Palo Alto's plan to give residents in the north part of the city their first dog park is now in limbo after officials learned that visiting pooches would be exercising too close to another local species -- the steelhead trout swimming in the nearby San Francisquito Creek.
Now, city staff and consultants are struggling to find a new location in El Camino Park for the proposed dog run as well as another space to which the historic, Julia Morgan-designed Hostess House could be moved. The city is considering moving the Hostess House to accommodate a massive development proposal that developer John Arrillaga hopes to construct nearby, at 27 University Ave.
The proposal for a dog park and other new amenities received the City Council's endorsement almost a year ago, when members approved a $2.6-million package of improvements in conjunction with the installation of a 2.5-million-gallon underground reservoir. The water tank is expected to provide emergency water service should the Hetch Hetchy reservoir fail.
Since then, the 27 University proposal emerged, leading the city to consider both El Camino Park and the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course as potential locations for the Hostess House. The city is also considering expanding the number of parking spots at El Camino Park, which includes a heavily used baseball field and will soon have a new synthetic-turf field.
But now, the council's ambitions are butting up against geographical realities. The project's shifting nature and large number of potential amenities have become a design nightmare for the city's consulting firm, Siegfried Engineering. Paul Schneider, the firm's vice president, described the exercise Tuesday night as "trying to stuff five pounds of potatoes into a two-pound bag."
The Parks and Recreation Commission, which got its first look at the new revisions Tuesday night, proved sympathetic to Siegfried's and city staff's struggles and lauded the recent response to what members felt was an impossible task. But commissioners were blunt in their assessment of the new design, particularly if Hostess House is crammed into the small park near the Menlo Park border.
"I don't think any of us like this plan with the building in the park," Commissioner Pat Markevitch said at the meeting, a comment that was not challenged by anyone.
Her colleagues agreed that the new design tries to accomplish too much, leaving El Camino Park with virtually no open space. Siegfried's new proposal shifts the dog exercise area -- which would have been located north of Alma Street -- to just north of the park's two playing fields.
The commission's concerns didn't center so much on the new location of the dog park, but on the changing nature of the El Camino Park project.
"The issue is just that there's just too many things there," Chair Ed Lauing said.
Vice Chair Jennifer Hetterly agreed and took Schneider's metaphor a step further.
"We end up with mashed potatoes, not just a bag of crowded potatoes," Hetterley said, later adding that she thinks it's "crazy to try to include the dog park and the field and all the extra parking."
The Tuesday discussion followed more than a dozen hearings on the project spanning two years. In April 2012, the council approved a proposed design that includes a dog park, with several members arguing that this amenity is sorely missing in the north part of the city. The city's only existing dog parks are at Greer, Hoover and Mitchell parks.
But recently, the city's environmental consultant reported that the proposed dog run would infringe on the 100-foot setback zone next to the San Francisquito Creek, which is home to steelhead trout. Even with a chain-link fence separating the dogs from the creek, the proposed site for the dog run would be unusable because of environmental restrictions.
Siegfried accommodated the new direction from council by moving the playing fields, stripping what little open space was still available in the park design. Commissioner Dierdre Crommie agreed with the majority that the new design is too ambitious for the small site.
"I feel like we're not better off than when we started," Crommie said. "I feel we're squeezing in the dog park."
The commission didn't vote on the new design, which would still need to go through reviews by the city's various commissions before it returns to the City Council for fresh approval. The project is expected to be completed in late 2014 or early 2015.