Palo Alto's kick-off ceremony for the new El Camino Park was, quite literally, a kick off. Mayor Karen Holman scored the inaugural goal Tuesday, Dec. 8, on downtown's new soccer field at the small park that has been undergoing renovations for the past four years.
More than 20 people mostly city officials celebrated the grand opening of the park during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. In addition to the synthetic fields, the park, located at 155 El Camino, now features new trails and expanded parking.
Addressing those gathered on the sidelines of the new soccer field, Holman thanked current and former council members, the Parks and Recreation Commission, city staff and everyone else involved in the project for their "time and dedication" in making the park a reality.
"It's an amazing facility," she gushed. "I was walking around a little bit earlier and it's really phenomenal. It's been a long time coming."
"Most importantly, this field is for you," Holman said as she gestured to the crowd. "... We have this year, as one of our council priorities, 'Healthy City, Healthy Community,' and we've talked a fair amount ... about how happiness is a big part of healthy living, so if this facility doesn't make you smile, doesn't make you happy, let us know what else we can do because I think this really is quite an accomplishment."
After her speech, Holman stood alongside other city officials in front of a soccer net on the field and cut a red ribbon, welcoming community members to the park.
Holman also drew applause from the crowd when she scored the soccer field's first goal, placing the ball just inside the right goal post and out of reach of scampering goalkeeper Rob de Geus, director of the city's Community Services Department.
The reconstruction of the small park began in October 2011 when the park closed so that the city could install an underground reservoir. The city spent more than $5 million to renovate the park.
"When we design a park, we also need a lot of public input and we appreciated that a great deal," de Geus said. Now, "we have a wonderful park to add to the inventory."
The new park features two fields with synthetic turf, a new scorekeeper booth and bathroom, as well as four new field lights so residents can play in the evening. There is also a new bike path from the park to the downtown Caltrain station, an expanded parking lot and new benches.
The council had considered including a dog-exercise area in the park, but that plan was scrapped because of the park's proximity to San Francisquito Creek, which is home to endangered steelhead trout.
Castilleja girls lacrosse coach Claire Mancini, who was standing on the field watching her team kick around the soccer ball, said they were there to see the new field, which they hope they can practice on, and to show "our support for the City of Palo Alto," Mancini said.
"We actually don't have a field space, so we are always using city fields and practicing sometimes at Paly's, so this is a potential space," she added.
During his welcome address, de Geus mentioned a recent survey conducted in California about parks that asked thousands of residents why parks are so important.
"They combed it down to one sentence as to what is important and it was: 'Parks make life better,'" he said. "And I really believe that. We're so busy, working so hard. ... When you come to a park, things just relax a little bit. You can smile. You seem to be able to talk to people a little bit easier.
"It's very important to have a great park system for a healthy community, so I'm thrilled to have this park here today," he said.
VIDEO: Watch Mayor Karen Holman kick the inaugural goal at El Camino Park