Palo Alto looks for new parks to meet growing demand

City's new master plan to identify strategies to locate, fund new amenities for recreation

From the tranquil expanse of Foothills Park to the energized hive of Johnson Park, Palo Alto has no shortage of green spaces to soothe local nature lovers and delight youngsters.

But as the city develops its new master plan for parks and recreation, the City Council is considering adding parks and modifying existing ones to meet changing demands. Strategies include buying up corner lots and turning them into small neighborhood parks; carving out parks out of existing city-owned land; closing off Arastradero Road to car traffic on the weekends; and changing policies to make nature preserves more accessible to the public.

The new Parks, Trails, Natural Open Space and Recreation Master Plan is a document that staff and consultants have been working on since early 2014 and that the city plans to adopt at the end of this year.

Once completed, the master plan will prioritize new recreation projects; make recommendations for buying up new land; and consider improvements to each existing park.

During its discussion, council members readily acknowledged that Palo Alto's park system, which includes 37 parks and about 4,000 acres of open space, is already the envy of many. But just because it isn't broken, doesn't mean it couldn't use some fixing, members agreed. And with the city's population on the rise, much of the emphasis at the Monday hearing was on making parks easy to access for local residents.

Vice Mayor Greg Scharff noted that the council has a goal of having about 2 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents. But while the population has grown by more than 1,400 residents in the past two years, the city hasn't added additional acres of parkland. One possible answer lies in corner lots, Scharff said.

"There are a lot of corner lots that become available. They would look great as little mini parks," he said.

Mayor Pat Burt noted that in some cases, the city doesn't even have to buy land – it can simply use land it already owns. This is what happened when the city created a pocket park, next to the Pope-Chaucer Bridge in Crescent Park, out of a section of the long and skinny Hopkins Creekside Park.

"We carved out a little area for a pocket park for a neighborhood that had none," Burt said. "We did that in Matadero Creek in a similar way. We need to think creatively about city-owned land. In some ways it's already dedicated parkland that's underutilized."

Other council members focused on existing parks and ways to make them more alluring and easier to access.

Councilman Greg Schmid suggested that the Baylands remain underused and also proposed opening up to the public the 7.7-acre parkland next to Foothill Park that was donated to the city by the family of Russel Lee and lay unnoticed for decades before the council annexed it. The council last year agreed to launch a planning process for the site before opening it up to the public. Schmid recommended letting residents visit the site.

"I know we have an important public decision," Schmid said. "In the meantime, shouldn't people be able to walk and see what's there? Have their own dreams of how the space can be used?"

Foothills Park itself is another potential scene for policy changes. Though it's officially open only to Palo Alto residents, several council members suggested relaxing the policy for the sprawling and scenic preserve.

Scharff said the Stanford University community should be allowed to use the park, given that the Stanford Dish remains a popular recreational draw for Palo Alto residents. Burt agreed, noting that the preserve is fully occupied only on the weekends between late spring and early fall. The rest of the time, it is "well-underutilized," he said.

"I don't know in what way it harms us to allow others to use the park when there's no competition for it," Burt said. "It just doesn't hurt us."

As part of the overall park-planning effort, consultants from MIG surveyed close to 500 residents near local parks, organized workshops and issued an online survey that attracted more than 1,000 responses.

According to MIG's report, residents widely supported policies that prioritize making facilities available to Palo Alto residents. They also said they would like to see more types of play experiences and environments, as well as more bathrooms.

"In addition, there is clear preference for features and amenities that support comfort, convenience and longer stays at parks, including water fountains and places to sit," according to the report.

There is also "widespread interest," according to MIG, in bringing community gardens, dog parks and aquatic facilities to new areas of the city.

Another idea that emerged from Monday's discussion was closing off to traffic (at least on the weekends) the portion of Arastradero Road at the Arastradero Preserve.

Jeff Paulson, a member of the Lee family (which sold Foothills Park to the city), said that restricting traffic on Arastradero "would create absolute magnificent and absolutely safe recreational opportunities."

Councilwoman Karen Holman said she was intrigued by this proposal. Though when it comes to inviting more use to Foothills Park, which is more a nature preserve than a park, the city should be very mindful of the impact of more people and activity.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss suggested having more signs around town informing people of the distance between various parks and preserves. People get motivated to move around when they know how far they have to go to get to the next destination, she said.

