Palo Alto to seek public opinion, engagement on parks

City to adopt new 'intercept' tactic to gauge residents' wishes

The "intercept event" – a new tactic to elicit public opinion – is coming soon to Palo Alto.

Desperate for residents' views on what they want from their public parks, city volunteers and consultants will attend large public gatherings such as concerts or community events and ask people to answer short questions and stick pins or dots on a map.

The "intercept" technique was explained Tuesday to the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission by Portland-based consultant Ryan Mottau of planning-and-design consulting firm MIG. The firm last fall won a $327,535 contract to analyze Palo Alto's park and recreation system and create documents to help guide future renovations of local trails, open space and recreation facilities.

"In most communities these days we don't get great turnout in a traditional community meeting," Mottau said. "So we're going to take these questions out to where people already are ... and ask them some quick questions they can answer easily by sticking dots on the boards.

"It's a chance to engage people who would never come to a community meeting but who use the parks and have no idea this planning process is going on."

Mottau said his firm will run four intercept events in Palo Alto – the first one this Saturday, most likely at Rinconada Park – and suggested that Parks and Recreation commissioners and other volunteers run similar events and use his materials to gather more public comment.

"We've found that with intercepts there's a real limited time frame you can expect – you can only grab people for about five minutes," he said.

The intercept events are a small element in larger plan by the consultants to elicit broad public opinion and develop a long-term vision for Palo Alto's park and recreation resources.

Mottau's observations on the dearth of attendance at community meetings were corroborated in two other items taken up by the commission Tuesday.

A mailing of 1,800 postcards notifying nearby residents of a May 28 community meeting about an upcoming $332,000 renovation of Bowden Park yielded an attendance of five people, city landscape architect Peter Jensen said.

And "no comments were received" from another May 28 community meeting about a $67,000 project to improve landscaping and furnishings in King Plaza in front of City Hall, Jensen said.

The Bowden project will renovate children's playground equipment and swings, which are nearing the end of their 20-year life span, Jensen said. Resurfacing some playground areas with rubber or engineered wood fiber known as Fibar also will boost accessibility for children with handicaps, he said.

The project also involves repaving and fence renovation.

Jensen said he's already used about half of a $125,000 King Plaza budget to add native landscaping, and now wants to focus on replacing the turf along Hamilton Avenue with more sustainable plantings.

The replanting is an interim measure, he noted, because the entire plaza – which sits atop underground parking – will need to be renovated in a multi-million dollar project in the next 10 to 15 years. The existing planters – even those containing large magnolia trees – are only three feet deep because of the parking underneath, he said.

Chris Kenrick

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Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2014 at 11:12 am

This pretense of 'civic opinion' is a lot of 'smoke and mirrors'. It is a civic 'feel good' and 'we care about you' sham.
Managers and directors with six-figure salaries run around looking busy and caring-for-the-flock, then do whatever they want to do. Perhaps the city should pay attention to the Baylands Interpretive Center which is so shabby and the beloved boardwalk which is falling apart. .....or will the city hire someone else to investigate and fix them. and of course want a 'bond issue'. .

Like this comment
Posted by janet
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

MIG did the NFO Plan for San Mateo County. It was, in my opinion, a total disaster. There was virtually NO outreach. Most of the planning was done behind closed doors. They zoned the area slap next to the proposed Stanford RWC campus as heavy industrial. They focused the the entire plan around a Dumbarton rail transit center that never transpired. Their transportation plan hinged on railroad crossings that will never be allowed by Caltrain. The plan also zoned the Edison Way area as industrial where there is virtually no access except through residential areas. In short, if you want to shove half a million dollars down a rat hole, this in my estimation, is the company that will help you do it.

Like this comment
Posted by randy albin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm

the palo alto parks are pretty good. maybe allow camping there for financially challenged people and families. go for a picnic or play in the parks. they are only as good as the city desires them to be

Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2014 at 1:09 pm

> The firm last fall won a $327,535 contract to analyze Palo Alto's park
> and recreation system and create documents to help guide future
> renovations of local trails, open space and recreation facilities.

What the $#%^&* is this company doing for 1/3rd of a million dollars? How many person-hours will this project consume? How will anyone on the City Council be able to evaluate the content of this student?

These people don't have a clue what the value of our money is!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Beware of the choices you may be given to put your dots on. If you are offered A or B and you really want C, this sort of exercise is loaded from the very beginning. Then strange combinations are made up, for example, B & S, in order to add the dots from both - even though they may represent the same or different people. Make sure your opinion regarding parks is heard by writing a letter to the City Council and the Parks & Recreation Commission.

