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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Averting turf wars Averting turf wars (May 26, 2004)

Neighborhood group tries to head off controversy over Greer Park

by Jocelyn Dong

There's 1.5 acres of dirt and weeds near U.S. Highway 101, buffeted by a chilly breeze and the constant rumble-and-rattle of traffic.

Although it draws no more than a "ho-hum" from passersby, this undeveloped corner of Greer Park could become Palo Alto's next neighborhood controversy -- at least, in the eyes of the Midtown Residents Association.

Last week, the group issued a press release to rally the neighborhood at a meeting this Thursday about Greer Park. At issue is what the city plans to do with the land -- put in tennis courts, a small soccer field, a picnic area or something else.

"In Palo Alto, anything could be debated," said Annette Ashton, chair of the Midtown Residents Association.

She may be right. From traffic barriers in Downtown North to a split vote on whether to establish a neighborhood association in Southgate, any number of neighborhood issues have lately triggered differences of opinion, pointed exchanges of e-mails, and even emotional public debate.

"Realizing this subject has the potential to become a contentious issue, (the association) wants residents to air their concerns and make suggestions before the city makes any decisions," the press release read.

It further suggested that a "creative approach" would result in an outcome that "leaves residents feeling like friendly neighbors, not bitter enemies."

Greer is Palo Alto's largest park, save for open spaces like Foothills Park and the Baylands. Its 22 acres, located along West Bayshore Road between Amarillo and Colorado avenues, include a bevy of recreational options: soccer fields, softball and Little League fields, basketball courts, a picnic area, small-dog run, skateboard bowl, toddler playground and more.

With all of this activity, could the development of Greer's final 1.5 acres really stir up controversy?

In February, tennis players came out in opposition to a new proposal to put a small soccer field at Greer. According to the park's master plan, the acreage is slated to have six tennis courts, but the city is open to changing that designation.

In addition, parking space is scarce. On Saturday mornings, cars line local streets as kids take to the soccer fields. Neighbors who live across from the park may not look too kindly at a facility that would draw even more cars.

The residents' association is also leafleting the neighborhood to spread word of the meeting, as well as directing people to fill out an online survey on the possible uses of the undeveloped land. So far, Ashton said, 50 people have responded to the survey, posted at www.midtownresidents.org.

Richard James, Palo Alto's director of Community Services, is taking a more measured approach to the park's development, however.

"I consider this the very beginning of the process," he said of Thursday's meeting.

He pointed to three factors that could make any controversy unlikely -- at least, in the near future.

First, there's currently no funding for park improvements. That will change when major building projects get started in the city, and developers' fees pour into city coffers. But that won't happen for awhile.

Second, the city's plans to develop 6 acres at El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, known as the Mayfield site, will add two soccer fields, complete with artificial turf and lights.

"Mayfield will make a considerable dent in the playing-field issues," James said, affecting the need to put a field at Greer. The Mayfield site may be completed by September 2005.

Third, he said, he hasn't experienced any controversy with parks in the past, and pays most attention to the views of the residents who live closest to Greer.

Still, it doesn't hurt to start building a vision for the park, Ashton said.

Other ideas for the Greer parcel include community center, community garden, dog park, public-art structure, a second skate bowl or leaving it undeveloped.

"This is a significant resource we have here, and the public needs to chime in on what needs to be done," Ashton said. "We don't want someone in charge of our destiny." The Midtown Residents Association meeting about Greer Park will be held on Thursday, May 27, at 7:15 p.m. at the Friends Meeting Hall, 957 Colorado Ave. Richard James of the City of Palo Alto and Jared Tinkenberg, a resident who advocated for the park's creation in the 1970s, will speak. Senior staff writer Jocelyn Dong can be reached at jdong@paweekly.com.


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