Editorial: Finish El Camino Park

Uncertainty over potential Arrillaga project shouldn't delay completion of long-planned park improvements

Palo Alto's Parks and Recreation Commission was right earlier this week when it urged the city staff and City Council to drop the idea of relocating the historic MacArthur Park restaurant building from its current location to somewhere in the park.

The commission correctly believes that shoehorning the Julia Morgan-designed building onto El Camino Park would force the elimination of needed recreational field space.

The future of the former "Hostess House," originally built in Menlo Park, is tied to the outcome of John Arrillaga's controversial office proposal for 27 University Ave., because it will need to be preserved and relocated as part of any redevelopment of the area.

With any decision on the Arrillaga proposal a long way off and with no vision for how the building would be used if moved to the park (or anywhere else), it makes little sense to sidetrack completion of the park improvements.

The city is just wrapping up installation of a 2.5-million-gallon underground water-storage tank, a project approved by voters in 2007. It will serve as a backup if the city's connection to the Hetch Hetchy system is closed due to an earthquake or other natural disaster. The 12.2-acre park has been under construction since April 2011 to install the new reservoir. But as the excavation of the tank is covered over the city had planned to put in a new turf field for soccer and lacrosse and a grass field for softball, some open space and 26 additional parking spaces, for a total of 68 at the park.

Last year, before the Arrillaga project was submitted, the city council approved the $2.5 million in improvements, including a proposal to provide north Palo Alto with an exercise area for dogs, hoping to match three other dog parks at Greer, Hoover and Mitchell parks. The design of the dog park, about the size of half a football field, included a wood-chip base, benches, a water fountain for humans and a special spigot for dogs. But at the time the Parks and Recreation Commission balked, arguing that the city should not spend all its $2.8 million park development fees on one project.

And as it turned out, the planned location, north of Alma street near the iconic El Palo Alto tree, was later ruled out because of being too close to San Francisquito Creek, which has a small run of steelhead trout.

The commission, which understandably aims to protect the park's core constituents who use the soccer and softball fields, concluded that the dog park would not fit in the main body of the park, saying it "compromises the one true open space in the original design."

The commission also recommended another possible location for the Hostess House, suggesting that it would fit in perfectly at the city's golf course at the Baylands, which will soon be renovated. The building, which at one time was located in Menlo Park, served as a reunion point for World War I soldiers and their families.

"The historic building would have very high visibility as the only structure in the open space of the new Baylands course," the commission memo stated.

Another vote against moving the Hostess House to El Camino Park came last year. The city's Historic Review Board said Arrillaga's plan to move the building from its current location was not in keeping with the building's historic status.

All of these issues go away if the City Council can find an alternative site for the Hostess House and the dog park. Without those encumbrances, a final design for El Camino Park can quickly be formulated, and the park can reopen soon.

As Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Ed Lauing said after the 5-1 vote to turn down the dog park and the Hostess House, "Something's got to go. There's just too much stuff jammed in there."

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Posted by a Palo Alto resident
a resident of University South
on Apr 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

Good editorial on finishing El Camino Park! And why doesn't someone point out that it's not a good place for a dog park because North Palo Alto residents would have to cross the tracks to get there? It's not convenient to residences.

Like this comment
Posted by tired of this
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2013 at 11:30 am

This editorial is spot on.

Why does the city let developers set the agenda? Zoning, citizens needs, past plans, get thrown out the window as soon as the newest mega-project shows up.

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Posted by Rresident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm

If Arrilliaga wants to build on the site of the former "Hostess House" let him be responsible for finding a suitable location and relocating the historic building, otherwise leave it where it is and have him relocated his grandiose project.

The "Hostess House" is a historic building and must go somewhere. Let Arrilliaga worry about it and pay for the relocation to wherever he finds a suitable site. How about the backside of Town and Country Village facing Enicina Street. That parking lot is never full.

Forget about El Camino Park, that is NOT a suitable location.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2013 at 12:13 pm

"Why does the city let developers set the agenda?"

Read the campaign contribution reports at the City Clerk's office. You get what you pay for.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Yep, they know the city council has its price.

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Posted by Lousy Idea
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 26, 2013 at 4:01 pm

It was a lousy idea from the start, and Mr Arrilaga has too much power in PA and MP, even for a billionaire!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Two temporary libraries and an unfinished park!

Like this comment
Posted by Katie
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2013 at 8:24 pm

I can't wait to see the next monstrocity....the Newell Library remodel.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Posted on another thread:

Here's an idea:

Move Hostess House to the orchard at Maybell/Clemo, currently in a contentious rezoning battle where neighbors have serious safety concerns about density at that (current "low-density" location), and make it a community orchard.

Wait, hear me out.

We have the problem of where to put historic Hostess House. It's a problem for the Arrillaga development and must be relocated.

The lot in question is a beautiful open orchard with some 100 year old oaks across from Juana Briones Park. What if someone were to perhaps convince Arrillaga to buy the property from PAHC -- perhaps purchase price plus a few hundred thousand more for their trouble -- then to pay for it, put up houses in keeping with the neighborhood and zoning on the north (El Camino) end of the lot, parallel with El Camino, with a lane and driveways facing north and the houses facing the park? Six new homes for $2+ million each. The houses on Maybell come down, and Maybell (which is too narrow there) widened with a sidewalk.

With the 1.5 acres left, the Hostess house gets located there, and it becomes a community center again, garden, and orchard, across from Juana Briones Park. Note that the Veterans Hospital is behind this neighborhood and not that far a drive or walk on the bike path. Arrillago donates the 1.5 acres to Parks and Rec and writes off $9million.

It would be accessible to the neighborhood, 4 schools within a few blocks -- as well as the low-income senior housing PAHC is building right now just across El Camino. It could be a place for neighbors to gather once again.


Maybe instead of buying the property from PAHC, he could swap for land nearer Stanford where seniors would be near to services they actually don't have to drive to. It's possible some of the existing homes on Maybell could remain in such a plan, even making money for the developer while providing a place for Hostess House in a way that would be welcomed by the local community.

There are always logistical hurdles for anything, but it solves a lot of problems for everyone, for Arrillaga, the City, and most of all, the issue of that orchard not adding to the safety/traffic issues for THAT LOCATION in Greenacres (which only has already-congested safe routes to school in and out of the neighborhood), and preserving open space in an increasingly congested end of town.

And, the neighbors are organizing for a fight over the high-density rezoning, they could organize in support of something like this!

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

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