Park plan calls for more restrooms, dog parks and native habitats

Palo Alto's new Amenities Concept Plan crafts a new vision for every local park, playground

Pingpong tables at Lytton Plaza. Three new athletic fields near the Baylands. Six dog parks and seven restrooms scattered throughout Palo Alto parks. And adult fitness areas in every leafy corner of the city.

These are a few of the myriad ideas that the city is considering as it looks to upgrade the city's 36 neighborhood parks and open space preserves. All of the ideas are included in a new plan that the city's Community Services Department and its Parks and Recreation Commission has been formulating and refining in recent months.

If approved, they will ultimately be included in the new Parks, Trails, Natural Open Space and Recreation Maser Plan, a document that will guide the city's decisions on recreation programs and facilities for decades to come.

The new plans were informed by close to two years of data-gathering efforts by city staff and their consultants, a process that included online surveys, park visits and community meetings. In many cases, the proposed amenities remain unfunded and un-vetted by the City Council, which will ultimately decide which projects to prioritize and pursue.

Even so, the new Amenities Concept Plans Review Document -- along with the broader master plan document -- represents the city's most significant effort to take stock of its recreation resources and, with ample community feedback, determine what else the city needs. It includes information about each park, along with proposed improvements for each.

The document is currently available for review and comments at

The new plans were a product of both community feedback and staff's analysis of what types of amenities are in short supply in various parts of the city. In some cases, the plans are admittedly overambitious. The 4.2-acre Hoover Park, which is located in Midtown, would see enhancements to its existing playing field, a loop path going through a native-habitat area and new tennis, basketball and handball courts to replace the existing ones.

Kristen O'Kane, assistant director of the Community Services Department, said at the June 28 meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission that while it looks like the city is preparing to add lots of different amenities to Hoover, that isn't the case. One of the goals, she said, is to consider amenities that are not being provided by other parks in that area of Palo Alto.

"These are things we think can fit into the park based on what we heard, based on what is happening around that neighborhood," O'Kane said.

In many cases, the future remains hazy. The city still hasn't figured out exactly what to do with the 7.7 acres in Foothills Park that it recently discovered and officially "dedicated" as parkland. The former quarry site is currently the subject a hydrology study, which will ultimately inform how much of the site can actually be used and help the city determine the best uses.

An even larger wildcard is the 10.5 acres next to the Baylands Athletic Center that will become available for recreation as part of the city's long-awaited and recently launched revamp of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course. The new concept plans indicate that this site, which is just northeast of and adjacent to the existing Athletic Center, can accommodate three play fields or other amenities as well as a spruced-up habitat. Yet the planning for this site remains in the very early stages and the funding to build the new fields has not been allocated.

At its June 28 review of the concept plans, the Parks and Recreation Commission was hesitant to propose anything specific for the site. Chair Ed Lauing emphasized the need to take more time to study the city's options, noting that "you can't make 10.5 acres every day."

"We have all -- collectively in the city -- created 10.5 acres," Lauing said. "Let's make sure we're using it for the right things. Kind of going a little bit slower on that is what my judgment would suggest."

But even without a firm and funded plan, playing fields and natural spaces appear to be the leading contenders for the site. Rob de Geus, director of the Community Services Department, told the commission that multi-use athletic fields, particularly rectangular ones, seem to be of high interest. There is also a desire within the community to see more natural spaces and native habitats.

"It seems to me at least those two things ought to be considered for the 10.5 acres," he said.

In other cases, the proposals are more concrete -- for better or worse. Residents of the Barron Park neighborhood, for example, are already voicing concerns about a "bike pump track" that is being proposed for Bol Park.

Distinguished for its rustic character and its history as a donkey pasture (the two donkeys, Perry and Miner, still reside in a corral adjacent to the park), the park currently includes a dirt path that is commonly used by bicyclists. This pump track, which would include humps and winding paths, would replace a de facto track in place today (which is, essentially, a collection of dirt mounds).

Commissioners Jennifer Hetterley and Keith Reckdahl both said they have heard many concerns from residents about the pump track, which like most proposed amenities in the new plan remains in the conceptual phase.

Other proposals are a mixed bag. Consider restrooms, an amenity that was extremely popular with survey responders, but that attracts some localized opposition from residents who believe having a nearby public restroom at a park near their home will attract homeless people, according to staff. The city's new master plan proposes adding restrooms to Bol Park, Bowden Park, Eleanor Pardee Park, Johnson Park, Ramos Park, Robles Park and Terman Park.