"This is a city where people like to walk," Kniss added.

The master plan will undergo more vetting in the months to come from the council and the Parks and Recreation Commission, which has already held several meetings on the plan and is set to discuss it Tuesday night.

Keith Reckdahl, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said that one of the commission's main concerns is that the document be "very usable." The goal is to provide crucial data without overwhelming the user with information.

"This is not some theoretical document," Reckdahl said. "This is something we will use to design parks."

The plan will, among other things, consider sections of the city where the demand for new recreational facilities is particularly high.

Councilman Tom DuBois said his priorities in the new plan include acquiring additional space, distributing services across the city and enhancing the city's community centers. Cubberley Community Center, which is now undergoing its own master-planning process as part of a partnership between the city and the school district, will have an important role to play in the process, he said.

Tracy McCloud, center director at the nonprofit Avenidas in downtown Palo Alto, told the council to keep the needs of local seniors in mind as it plans recreational opportunities. Palo Alto seniors are generally very active and have special fondness for activities relating to health and wellness.

The nonprofit, which is preparing for a major expansion of its Bryant Street facility, is "bursting at the seams" and cannot meet all the demand, McCloud said. And while many have said they feel lucky to have so many parks and open space preserves for them to enjoy, there continues to be a great demand for classes and activities that allow seniors to socialize.

"Seniors who live in the southern part of city have very limited options. They are very much in need of local class offerings, as well as places to meet and socialize," McCloud said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2016 at 8:22 am

“bursting at the seems” should be “seams,” and there are two long lines of “Ô’s.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 9:08 am

How about a policy about the homeless in Palo Alto Parks? Maybe Parks and Rec can do better than PAUSD who is installing Klieg Lights to discourage the homeless in Mitchell Park.

21 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2016 at 9:25 am

Do we need more parks or just better access to the parks we already have? Foothill Park is a beautiful park and most parts of the park never get crowded, however the main park access is a narrow road with no bike lanes so getting to the park without a car is really difficult. Then you have problems with traffic and parking inside the park. How about investing in some bike lanes leading up to the park entrance? Or open the (existing but currently locked) park entrance from Los Trancos Road to bicycles and pedestrians?

Same goes for the Palo Alto Baylands. This is a beautiful area for families to explore, but access can be really difficult if you do not have a car. Why does the city keep delaying the bridge over Hwy 101 from midtown to the Baylands? We would much rather have this bridge than a neighborhood mini-park that only a few people can use.

9 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 1:58 pm

How about the City buying up retail spaces around the City as they become available and making them available at reduced rent to businesses that provide a demonstrable community benefit like children and teen recreation (remember the bowling alley, etc? And where can kids walk themselves to a movie with friends?) Or even just businesses that help us retain a reasonable wuality of life, like a baby things store or art store (with classes). There could be a proposal process along with a plan.

They should have kept the orchard at Maybell. The trees yet live despite the drought and no water. That is nothing to be sneezed at. It is such a natural gathering space. It definitely is the only such opportunity there will be on a much impacted part of town that gets short shrift for amenities.

May in Chinese means beautiful, and so does belle in French....

6 people like this
Posted by Jimmae
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Having more opportunities to ride mt bikes on trails would be appealing.
Enid pearson-Arastradero Preserve allows mt bike riding,extending mt bike friendly trails to the west through Foothills Park would provide a bay-skyline dirt trail option for cyclists.
Avoiding all busy w vehicular traffic pavement is a fundamental aspect of the ever growing # of mt bike riders.
Some creative measures like bikes in uphill direction only once within Foothills Park,and/or ,similar to the dog owners, weekday access only for uphill mt bike riding on trails might be ways to try out this proposal.

12 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2016 at 2:21 pm

These discussions always point out the problems with out city council. The discussion is about improving use of parkland and possibly increasing the amount of parkland for the increasing number of residents.

Pat Burt wants to open up Foothills park to non-residents because it doesn't get used enough. He says there's no harm done in doing so. This doesn't help Palo Alto residents and actually will cost the city due to an increase in usage by non-residents.
Scharff wants to buy more land to increase park space to meet the 2/acres per 1000 residents. With 60,000 residents, that would take 120 acres. Article states there are 4000 acres of open space.

Do better with what we have. Plenty of accessible open space and parks. Rinconada, Mitchell and Greer are all very large parks. The Baylands are fairly easy to get to. Arastradero and Foothills are not very far away.