Like this comment
Posted by curmudegon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm

"Perhaps the city should pay attention to the Baylands Interpretive Center which is so shabby and the beloved boardwalk which is falling apart.."

That's a much better use for the $1/3 M being spent on this pretense of process.

Like this comment
Posted by Emerging cynic based on reality
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2014 at 2:23 pm

I agree with Kate. When you have staff and city councillors who so clearly are in the pockets of developers and don't really want to protect parkland (notice how both have turned the outcome of Measure E to assume a "mandate" to build a compost plant on formerly dedicated parklands, when in fact the election was a vote to enable "study" of such a possibility -- a big difference), why would anyone bother to attend a meeting when such engagement appears to be a complete waste of time based on what actually happens in the end?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2014 at 2:35 pm

I would agree that the Baylands should be top priority in spending any money on parks. The Interpretive Center and the boardwalk are closed and bathroom facilities and perhaps a coffee shop would be wonderful. Also, bathroom/shower facilities by the dock where the kayaks and windsurfers use. This whole area should be a recreational magnet for all rather than just those who want to "feed the ducks".

A new flagpole was erected in Foothill Park and although I have nothing against patriotism, to me it was an unnecessary expense. Do we really want and need flags at all our parks?

Like this comment
Posted by Woof
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 2:56 pm


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Enid Pearson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I totally agree that this is a huge expenditure and that money would go a long way to upgrade the deteriorating Lucy Evans Interpretative Center/Board walk in the Baylands. We know that people do not want to lose our parks to other uses, especially of they understand what is happening. We almost lost 7.7A to a developer because staff did not follow our Charter, Chap. VIII.
Measure E was touted as a "study" to determine if we need a compost facility on park land. It was not necessary to undedicate park land to study the site. Yes, it was used as a landfill, but IT WAS A DEDICATED PARK BEFORE IT WAS LANDFILL. And it ought to be returned to Park land. The more people we get in Palo Alto, the more parks we need. Parks determine what kind of a city it will be.

Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 25, 2014 at 5:11 pm

""In most communities these days we don't get great turnout in a traditional community meeting,""

I agree with all the above sentiments that the City is going to greater and greater extremes -- like here, spending a third of a million dollars -- on the pretense of public input when it gets it and could get it for free.

The City got a lot of input about the desire of the local community to save the Maybell Orchard and make it accessible park space for the disabled kids in the OH across the street, an extension of Juana Briones Park. We even asked if the City would just consider buying the property temporarily and giving us a chance to raise the money ourselves, as we had to do at Bol Park (residents saved that park from development by paying for that, too).

This City Council of course preferred to rub our noses in it because we thwarted the upzoning ordinance through Measure D. Our input was deemed "historic" and there was plenty of input that saving the orchard as parkland was the preferred land use, but we were ignored.

The same internal surveys that found over 80% of those in the neighborhoods around the orchard were against upzoning (which we tried to tell the Council to no avail, they insisted we were wrong, yet the vote showed nearly the same percentage in the area near the orchard voting against the upzoning), also found the preferred land use by far to be as orchard parkland. Again, we offered to try to figure out how to pay for it ourselves. We just needed the time, and the City had the right to buy the property in a non-competitive situation. They declined.

But now they have 1/3 a million to spend asking everyone else what they want. While we over here have to fight more overzoned applications along Arastradero, El Camino near Maybell and are getting hemmed in by all those Apartmentzillas going up on El Camino near us and that monster hotel next to Hobee's. Sheesh.

Please vote for Eric Filseth and Tom Du Bois this November. I hope there will be some more residentialist candidates. This is just egregious. i agree with the above that we should have just spent that money on fixing up the Baylands which is badly dilapidated. If the City really wanted our input, it's really easy to set up FREE civic hacking to do it.

Emily Renzel, Enid Pearson, would you consider serving again?

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Posted by Sally Coew
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2014 at 5:49 pm

MIG does not have a great reputation and they do overcharge. With the crazy high fee they are charging the city, it better include actual upgrades to a few parks! $330,000 is highway robbery!!

We could put that money to such good use in so many other areas of our town.

Where is this large amount of money coming from?