Proposed dog parks also present some funding, planning and permitting challenges. The city's plan calls for evaluating and choosing at least six dedicated, fenced dog parks, "equally distributed across north and south Palo Alto." The menu of possible locations include: Eleanor Pardee Park, Bowden Park, Greer Park, Peers Park, Hoover Park, Robles Park, Mitchell Park, Kingsley Island, Werry Park, Juana Briones Park, Heritage Park and El Camino Park.

The plan calls for improving the existing parks at Hoover and Greer parks, though it also acknowledges that the plan to place a dog park in El Camino Park could be hindered by proposed transportation improvements to the area around the downtown transit hub.

One amenity that staff and commissioners agreed should be encouraged is playground equipment accessible to residents of all abilities and disabilities. With the new all-inclusive Magical Bridge Playground serving as the blueprint, city staff hope to replicate some of its features in other parts of the city.

Daren Anderson, division manager for Open Space, Parks and Golf, said at the June 28 meeting that the level of usage at Magical Bridge has exceeded staff's expectations. Every day of the week, every time of the day, the playground is packed with users. This, he said, has influenced the city's thinking about other playgrounds.

"At all of our playgrounds we're looking to add really popular amenities that people are going to love and that are all-inclusive," Anderson said. "This one seems like a no-brainer to me -- that every renovation of a playground would have some element of that."

Related content:

Palo Alto residents gather to plan future of Bol Park


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4 people like this
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2016 at 10:39 am

I am writing as a 9 year former Parks and Recreation Commissioner.

The planning process has yielded tremendous and practical results. All the key items, dog parks, bathrooms, added recreational space, among others, have been on the minds of commissioners for years, certainly during my time from 2004-2012.

The space at the Baylands remains of particular interest to me. There is a huge deficit in gym space for non-school leagues in basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. Before I left the commission, I was gratified that my colleagues agreed with me that those 10.5 acres do not necessarily have to be only playing fields. A gym could be part of that footprint.

Funding many of these ideas is problematic. Many of them will not pass the PA budget muster, and it will once again call for our incredibly supportive local community to provide the financing for these worthwhile initiatives.

4 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 12, 2016 at 11:11 am

Boulware Park scores near the bottom in the City's "Quality" ratings, significantly lower than most other comparable neighborhood parks, so priority attention ought to be focused on improving it. One easy way to do so is to act on the opportunity noted in the report “to expand park in vacant lot.” Doing so would meet the City’s express goal of adding parkland on a corner lot and would add more of the kinds of amenities that the community has requested, all in a park that the Concept Plan notes “serves a large neighborhood with limited park land.” Link: Web Link
Go to Web Link and provide your comments.

Like this comment
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 12, 2016 at 11:13 am

@ Paul Losch re a "call for our incredibly supportive local community to provide the financing for these worthwhile initiatives."
I suspect such a call would receive a lot of support, particularly if improvements to school playgrounds, some of which are covered in the Concept Plans, are included.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 12, 2016 at 11:20 am


The City and the School District are separate entities. What I understand to be proposed has no involvement with school district properties. It is strictly city properties.

3 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 12, 2016 at 11:54 am

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

Please also preserve and add to the green spaces while you are making constructed amenities.

4 people like this
Posted by Keith Peters
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2016 at 12:27 pm

Keith Peters is a registered user.

I agree with Paul Losch that Palo Alto needs a dedicated gym that is open to city residents. I'm just not sure the Baylands area is that space. Cubberley Community Center still remains the best place for a city rec center, as it has the pavilion plus the old boys and girls gyms. The city experimented with holding open gyms years (decades) ago, charging $2 per use while using recreation leaders to oversee the facilities. I think a lack of response plus the question of liability closed down that project. Menlo Park has Burgess Park, which includes a pool and gym, and Sunnyvale has a gym that is open to the public every day. Palo Alto has never had such a facility. Before Palo Alto does anything with the Badlands area, it needs to resurface the parking lot at Baylands Athletic Center. The surface is uneven and winds up with lakes after any rainstorm. It's in badly need of repair.

14 people like this
Posted by Tots Can't Hold It
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Tots Can't Hold It is a registered user.

