 million park-improvement effort the City Council endorsed this week.
The park, which is near the northern boundary of the city between El Camino Real and Alma Street, across from the Stanford Shopping Center, is already scheduled to become a major construction site in the coming months as the city prepares to install a 2.5 million gallon reservoir underground. That bond-funded project is now in the final stage of design.
To take advantage of this period of disruption, the council approved adding a host of new amenities to the park. The improvements, which would be funded by park development-impact fees, will also include new picnic tables, improved lighting at the soccer field and a new decomposed granite pathway.
The council voted 8-1, with Gail Price dissenting, to support the proposed upgrades.
The improvements are intended to address what Daren Anderson, a recreation manager in the Community Services Department, called a "critical lack of field space for soccer, softball and lacrosse in Palo Alto." The city performed a study in 2002 that showed that the city's current supply of playing space falls far short of demand.
Council members were also excited about adding a dog park to a section of the city that currently doesn't have one. The city's existing dog parks are to the south, in Mitchell, Hoover and Greer parks.
Under the proposed timeline, construction of the reservoir and the new amenities would take place largely in 2012 and early 2013 and the park would be reopened to the public in May 2013.
Water rates climb despite lower usage
Water usage may be plummeting in the Palo Alto and other cities that draw their supply from the Hetch Hetchy system, but water bills are flowing in the opposite direction.
The drop in water usage may please conservationists, but it creates a difficult dilemma for city officials across the region, said Councilman Larry Klein, who represents Palo Alto on the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency. The agency, which comprises 26 cities and towns, buys its water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which gets most of its supply from the Hetch Hetchy.
Klein said water usage in the SFPUC system dropped from about 175 million gallons per day in 2006 to about 140 million gallons per day in the current year — the lowest level since 1992. As a result, water agencies that were previously concerned about meeting the area's water demand are now worried about how to keep the water system financially sustainable.
The SFPUC is in the midst of a $4.6 billion effort to upgrade the aged reservoirs and pumping stations in the Hetch Hetchy system. The effort has prompted the commission to increase the wholesale price of water by about 37 percent. In Palo Alto, this will likely result in a 12.5 percent increase to the average water bill.
The council on Monday briefly discussed the proposed water increase, which is due to take effect in July, and will likely approve it next week as part of its approval of the 2012 budget.
Parents happy with report on emotional health
Palo Alto parents who have pushed schools to pay more attention to student social-emotional health said they are pleased with progress reported by school principals.
In a presentation on "student connectedness" to the Board of Education Tuesday night, five principals described an array of practices they use — for example, striking up conversations with students eating lunch alone — to foster tighter bonds at school.
"We make it a point to talk to students," Palo Alto High School Principal Phil Winston told the board.
"There's nothing more beautiful than asking someone how they're doing."
Superintendent Kevin Skelly said the efforts for better "connectedness" — which became a priority following a string of student suicides two years ago — represents "complicated and enduring work" for the district.
For example, 89 percent of Gunn High School students rated themselves "connected" or "strongly connected" at school in a 2008 survey.
But that leaves 11 percent potentially falling through the cracks — a worry for parents and administrators, particularly after the suicides.
Board members will discuss possible "focus goals" for 2011-12 in their annual two-day retreat, open to the public, scheduled for June 27 and 28.