Playground structure torched in Palo Alto

Police investigating blaze that burned down a play structure at Hoover Park

Palo Alto police are investigating a fire that burned down a play structure at Hoover Park Wednesday night.

The fire occurred at about 11 p.m. in the east end of the park, which is located on Cowper Street in Midtown Palo Alto. Firefighters and police officers arrived at the scene to discover the structure, a combination of a slide and jungle gym, fully engulfed in flames. After talking to area residents, officers learned that several juveniles were seen in the park just before the fire erupted, Detective Agent Brian Philip said.

Philip said investigators are working to determine whether or not the blaze was intentionally set.

The fire was quickly extinguished, Philip added, but the play structure was deemed a total loss.

Greg Betts, Director of the Community Services Department, said the estimated cost to replace the structure would be between $50,000 and $75,000, Betts said.

The burned structure was located at the small playground on the east end of the park, near Keys School. The park also has a larger, more central playground on the western portion.

Betts said the city plans to replace the structure as soon as possible.

"This will be a top priority," Betts said. "This is an important playground for both Hoover Park and for Keys School."

Police are asking anyone with information about the fire to either call 650-329-2413 or to e-mail an anonymous tip to

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Like this comment
Posted by turn them in
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 8, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I bet half the local school kids know who did this. If you don't turn them in, you are contributing to more crimes like this.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm

That's not true... I bet more than half of the kids who attend local schools don't associate with playground arsonists.

Like this comment
Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jul 8, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

We recently corrected the story. Detective Agent Brian Philip said investigators are working to determine whether or not the blaze was intentionally set. Although several juveniles were seen at the park before the fire erupted, that does not necessarily mean it was an arson fire (there are a lot of young people who frequent the parks during the summer). Once the investigation is concluded police will know if the fire was accidental or intentional and we will update the story at that time.

Like this comment
Posted by Thanks, Tyler
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Good point, Tyler. Thanks.

Doesn't change the results, but does change the intent. I can see a bunch of kids hanging out, someone drops a match or a lit cigarette....

Like this comment
Posted by Keys should help
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 8, 2010 at 9:26 pm

How about having Keys Schools pitch in and help pay the cost of the replacement structure? During the school year, Keys School makes high use of the park for its students. It would only be fair for that private school to help pay the cost.

Like this comment
Posted by make the kids pay
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 8, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I trust PAPD to find the kids who did this. They need to be held financially accountable, whether it was an accident or arson.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm

50,000-75,000 to build a play structure?!! I can build a spec house in North Caroline for about 75,000! Bay area residents are paying WAY too much for construction labor that is mediocre at best.

Like this comment
Posted by assume
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 12:38 am

How do we you people even know this was kids? what if it was an adult walking by flicking their cigarette and not even knowing? Don't forget thats why we can't go skiing near santa cruz anymore.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jul 9, 2010 at 6:34 am

Is the park closed at 11pm?

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:20 am

"Philip said investigators are working to determine whether or not the blaze was intentionally set."

Spontaneous combustion of play structures doesn't happen, and I don't think we had any lightning strikes on Wednesday. Somebody did something to start this fire. They need to be held accountable.

Like this comment
Posted by turn yourself in
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:50 am

Responsible kids should come forward and report what they saw. Parents need to teach your kids responsibility, not cover up.

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:55 am

If you saw the structure, you would see that there is NO WAY a cigarette or match could have done this. The structure is metal and hard plastic, and it is totally destroyed.

It was a deliberate act of vandalism.

2 people were seen on bicycles rushing from the scene.

Recently the PVC pipe surronding the ball park was also intentionally destroyed.

Like this comment
Posted by Derek
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:21 am

I live right next to this park and agree that there is no possible way for this NOT to have been arson.

Interestingly, although perhaps not related to this incident, 4 kids on bikes ignited a LARGE firework on my street (El Dorado) just last week. That's pretty unusual for our neighborhood.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

FYI, Keys School moved last year to its new building on El Camino.

Like this comment
Posted by Altobelli
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:39 am

When the PAPD find the kids, they will slap them on the wrist and send them to momy and poppy assuming it is some kid who did this

Like this comment
Posted by Cindy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

Keys moved their middle school to El Camino, they still have elementary school in that same location.

