Palo Alto residents voice visions for city's parks and recreation

Dog parks, teen activities, multiple-sport playing fields, better access and neighborhood events top the list

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.

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3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:46 am

This article says Matadero Creek is a barrier to park access, but that is not really true. The proposed pedestrian/bicycle trail along Matadero Creek that will open up access to the parks along the creek. Other parks along Matadero Creek include Greer Park, Henry Seale Park, and Boulware Park. Building car parking lots is a waste of city money and park land. The city needs to improve safe pedestrian/bicycle access to our parks and trails like this are a great way to do it. As the article says, most city residents live within a 10 minute walk or bike ride of a city park, but families won't walk or bike if they don't feel safe (from cars).

1 person likes this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:58 am

Just a note, kite flying is prohibited in portions of the Palo Alto Baylands due to the close proximity of the airports (Palo Alto Airport and Moffett Field). Just ask the kid who was flying their kite 15+ years ago. The parents kept saying "don't let go of the string". With the kite so high, it hooked an airplane and the kid didn't let go and was dragged a short distance.

6 people like this
Posted by Little Bladders
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 11:20 am

Many of our young children and toddlers have very small bladders. How about some public restrooms in some of the children's parks?

5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

If the city is encouraging people to walk or bike to city parks, then they really should install bathrooms at all parks. Bathrooms are way cheaper than parking lots and also take up less space. The number one reason that many families drive to parks is the extra time that walking requires often puts the park out of bladder range for all family members.

3 people like this
Posted by Mary Carlstead
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 1, 2014 at 5:20 pm

I have previously made this suggestion to the head of Parks and Rec and to rangers but do so again now. I could not attend the meeting. Foothill Park Orchard Glen picnic area needs a narrow asphalt walkway from the parking lot through the area to make it passable for those of us with walkers and wheelchairs. Getting either across that turf is a challenge and virtually impossible. There could be one from the road too. Not wide, and also dark asphalt to blend in. I love to picnic there but cannot no longer do it. There are other parks where it is difficult to push a wheelchair or walker.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Repair of the boardwalk and interpretive center at the Baylands should be a priority.

They look terrible and do nothing to enhance the experience of visitors.

A decent bathroom out there would be good too.

Could the interpretive center become a coffee shop even if only for weekends? If Mitchell Park is having a café, why not the Baylands?

3 people like this
Posted by Steven
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm

My request is for adult-scale exercise/play structures. Things like monkey bars, rings, and parallel bars. This type of equipment is a fun way to get movement and strength training outdoors.

Here's a New York Times article on the topic: Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by old foggie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Some of us old foggies also have small bladders. My spouse and I could use parks as a destination if there were bathrooms--not just portie johns.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Many parks deliberately do not have bathrooms to discourage homeless people and late night parties.

Like this comment
Posted by Pumpkin
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 4, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Anyone know if anything is going on at the shuffleboard courts at Rinconada Park? Shuffling is suddenly hip from Florida to Brooklyn especially if food trucks stop by.... I wonder if we'll ever be able to check out shufflng equipment at the pool or library nearby.

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

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