Palo Alto prepares to move forward with new El Camino Park fields

City Council looks to approve $5.5 million in recreational improvements

Four years after Palo Alto began to consider replacing the playing fields, upgrading the lights and sprucing up the pathways around El Camino Park, the city is at last preparing for the construction phase.

The renovation of the small and once-busy park near the Menlo Park border was prompted by the recent construction of an underground water-storage tank at the park, a project that stretched from September 2011 to this past January. On Monday, the City Council is expected to approve a construction phase that will replace the two existing grass fields with synthetic turf; add four new field lights to permit evening play; install bike parking, a new bathroom and a scorekeeper booth; and create a bike path from the park to the downtown Caltrain station.

The project does not, however, include a dog exercise area, an amenity that several council members lobbied for during the planning process. In August 2012, the council approved $2.5 million for the new recreational amenities that included a dog run, but the component was later struck from the plan because of the park's proximity to the San Francisquito Creek and its endangered steelhead trout.

Much like the city's renovation of its golf course and the on-going makeover of City Hall's ground floor, the El Camino Park project has undergone a significant evolution in scope and cost since its inception.

In addition to looking for ways to add a dog park, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission since summer of 2010 has discussed changes to the park including, upon direction from City Council, a way to integrate the historic Julia Morgan building that is currently at 27 University Ave.

Last year, however, commissioners concluded that neither the dog run nor the Julia Morgan building could be adequately accommodated at the small park. At a March 2013 meeting, then-Chair Ed Lauing concluded that the park has too many amenities to also accommodate a dog area and the Morgan building, known as Hostess House. Commissioner Jennifer Hetterly called the proposed design "mashed potatoes" and also rejected a dog park.

The commission is now spearheading a pilot project that would create a larger dog-exercise area at another existing park during morning hours.

Even without the dog run, the price tag of the El Camino Park improvement project has gone up by more than $1 million since the council last discussed the project more than two years ago. The new amenities, as well as the expansion of the parking lot to accommodate 22 new spaces, brings the project's cost to $5.5 million, well above the $4.4 million budget that the council adopted in 2012.

To pay for these amenities, the city plans to tap into $1.6 million from the Utility Department's Water Fund, use $2.2 million in park-development fees for the project and draw about $510,000 from the Infrastructure Reserve. A new report from the Public Works Department indicates that staff will be requesting more funding to cover the gap.

Despite its high cost and the years of planning, the El Camino Park project is listed on the council's "consent calendar," which typically includes minor and non-controversial items that are approved with no discussion or debate. If the City Council approves the staff proposal, the city would go out to bid for construction in November, solicit proposals by December and complete the improvements by the end of 2015.

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2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2014 at 9:57 am

About time. I seem to remember it was supposed to be out of action for about 18 months.

I am still upset that we don't have a functioning library service at present.

Have lots of memories of Little League games here. I wonder how they have been managing without it.

1 person likes this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2014 at 7:10 pm

YEAH - that is excellent news. I am seeing mini-ball parks going up everywhere now so this is good news.

3 people like this
Posted by Opportunity cost
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 20, 2014 at 11:11 am

What is wrong with Palo Alto? Just a few yards down the road, Arrillaga is going to build a 400,000+ square foot office complex. All that property tax revenue is going to go to Menlo Park! How can we even think of allowing such valuable land to remain in the public domain when it could be high-density office space? People around here are way too busy to go to parks anyway.Check with Arrillaga; I'll bet he'd be thrilled to help out there.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 20, 2014 at 11:20 am

Stanford land is not exactly a property tax revenue generator.

2 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I don't know what the "Utility Department's Water Fund" is or how its use might be restricted. However, this time of drought doesn't seem the time to use "water fund" dollars to fund sports fields.

5 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 20, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Synthetic turf, new field lights, bike parking, a new bathroom, a scorekeeper booth, and create a bike path.

All very nice, but why is my water bill paying for this?

4 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm

Maybe the Water Fund is helping to pay for the restoration of the park since it was the Utilities Dept that tore up the park in the first place. That makes sense to me. Maybe before people make statements like "Why is my water bill paying for this?" they should think a little bit.

4 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto native
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2014 at 12:38 am

Great use of space. To opportunity cost dude: no way. No more office space development in Palo Alto. If u like density, head to sf, downtown Oakland , or San Jose. It's not all about money. Quality of life over developer profits who sure as heck to live in Palo Alto!

2 people like this
Posted by Dennis Anderson
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2014 at 5:36 am

Oh the memories. When our family moved to Menlo Park in 1949, El Camino Park was the center of entertainment and sports for the area. Television and the Giants had not come to the Bay Area yet. In the summer, the Palo Alto adult softball league was the "majors." When the best teams played each other (I think they were Smith's and Palo Alto Sport Shop), there was Standing Room Only at El Camino Park and if you did not get there early, you parked almost a half-mile away. Some times I miss those days of simple pleasures 65 years ago!

2 people like this
Posted by KJ
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

A city's amount of tax revenue is not a good measure of its quality of life. If we wanted to maximize tax revenue, we could squeeze the biggest possible building on every square inch of land and ruin the quality of life. Oh, I guess that is what we are doing.

If we are concerned about our quality of life, we should be tearing down office complexes and making more parks. Seriously.

2 people like this
Posted by Misunderstanding
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:47 am

# OpportunityCost

This is public land purchased and set aside by the citizens of Palo Alto for everyone's benefit. Transferring one of the last open parcels to Mr. Arillaga would provide the City with one time small cash infusion (that it does not need) and rob the citizens of exceedingly rare open space in the sole and only benifit of Mr. Arillaga.

The last time I looked...Mr. Arillaga does not live in Palo Alto.

So...lets recap what we have learned. By taking your proposal, the citizens of Palo Alto would permanently lose a park and Mr. Arillaga, who does not live in Palo Alto, would gain a profit from developing a nice park into a office. The opportunity cost would be the value of a permanently lost park vs Mr. Arillaga's profit (and some property tax).

The proposition does not add up.

Let Menlo Park add the offices to the existing abandoned car lots and live with both the traffic and visual plague.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2014 at 9:36 am

@Misunderstanding >> The last time I looked...Mr. Arillaga does not live in Palo Alto.

Look again. The Santa Clara County tax assessor claims his parcel is in Palo Alto.
The famous 7.7 adjacent acres recently added to Foothills Park is also in Palo Alto.
Or maybe I'm wrong. It's been known to happen.

1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 21, 2014 at 10:54 am

It looks like Mr. Arillaga's estate is within the city limits of Palo Alto, but oddly (at least to me), he is in an area covered by a Los Altos zip code.

1 person likes this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 21, 2014 at 10:57 am

So, likely, he gets his mail at a Los Altos address, but the postman has to drive through Portola Valley/San Mateo County to deliver his mail to Palo Alto.

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Another project that's more than 2 years late and costs a few more million dollars than originally planned.


1 person likes this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2014 at 7:16 am

El Camino Park has not been worked on since early this year, which is unfortunate, because the Mayfield soccer fields are being redone in January & February.

El Camino Park should have been up and available now, instead it's now projected to be several years behind schedule.

Can't we have a city management which actually cares about this city?

Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

Same lack of progress here as on the Magic Bridge Playground which was reported to be finished but which our eyes tell us is still mounds of dirt and debris accented by big construction equipment.

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

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