If it is arson, this is a serious crime. I think it was arson that burned that elementary school in San Jose last week. This is not just an innocent prank.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2010 at 11:54 am

Does Keys School pay the city for their regular use of the park? Why is staff jumping to serve them? PAUSD schools provide playgrounds and play structures for funded by taxpayers for their students.

When the PTA and local businesses reserve public park space for off-site events, we pay fees for use of the picnic and playground areas. Several local private schools are heavily using our parks EVERY DAY as extensions of their business facilities. How is the city being compensated for the additional wear and tear and maintenance costs of this use? It seems only fair that private schools should have to pay, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Marcia
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm

What is wrong with people? Destroying public(and private) property for pleasure shows a disheatening lack of regard for one's. community. I hope that parents will talk to their kids and teens about valuing and protecting space and facilities that are open for community use. Palo Altans need to help their children and youth understand how privileged they are to live here and that is it morally and legally criminal to wantonlly destroy things that other people could otherwise use and enjoy.

Like this comment
Posted by Queen bee
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Good question about keyes school. I live next to park and they get that fabulous deal of a public park for a private school. They still have a campus there.

Like this comment
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Parents who send their children to private schools pay for those private schools. They also pay taxes for public schools, which their children do not attend, and for public parks. They do not get a tax refund for not utilizing the public schools being provided to the "public." So why should these parents now be charged extra because they are using public parks that they paid for? And why does every story, even a story about a disturbing case of arson, have to turn into another excuse to covet your neighbor's pocketbook.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Forensic evidence will identify the fire accelerant used.
Kids on bikes could be co incidental
The quoted price for a replacement structure seems very excessive, kids would be better off running around the field or doing jumping jacks, or reading.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Kimberly, while you may find that "offset" thinking fair, I don't think it is enshrined in the city code. Besides, aren't there many non-Palo Alto kids at most private schools in town, whose parents don't pay taxes here? Is it ok to covet their pocketbook?

As others pointed out, when any private group wants to have an organized event at a public park, they generally have to pay something - even if they already pay taxes that support the park. We had a privately organized "camp" at a city park for half a dozen special needs kids for 4 days one summer - I believe we paid a couple hundred dollars for a permit. Seemed reasonable.

I found this on the city's special event permit application:

Any organized activity involving the use of, or having an impact upon, public property, facilities, public parks, sidewalks, or street areas requires a special event permit.

So it would seem sensible if a private organization, including a school, makes regular organized use of a public facility, they would need a permit, which would entail some kind of fee. I think it is a fair question regarding Keys.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2010 at 6:44 pm

I think it would be fair for any private school or preschool who use a park on a daily basis for pe or recess should be paying a fee. After all, when we put our kids into AYSO, Little League or other sports, they have to pay a fee to the City and that fee has just been increased. Most schools and preschools have their own playground area and field for pe/sports and have to pay for the upkeep. If a private school is getting "free" use of the parks instead of having their own facilities then it doesn't seem right. Also, if they are taking over an area of the park somuchso that others can't use that area at the same time, then once again that does not seem right.

However, if Keys or any school uses the park only occasionally, then they have as much right as anyone else.

As with any time we go to the park, if we make a reservation with the City then we should be able to use the part of the park which is a group site we have reserved. But otherwise, it would be first come, first served and anyone has the right to use that part of the park.

I am not sure if reservations can be made for Cowper Park the same way that Mitchell Park and Greer Park can be reserved for picnic areas.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 7:01 pm

No one uses Hoover Park during the day apart from old people who love to see children playing, of greater concern are the hoards of soccer players and fans from other towns who crowd JLS and other field on the weekends-- as there are no toilet facilities they go in the bushes and create noise and parking problems.
Hoover has other play structures, it does not make sense to rebuild at such great expense, a few balls and skipping ropes are better exercise for kids.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm

My wife and I walked there last evening. The singed branches on 3 adjacent trees, the lack of sufficient combustible material on the play structure, and the large burn area on the wood chips, lead me to believe this fire may have been arson.
We see young people in the park every summer night smoking and drinking but usually not being a nuisance, just young and self-medicating. I hope this doesn't result in more over-reaction in the way of curfews, cameras, or restrictions on time of park use.

