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.