Charles Scott surveyed the new, green expanse of rolling, hilly lawn at Greer Park in Palo Alto Tuesday, seated at a picnic table he recently helped get the city to install in this corner of the 22-acre park.
It's been 40 years since he and his late wife, Jean, and other Midtown Palo Alto residents first fought an 1,800-unit residential development and convinced the city to create the park along West Bayshore Road instead. They've been involved in every phase of its development ever since.
Once a field of 6-foot-high weeds, the park now boasts playing fields, basketball courts, a skate park, children's playground, dog park and even a hard-fought-for restroom. The final 1.5 acres, Scott Meadow, was built this fall and is being named in the couple's honor by the city and the Midtown Residents Association at a dedication ceremony on Saturday (Dec. 11).
The quiet "passive park" is a fitting place for Scott and park advocates to take stock of their legacy. On Tuesday afternoon, Scott modestly assessed his role in the decades-long endeavor.
"I was just an irritant to the City Council and managers. I was not bashful," Scott, 86, said, laughing. "It wasn't really work. It was just everyday living."
He credited his late wife, Jean, and the many other residents with making the park finally become reality.
At his Midtown home, pictures document the effort: the vacant field before it became a park; Jean digging the first shovel of soil during the Aug. 5, 1980, groundbreaking ceremony.
Scott's eyes grew moist as he spoke of how it feels to have this last chunk of the park done.
"It means that Jean's vision is finally realized."
Greer Park was once home to the Peninsula Drive-In movie theater, later called the Palo Alto Drive-In, which included a parking lot for 750 cars, according to Palo Alto History Project historian Matt Bowling.
The site sat dormant until residents fought a developer's proposal to build 1,800 apartments in 1973. "People were up in arms," Scott recalled.
Members of the West Bayshore Residents Association told city officials they wanted a park.
"Our children did not have a park comparable to Rinconada and Mitchell parks," Scott said.
The city purchased the 5-acre parcel and added it to adjacent open space that was dedicated in 1965 but had not been developed, according to a historical overview by the city.
In 1974, the city and residents created the Greer Park Master Plan; the park was dedicated in 1975. But decreased revenues due to Proposition 13 and the Arastra settlement (a 1975 lawsuit the city lost in a federal-court zoning challenge regarding private land that became Arastradero Preserve) twice froze money to develop the park, Scott said.
The first of four phases of development finally began in 1980. Projects championed by former mayors were incorporated into the park, including the skate park and playing fields, Scott said. The ongoing pressure for more playing fields in the city nearly kept the park only for that use. But residents continued to lobby for spaces to serve other community interests, he added.
And Scott has not let up on his watch during the most recent park plans.
When an ocean-island motif was recently planned for the renovated children's play area, Scott said he put in his two cents in his characteristically unbashful way.
"One of my comments was, 'Well, where's the beach?' They weren't going to put in a sandbox in this ocean-island play area. You have to think with a child's mind. I still have that. I haven't grown up yet," he said.
Daughter Donna, a naturalist with the National Park Service, contributed advice on appropriate trees for Scott Meadow, he said.
Adding restrooms was one of the greatest challenges, he said. But advocates put forth a convincing argument.
"At a council meeting, we said we were irrigating with uric acid," Scott said, his eyes twinkling.
The son of an oil-field worker in Oklahoma and a member of the Cherokee Nation, Scott was raised in the Indian school system, moving from mission schools to government boarding school, where he had to work half the day in the garden, he said.
The parks he played in were not formal spaces, or even dedicated. "We had the whole countryside," he said.
When he's not advocating for the park, Scott works two days each week at Peninsula Hardware. On Mondays and Fridays, he tutors children at Ohlone Elementary School through the Early Literacy Program. He's active at Avenidas and at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
On Saturday, his three grown children and five grandkids will attend the ceremony, he said. But the honor will be bittersweet.
"I'm sorry Jean is not here to really enjoy it," he said. His wife died last year.
During their weekly park walks, the couple used to watch children enjoying the playground, he said. If it seems as though it has taken generations to complete the park, indeed it has.
"I remember I made a speech once. I said, 'I want the park to be finished so my children can play in it. But it doesn't look like it is going to happen. Maybe it will be a place for my grandchildren' -- but now they are almost adults."
Scott grinned in the golden rays of afternoon sunlight, scanning the verdant playing fields.
"Look at the crowd over there today," he said, gazing around the park.
What: Scott Meadow dedication at Greer Park
Where: At the corner of Colorado Avenue and West Bayshore Road
When: Saturday, Dec. 11, at 1 p.m.