What is needed are parents who put a priority on knowing where their kids are and who they are with. Also, local residents need to use the park more at night and be alert for rowdy groups of kids. Its too bad that lawyers and laws don't allow citizens to yell at other people's kids like they could when I was a young rowdy. We have become a remote control, click through culture, giving our power to "authorities" like cops and schools instead of taking it like adults and parents.

Like this comment
Posted by Nancy Crewdson
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:13 pm

I don't understand how this can be a judgement against Keys School, AYSO, Little League, or any other entity beside the creeps who committed a deliberate act of evil against our community.

This is a lovely PUBLIC park open to the PUBLIC.

I just moved downsised from a private home ownership near Lucie Stern to an apartment adjacent to Hoover Park. My church, St Mark's, borders on the park. I have attended countless Little League games at Hoover Park. I have often brought my dog to the public dog run here. I have teenagers and young adult children who have been schooled at both private and PA public schools. I own a small businees in downtown which has had to cope with the recession change in global economies. My son was walking our dog in the park at the time of the event, and reported it to 911.

It was a deliberate act, senseless, and wrong.

The issue is simoly this: one or more persons have committed an act of vandalism. In this case, it was against a public facility affecting our children and families.

There has been great emphasis in the last few years about mental health, appropriate reactions to stress and coping strategies of our teens especially in our schools. I am all too well aware of depression and anxiety.

Individuals need to take responsibility for their actions. Whoever did this was bent on making a fire (a big one). The black plume of smoke and heat of the fire was searing. This was an act of vandalism, perhaps a cry for help - but the responsibility for restitution rests on them. Not Keys School, nor the churches / apartments / homes / small businesses / individuals who surrond or use these grounds. This is public space, supported by the public at large.

Our whole community should come together: we can be sympathetic to mental illness - but we cannot tolerate individual behavior of aggression and anger that destroys property (whether that property is publicly owned as in this case, or privately owned).

We certainly cannot point fingers at peripheral figures (in this case, schools or volunteer organizations).

Whoever did this evil deed needs to be told in no uncertain terms that such violence cannot be tolerated in a free society, and they need to be held accountable.

Like this comment
Posted by Erina
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

This truly saddens me.
A few years ago, my sister-in-law (visiting from New Zealand with her family) stopped by the same playground a day before their flight left for NZ. Someone had maliciously placed broken glass in the spaces b/w the slide (it was a tube slide) so that it would cut someone on the way down. My 6 year old nephew was severely cut on the way down the slide. We called the police and my nephew had to fly back to New Zealand (11 hours) with 11 stitches on his leg.

The play structure has since been torn down and the new one, sadly is now burned.

The park is for the benefit of all in our community, especially for children. We typically find glass in that area and it still makes me nervous whenever my children go down any tube slide.

My children make great use of this park (even though they are older now) and I would even be happy to make a small private donation if the city needed community members to financially assist in rebuilding a new play structure.

Play structures are a great way for children (and parents to interact with their children) to play with one another and get out of the house and have fun. These structures are typically expensive, but I believe are worth it.

I am going to stay optimistic and hope (I hope not naively) that something like this is a 'once in a blue moon' incident.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm


As I read the posts, no blame is being put on Keys school, AYSO or Little League.

But, the point was raised - which is a good one - about park use and park fees. Perhaps this should be a different discussion elsewhere.

The vandals should be caught and punished.

Like this comment
Posted by Lynn Chiapella
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm

There are several areas in Hoover Park regularly used for late night activities with the children's playground and basketball area being the most popular. Since I live very near the park, on certain nights I hear fire crackers and more boistrous activity, particulaly when it is a warm night.

When I was young and dumb, I used to report this to Parks and Police Departments hoping that they would patrol the area a little more diligently. Occasionally I would see a patrol car cruise by with the windows up, so that the noise of the skateboarders At St. Marks, the noise of the firecrackers at the park, and the late night party noise could not be heard inside the patrol car.

The area that was burned has always been a popular place for young people to meet with friends and hangout at night. The activity is usually benign, although an occasional source of late night noise.