18 people like this
Posted by Alimc
a resident of Addison School
on Jan 26, 2016 at 2:22 pm

How about repairing the longtime closed walk that goes from the Interpretive Center to the bay. It was always well used and has been in disrepair too long.

7 people like this
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Is Palo Alto fiddling while Rome burns? I just drove down Channing and see a new house being erected on the old Scott Street right-of-way which to date had been treated as part of the Scott Street mini-park. That connection allowed the park to be accessed by all the residents in the relatively new housing along the other side of Channing Avenue. How did this happen?

7 people like this
Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Perhaps more people would be able to use the parks we have if they weren't being used so heavily as sports fields.

12 people like this
Posted by BP, no not that BP
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Am I the only one who can no longer use Foothill Park because I don't feel comfortable driving there. I wonder if there could be a survey to see if others would enjoy bus service on Weekends? A small fee for the service would be acceptable.
The City funds the Crosstown shuttle which mainly serves Seniors who do not drive and gives them the opportunity to enjoy the subsidized lunch program and the food closet downtown.

10 people like this
Posted by jc
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 4:28 pm

Back in ancient times virtually all of the schools had playgrounds that were used year around after school, weekends
and all day in the summer. Generally there was one male and one female at most of the schools who were usually college students or sometimes teachers who would watch over the facilities and organize the activities. All ages could use the facilities to play basketball or soft ball or whatever. Many of the schools were not fenced. Those that were fenced would open the fences under the control of the "managers" during the day. My friends and I spent many a day
during the summer and off school hours playing pick-up games and participated in some more organized activities.

Somehow these uses of the school playgrounds were lost. I have never heard the reason for not making use of these playgrounds but perhaps the city will start to use them again. Who knows - maybe the children will put away their electronic toys and play outdoors again.

2 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of University South
on Jan 26, 2016 at 4:29 pm

" just drove down Channing and see a new house being erected on the old Scott Street right-of-way which to date had been treated as part of the Scott Street mini-park. That connection allowed the park to be accessed by all the residents in the relatively new housing along the other side of Channing Avenue. How did this happen?"

It looks like yet another City Hall screwup during the SOFA CAP process.

3 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 26, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Closing off a section of Arastradero Road for the benefit of Palo Altans may sound like a good idea. However, has anyone asked the residents of Los Altos Hills who use that section of Arastradero Road. If you want to make enemies of your neighbors in the Hills just close off their access.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Please can we have some upgrades to the Baylands. I have lost count of the times people have asked me for directions, to bathrooms, to coffee shops, back the parking lot, where a trail leads, etc. We need bathrooms open from sunup to sundown 24/7 - not portapotties. We need signs and maps for visitors.

Then we need the interpretive center and boardwalk fixed.

This park could be a gem. At present it is just an embarrassment.

2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2016 at 5:46 pm

I'm getting old I guess. I must be because I remember going up to Foothill Park to the dedication ceremony the day it officially opened up to PA residents...oh so many years ago. It was at Vista Point. I know Dr. Lee made that a condition to his land donation. Where does that stand now? I also know there was lots of discussion years ago about opening it up to non-residents, but I think in the proposals non-residents would have to pay. Then that idea just died away for many years for some reason. Is this the resurrection of that idea?

I think that is a good idea because I like to see the right number of people enjoying our park...not too many, but not too few, and non-residents should pay, cost to be determined, but at least enough, and a little extra, to cover the cost of all day ranger duty at the entrance gate shack. I think at some point there were budget cut decisions made re the number of rangers at the park.

My experience from my last few trips up to the park, and there haven't been that many rangers at the entrance. I think many non-residents have already figured that out and are enjoying our park.

Like this comment
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 6:25 pm

How about an off-leash dog park with walking trails? That would be easy to maintain and fun for everyone.

2 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 8:48 pm

More Parks, More Housing, More Schools...
Narrower roads, Less Water, No Grocery stores...Oh My...

10 people like this
Posted by Gardener Sal
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2016 at 9:01 pm

What about closing University Avenue on Sundays? Maybe 11:00 to 5:00?

6 people like this
Posted by foothill park
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2016 at 9:37 pm

IMO Foothill Park would get more use from PA residents if on-leash dogs were allowed there on week-ends. There are plenty of dog-loving PA residents who work full-time and would enjoy walking their dogs on lovely trails over the week-ends.