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Posted by Reaity Check
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm

City staff has good personal reason to spend $1/3 million of PA taxpayer money on this "outreach" theatre: the consultant's consulting firm might reward their beneficence by hiring them with some really nice compensation packages. Like ex Planning Dept Director / ex Asst City Manager Steve Emslie's sweetheart deal with a developer for whom he carried water while being paid by Palo Alto taxpayers.

No sentient being could take seriously any "public outreach" by PA city staff. Concerned Palo Altans ought to attend these "outreach" charades, speak up, and call our city staff's game. I'll be there. Join me.

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Posted by Baloney
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2014 at 10:37 am

I'll believe this when I see it. This city has NEVER, ever cared about any of its citizens opinion or concerns before.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2014 at 10:55 am

How can we-the-people stop this un-civic madness?? Who authorized this third-of-a-million expense? This expenditure needs to be stopped right now - and we need a full "Genandy Report" on how this all came about. This entire issue smells to high heaven. WHO on the Council voted for it? WHO in the Administration OK'd it- how high did the OK go? And Mitchell Park LIbrary still is not completed!!!! The PA Weekly has good reporters to bird-dog this kind of issue because it is repeated over and over again. Enough already!!

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Posted by Interested resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I agree with Enid Pearson,the Baylands Interpretive Center is more important than all the make-work by the City Manager.
Hiring consultants is his first move.
Pretending he really wants to know what the people think is not fooling anyone. People speak to the council and to the city boards and they write letters to several papers and they write to the council members and they post on this Town Square.He still doesn't know what people think?
He often laments that 20 and 30-somethings don't speak up. As though they would agree with his developer friendly administration.
Our city is in deep trouble. We need a serious house cleaning.

Like this comment
Posted by Lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 26, 2014 at 5:58 pm

The current city manager is unqualified to occupy an office that requires an educated decisive decision making progressive manager. The current manager relies on feel good studies along with his standard unproductive blue ribbon committees who offer no solution and provide no action. How long are residents to be burdened with his lack of leadership skills and nonsense?

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2014 at 6:27 pm

It's a stalling tactic until the elections.... The city manager has worked here for 6 years and he doesn't have a clue? If the current incumbents (Scharf & Shepard) get re-elected, then the city manager and staff will go back to their old ways.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 7:42 am

We spend lavish amounts on consultant reports and yet we continue to see unlandscaped roundabouts and use of filthy surplus freeway construction berms at the Embarcadero/Alma underpass. I just returned from San Diego.
The La Jolla Blvd traffic calming project has beautifully landscaped medians and roundabouts done by a landscape architect and it seems to work extremely well. Landscaping is integral to the project. It enhances the neighborhood, is in context,and works.

Cancel this $330,000 contract for the consultant "intercept" analysis,a PR
gimmick and waste of public money, spend $10,000 and take a field trip to San Diego- look at the streets, the parks and bring it back here.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2014 at 9:18 am

The City of Palo Alto has a long history of funding studies and paying high price consultants whenever anything is ever brought up about doing anything. Nothing ever gets done - just more studies and consultant fees - it seems to be an endless cycle.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 27, 2014 at 10:26 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Why pay big bux to 'consultants' when a few hours by STAFF, talking to REAL PEOPLE that are using THAT PARK (not a generic, all parks 'study').
The people will give answers for FREE.

Each Palo Alto park has a unique character and clientele. One size fits all goals are a waste of time and TAXPAYERS dollars.
Stop the endless waste on 'studies'. If they can't maintain what we have, why spend more, simply to let that deteriorate.

Tip: Give the city workers that actually WORK at the park more input on what is needed to be done. We don't need to pay a consultant to tell STAFF something is broken/worn out and needs to be replaced.

Like this comment
Posted by Greenacres
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 27, 2014 at 12:10 pm

@ Steve U,
It's simple. Staff does not get the "answers" they want from the citizens taking the time to tell them, so they pay for it.

Doug Moran wrote a really astute blog post about how many people end up giving up.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm

It is absolutely imperative to get rid of this city manager NOW - but the council's 'track record for years past show that few have had any knowledge on what kind of city manager we need. It's been YEARS since we had a a good one.
The Council has been 'gutless', but with election on the horizon it seems to be playing the part of 'listening' to the people. What a sham. Converting Embarcadero into a commuter parking lot? RIDICULOUS!! Will the council listen? It had better reverse this action. Spending $330,000 on just planning for parks? CRAZY. Most of the staff do not live in Palo Alto. It is NOT their own money they are spending. It's OURS. This is an educated city population. WE the people want a part of the planning and decision making, but it doesn't cost $300K to get it.

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