On warm summer nights and the weeks before and after the 4th of July, Hoover Park has always been a popular place for fireworks. This is not news to the Palo Alto Police or to the Parks Department. I hope now there will be a little more energy and interest by the City in calming the "after hours activity" when it gets too boisterous.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

What this shows is that there is possibly not enough for teenagers to do in the evenings in Palo Alto. Movies cost $10 and the popular ones are not easily accessible for a non-driving teen. The PA bowling alley can't be the only place for all of PA teens.

We need some safe hangout places in Palo Alto where teens can safely spend time on summer evenings.

Like this comment
Posted by midnight basketball
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Does the JCC offer midnight basketball?

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Student
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Looking at the last few recent comments. It is true, us teenagers dont have much to do around palo alto. Yes, occasionally we all go hang out at parks but this summer 2 nights of being with my friends hanging out has resulted in rent-a-cops that are spying in around schools trapping us on our way out of the school parking lot and threatening to arrest us and we end up getting picked up by our parents, nothing illegal was done when these incidents happened. This incident is stupid, no reason to have caused such a thing and the person who did it does deserve to get in trouble. However it should also be looked at as a call for help. Find something that us teenagers can do to stay out of trouble and not be put into situations where all we can do is stuff that will get us in trouble or cause incidents like that. I am not asking for a fancy place where teens can do whatever. Simply a place where teens can go and hang out and have fun, like what the drop used to be to middle school kids but for older teens...

Like this comment
Posted by saddened
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2010 at 6:42 pm

My kids and I were so saddened to see the destruction at Hoover Park, so much so that they didn't want to stay. We visit the park about three times a week. In response to Sharon: yes, there is another play structure at Hoover Park, but it is, apart from the rope pyramid and two swings, geared toward the toddler set. The play structure that was destroyed was for older, but still play-struture-loving children. Thanks to the City for considering replacing the play structure a priority! I hope PAPD is successful in finding out who is responsible for the fire - and in holding them accountable, assuming, as seems likely based on the damage I observed, that it wasn't an accident.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2010 at 11:24 am

This area has had a lot of suspicious things happening. Last night I saw a group of three teenagers come out of an abandoned house on bikes, appearing to be running away. Luckily, police were patrolling the street and caught them.

Like this comment
Posted by A Palo Alto parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 11, 2010 at 9:02 pm

That's a good and heartfelt posting, Gunn student. It looks like the city is working on it:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by A concerned resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I find it a bit peculiar that no one seemed to mention any possible link to the Oscar Grant case. Yes, I am aware that this happened the night before the verdict, but to discount any possibility given that there were rumblings out of East Palo Alto about violence and rioting (and given what happened in Oakland), this reacting seems willfully blind in a sadly politically correct fashion that typifies Palo Alto. I am *not* accusing anyone of perpetrating anything, but, whatever the faults of Palo Alto's kids, arson of major public structures hasn't generally been among them, at least to this point. Wouldn't it make sense for the police to at least explore this as a possible angle as one possibility for motive here?

Like this comment
Posted by new in town
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 10:47 am

Ditto all the comments suggestion there be more offerings for teens: open gyms, skate parks, community center w/foosball and a place to hang out. Not all kids are into sports leagues and houses here aren't large enough to have basement "rumpus room" hangouts like we did in our northern location.

I regularly see groups of kids chewing up the concrete at our local elementary with their trick bike axels. That is a source of vandalism, too but also an indication that they are bored and lacking in hangout space. Do community centers or local churches with gyms have hang-out hours? Do kids get jobs anymore?

Like this comment
Posted by Unfair...
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm

They need to create another better skate/bike park in Palo Alto... The Greer Bowl sucks... There are enough parks and activities for younger kids, not enough for Teens... Palo Alto needs to get their priorities straight, before more stuff like this happens.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm

All the folks so eager to see Keys pay some imagined 'fair share.'

How about the school district and government contribute their fair share to charter schools and others that educate students-almost certainly better than most public schools.

And by the way, all of us are paying for the schools and their facilities. I don't use the playground, and my kids are out of college, so they don't either. But I am paying for Palo Alto schools anyway. And I am betting that some of you making the point that Keys should be paying fees are using services in the city and state that you don't pay your 'fair share' or maybe nothing at all.

You people making this outrageous point would be the first ones to squeal if services now supplied to you, your relatives or friends suddenly required use fees.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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