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 Parks and Recreation Commission had numerous public hearings to consider the types of additions the public would like to see and came up with a list of possible improvements, which the council discussed Monday night.
The council voted 8-1, with Grail Price dissenting, to support the proposed upgrades. Price dissented because she said staff should replace both fields in El Camino Park, rather than just the larger soccer and lacrosse field in the northern section of the park. The southern portion of the park contains a softball practice field.
The proposed 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 in to the south, in Mitchell, Hoover and Greer parks.
"Knowing that dog owners unofficially use our school playing fields for dog runs, I think we're under-dog-runned," Councilman Larry Klein, a dog owner, said. "I think this will be a good location to serve an area of town that's underserved at the moment."
Councilman Karen Holman, also a dog owner, argued against installing a new dog run at El Camino Park and said the park has no easy access points for dog owners. She said she was worried that creating a dog run in the north part of the park would create "issues that are even life-threatening to dogs."
"I think this is a real troublesome location because of the access," Holman said. "The only connectivity that's feasible here is across Alma at a very, very difficult place to negotiate."
The council majority sided with Klein. Greg Scharff said the city's lack of recreational spaces for dogs has been one of the most frequent complaints he's heard from Palo Alto residents.
"I'd hate to make the perfect the enemy of the good," Scharff said. "It's a location where we can have a dog run, and I think we should jump on it. There aren't many locations where can do that."
The council voted 7-2, with Holman and Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh dissenting, to support Klein's proposal to integrate a dog run into the design of a new park.
The council's decision means staff will continue to refine the design of the proposed improvements, a process that's expected to stretch until November 2012. 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.
Under the proposed timeline, construction of the reservoir and the new amenities would take place largely in late 2012 and early 2013 and the park would be reopened to the public in May 2013.