Residents at a community workshop on Wednesday night said the things they want most for parks and open space include keeping and enhancing natural open spaces, developing more spaces for community and neighborhood events, having teen-friendly amenities, improving dog parks and connecting pathways and trails better.
The meeting at Cubberley Community Center was the second of three on the City of Palo Alto's Parks, Trails, Open Space and Recreation Master Plan. The plan will guide the development and renovation of the city's recreational facilities and parks.
Ryan Mottau, a project manager for Berkeley-based MIG, consultants for the city, said the plan is about what the city can do to make the whole park and recreation system better.
"The most visible part is land and facilities. We want to encourage activities, and a big part are activities programs," he said during the overview.
He said 475 people previously used an online interactive map to indicate barriers to walking and biking in and around the parks. People used digital pens to mark where they habitually walk. Residents are willing to walk five to 10 minutes to a park -- about one-quarter to a half-mile, the survey found.
Consultants then looked at every park and how far people could travel during that 10-minute period. Some places in the city are more than a half-mile from any park, indicating the park is inaccessible to those residents, he said.
But just having land is not enough. When asked what defines a basic park, residents who took the survey identified five paramount requirements: play areas and activities for kids; places to exercise; spaces to throw, bat, shoot and kick a ball; gathering spaces; and areas to relax and enjoy.
Surprisingly, in Palo Alto "many parks don't meet this basic definition," Mottau said.
Some places are relatively central, such as Rinconada and Greer, and serve these requirements in abundance; but others, such as Sarah Wallis and Scott parks, either don't have the space or don't support activities, he said.
With land at a premium, one way to address the problem is to consider park clusters: Scott and Heritage; Cameron, Mayfield, Werry and Weisshaar, he said. These nearby parks would not support all of the activities in each park, but they could support some of each and be destination spots for particular activities, he said.
Accessibility at some key locations is also inadequate, he said. Cubberley Community Center and Hoover Park are critical areas, but Matadero Creek hampers access to them.
"Hoover is kind of in an island," he said. "You can't get into it from all sides."
Presented with several scenarios, 44 percent of residents at Wednesday's meeting voted that they "really like" open areas for dog parks, while 44 percent said they "would consider it" and 6 percent each said "no way" or "not sure."
Barron Park resident Doug Moran said the dog parks should have amenities such as objects for canines to jump over and other pet-playground equipment to add interest and invite activity.
Seventy-one percent of residents voted that they "really like" spaces for neighborhood events when shown an image of people gathering to view an outdoor movie on an inflatable screen. And 69 percent really like two-way bike lanes with dedicated walking spaces for pedestrians.
But few aspects of Palo Alto parks offer activities for teens, said Noah Galper, 15, who was the only teen at the workshop. He wants pingpong tables, for example.
During small group discussions, participants voiced what they want preserved and what they want added to parks.
Places worthy of protection included open space; the Palo Alto Baylands; Stanford University's open lands; the Mitchell Park play area and restrooms; Rinconada Park's "Magic Garden" redwoods; big sports fields and existing benches and tables.
Among the amenities they wanted were bigger dog areas; improved safety at Greer; better space for multiple sports such as cricket and pickleball; shorter distances to benches and play spaces; more sturdy benches; and additional lights at the Rinconada tennis courts.
Residents also asked for pingpong tables; more WiFi for parents while children are playing; small, multipurpose tables for laptops, chess and games; areas for lacrosse and cricket; and kite flying at the edge of the baylands. Residents also want to protect shorebirds near the old marina by adding habitat islands. One group suggested the city engage neighborhood associations in the care of local parks.
With all of the competing interests and limited space, resident Bob Moss said there is often a fundamental conflict on what a park is and how it is going to be used.
But Mottau said that progressive park agencies are not looking at "either/or" uses but at a continuum. He cited one park he worked on that included turf and a working farm. Sometimes that continuum is addressed by activity scheduling, he said.
Mottau is hoping for a big turnout at the next and final workshop. Public input is important in a plan of this scope, he said.
"It's a process that only happens once in a very long time," he added.
The third workshop takes place on Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. at Lucie Stern Community Center Community Room, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.