Like this comment
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:26 am

OOPS! My earlier comment about Scott Street mini-park was in error. The two story house under construction is not in the abandoned Scott Street portion of the mini-park. I guess I was so stunned by the new construction that I didn't pay close enough attention. Sorry for my error.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2016 at 4:20 pm


As always, we appreciate your vigilance. The densely populated Downtown area must not lose park area.

2 people like this
Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 27, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Palo Alto is fortunate to have so many nice parks. I'm OK with using our existing city land for parks, but I don't think it make sense to buy property (at our inflated prices) to make parks. As respects Foothill Park, I don't really have a problem with granting Stanford students access, but I hesitate to open it up to everyone in the greater Peninsula area. It is rather nice to go to a quiet park and not have throngs of people from EPA, Redwood City, and elsewhere with their extended clans taking over all the picnic tables. Drive by Parde Park or Rinconada on a nice weekend and you will see what I mean.

2 people like this
Posted by Parker
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:29 pm

Per the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan, POLICY C-28:

"Use National Recreation and Park Association Standards as guidelines for
locating and developing new parks. These guidelines are as follows:
• Neighborhood parks should be at least two acres in size, although sites
as small as one-half acre may be needed as supplementary facilities. The
maximum service area radius should be one-half mile. Two acres of
neighborhood parkland should be provided for each 1,000 people.
• District parks should be at least five acres in size. The maximum service
area radius should be one mile. Two acres of district park land should
be provided for each 1,000 people."

4 people like this
Posted by Enid Pearson
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 9:32 am

Great! Mini Parks were started back when I was on the council. We need more. there are some vacant pieces of
land throughout PA that could become mini parks. I can furnish a list to the Council. Also, throughout my walking career, I have probably hiked every trail in the foothills. My experience is that 99% of folks are very respectful of
all our parks (neighbors too). Palo Alto's Foothill would be better off open to the public and none the worse for
Our Baylands is 1,800 acres of dedicated park. The Yacht Harbor ceased to be because there is no place to dump
the spoils and dredging is necessary for any boat activity (except for very few). The water depth throughout the south bay is at most 4-7 feet at high tide. 7Feet in a main channel that MUST be dredged to navigate. Now that Byxbee
Park is complete, we will soon see trails, benches, some vegetation (hopefully a few trees in appropro places) and
I understand a new bathroom near the duck pond (in that area?). The goals should be to protect this preserve from
intrusion by parking lots, commuters, development. The golf course was originally built on dredge spoils and given
the history of golf courses, maybe it ought to go back to being a marsh. It might protect PA from sea rise.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:19 am

I am a frequent visitor to Foothill Park. One of the reasons I like it so much is the opportunity to view flora and fauna. The wildlife is there because it is a quiet nature reserve. The more people, the less the wildlife will be visible to the quiet, respectful visitor.

I was there at one time when a family was celebrating a birthday party. They had made a reservation, but they must have disobeyed every rule in the book. The disturbances to other visitors, while acceptable in say Mitchell or Greer Parks, was not what we expect in Foothill. I spoke with one of the rangers who had spoken to the family. They apologized for the rule breaking but the tranquility had already been disturbed and it was just as disruptive breaking up the party with all the trestle tables, etc. that had been set up as well as a personal generator set up for "entertainment", so the rangers had given them a warning for the future which was basically all they could do that time. Since the attendees had all arrived with at least one Palo Alto resident in each vehicle, it was hard for the rangers to have expected this rule breaking group in advance.

Foothill Park is a wonderful facility because it is never very crowded. Provided everyone obeys the rules which have been set up to protect the environment and the experience for all visitors, that is the most important aspect. It doesn't bother me where the visitors come from, but I would want a system that would either count cars and at a certain number close the park to additional visitors that day. Perhaps allowing a certain number of non PA residents would be a solution and once that number was reached only PA residents in would be a possible fair system.

Like this comment
Posted by michelle doan
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Youngn's are welcome at Wund3rkid, a new parent and child development center at 559 College ave. We offer classes and a play center just for young children. Please visit for more info and look forward to seeing you for your first free visit!

Like this comment
Posted by Downtown
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Fun fact: Johnson Park was created only in the mid-1980's. Palo Alto leveled an entire block of houses under imminent domain to create the park. Holy cow that would be expensive real estate today. I'm glad it is a park today, though.

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

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