Dogged by persistent complaints about inadequate park space for local pooches, Palo Alto officials are preparing to unleash a new policy that would both expand existing dog parks and create new ones throughout the city.
The proposal, which was put together by the Community Services Department and an ad hoc committee of the Parks and Recreation Commission, identifies 12 locations where potential dog parks could go, though one of these -- El Camino Park -- faces potentially insurmountable obstacles, according to staff.
Each dedicated and fenced dog park would be at least 0.25 acres. Today, only one existing park -- the 0.57-acre stretch at Mitchell Park -- meets that threshold. The city's two other dog parks, at Greer and Hoover parks, are 0.12 acres and 0.14 acres, respectively. All three are south of Oregon Expressway, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by elected dog lovers from the north (former Mayor Larry Klein and Councilwoman Karen Holman among them).
Daren Anderson, division manager for Open Space, Parks and Golf, said that staff and the ad hoc committee compiled the list after extensive conversations with stakeholders and a "comprehensive analysis of our entire park system." The analysis, as well as conversations with other cities' officials, convinced Palo Alto personnel that dedicated dog parks have distinct advantages over shared spaces that dogs are allowed to use for certain limited hours.
The so-called "shared use" parks typically "result in conflicts between user groups," a staff report notes, and require a contractor to enforce the schedule. Menlo Park's own parks commission expressed concerns about the joint use of a city softball field and noted "ongoing field-condition issues," according to Anderson's report to the Palo Alto park commission, which considered the dog-park proposal Tuesday.
Staff are pitching the new policy calling for the city to "actively pursue" dedicated dog parks as part of Palo Alto's Parks, Trails, Natural Open Space, and Recreation Master Plan, a broad vision document that the city is now putting together.
Though the proposed policy has yet to be formally adopted, it won enthusiastic plaudits from the commission. The policy calls for the city to evaluate and decide upon at least six new or improved dog parks. Three would be at existing locations: The dog park at Mitchell Park would be expanded to 1.2 acres; Greer's and Hoover's would be moved to larger spaces and expanded to 0.87 acres and 1 acre, respectively.
The top two proposed new locations are Eleanor Pardee Park and Bowden Park, each of which has ample space and a budget for park-improvements that could accommodate fencing, a water fountain for dogs and some basic amenities like benches, Anderson told the commission. Significantly, each is located north of Oregon.
Pardee Park, near Channing Avenue and Center Drive, is 9.6 acres, and a dog park would have minimal impact on other uses and on adjacent residences, Anderson notes in his report.
Bowden Park, which is near California Avenue and Alma Street, is 2 acres but also has open space that is "underused" and access to residents in multiple neighborhoods, thanks to California Avenue underpass, the report states.
Other locations under evaluation are Heritage Park, Juana Briones Park, Kingsley Island, Peers Park, Robles Park, Werry Park and El Camino Park, though Anderson noted that the lattermost option has certain unique barriers. Among them, Stanford University, which actually owns the El Camino land, is planning to improve the nearby downtown transit hub, and the existence of a dog park could hamper those plans, the report states. In addition, dog owners would need to drive there, thus filling up parking lots near the Red Cross building and near the MacArthur Park restaurant. Given these constraints, Anderson suggested that the site be removed from the list.
Commissioner Keith Reckdahl, however, wasn't entirely convinced and said removing El Camino would be a "missed opportunity." All that would be needed would be a fence and a sign declaring the dog park to be temporary, he said.
Commission Chair Ed Lauing also lauded the report, city staff and the ad hoc committee for moving forward with a bold proposal.
"This is a terrific example of serious, serious work that came together into a very specific, comprehensive, actionable plan," Lauing said.
If the policy is ultimately adopted, it would spur a series of public meetings near each proposed site, followed by bids, design contracts and construction. First, however, it will have to win over the council, which is expected to consider the policy in May when it holds its next review of the parks master plan.
The proposal may yet attract opposition, but on Tuesday dog owner Barbara Millin told the commission that she is "very pleased," even though the proposal doesn't include everything that dog owners want.
"I have a couple of greyhounds, and they would've liked several acres to run around, but for the most part it will meet the needs of most dog owners in the community who want to stay local and meet their neighbors at a fairly local park where a lot of conversation goes on and a lot of support goes on," Millin said.