Please, please, please install restrooms in more parks. Little children have little bladders, and many times I have witnessed a parent ushering a small child behind a bush because they child couldn't " hold it" til he or she got home!

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2016 at 1:28 pm

I am very disappointed that there is no mention whatsoever of upgrades for the Baylands - I mean the area by the duckpond, the interpretive center, the boardwalk and the dock where windsurfs and kayaks are launched.

It is so sad to see this area looking so dilapidated. There are no restrooms - portapotties don't count. The signage is old and there are few amenities. Many people coming out here are visitors from out of area and are shocked by the state of what they see. I know the sea scout house has been renovated and there are restrooms there, but the hours of opening are minimal and people like to come to this area into the evening hours to watch sunset and early to watch sunrise, and all hours inbetween on all days of the week and on holidays.

Foothill Park in recent years installed a flagpole and flag. I have nothing against patriotism, but was this more necessary than repairs to the board walk or installing restrooms at the Baylands?

I responded to surveys and sent emails, etc. and said that I thought the Baylands were due major improvements. I am so sad that this has been ignored rather than "improvements" to parks that seem fairly OK to me.

12 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Please do not add rest rooms or a dog area to Bol Park.
This park should remain as rural as possible. Therefore, we neither want nor need dog area, rest rooms, bike pump area, adult exercise area. Keep it simple. Let the donkeys remain and get another on key if one dies.

6 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 12, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "This pump track, which would include humps and winding paths, would replace a de facto track in place today"

This is not a "replacement" but a relocation and shrinking of it. The de facto track is over 1000 feet to the south on School District land. The proposed location of the pump track would impact the root zones of several mature oak trees -- compaction and changing soil level -- that tree care advice warns can be fatal (City Staff responded that they don't intend to remove the trees).

Map showing de facto and proposed location: Web Link
(from a comment of mine on the earlier article on the Bol Park aspect that is referenced in this article).

This, and the other questions about the Bol Park "concept", raises questions about the quality of the input, and its incorporation into the concept plan, for the other parks.

Like this comment
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 12, 2016 at 10:17 pm

Cubberley, Terman, and Ventura are explicitly included in the concept plans. I understand there are multiple entities here, but in the minds of residents it should not matter which entity controls a play area, and they ought to see the logic and advantage of teaming up.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 13, 2016 at 6:49 am

Ping pong tables and playthings bring more people. Development draws crowds and overpopulation. The results is that once-quiet parks where you could play fetch with one dog will become crowded, dense and teeming newly-arrived immigrants and screaming children.

Maybe tax us less and don't bother with any of these fancy upgrades? I like nature, trees, grass, the less concrete and playgrounds, the better. A set or two of swings is enough. I like the parks just the way they are.

Preserve Palo Alto.

11 people like this
Posted by No Dog Parks
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jul 13, 2016 at 7:09 am

Please no dog parks! Veterinarians advise against them, because they spread worms, fleas, disease etc. Dogs are often killed or injured in fights. They are usually not well-maintained, either. Please, don't do it!

3 people like this
Posted by Awful
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 13, 2016 at 8:04 am

I would bet that many Palo Altans have never been to Bolware Park several blocks South of Frys. It is awful. Please visit it. This park needs some real help and pronto.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2016 at 8:04 am

Parks are one of the few, free amenities that we have in Palo Alto. We are losing so much recreation due to developments, Palo Alto Bowl, Malibu golf and race cars, etc. and we need to be able to find more things for family entertainment and in particular teens. Anything that puts more outside entertainment in our parks has to be a good thing in my opinion. Foothill Park is a great place for peaceful activities as it rarely gets crowded. Other parks are designed for neighborhood activities for local residents. I love the idea of improvements with permanent activities left in situ.

Thank you to the team that worked on these ideas, but please can you now spend some time improving the Baylands, the boardwalk, the harbor, etc. The area by the picnic area could have some table tennis, basket ball hoop, etc.

4 people like this
Posted by NIMBY
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2016 at 1:06 pm

A thoughtful plan has something for everyone. Some empty rural parks, others for dog owners, others for toddlers, others for older kids and adults.

Please support parks for people other than your personal unique needs. Taxpayer funded means supporting a wide variety of current tax payers.

2 people like this
Posted by pooch
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 14, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I have to call out the comments on the dangers of dog parks. Dog fights that cause fatalities are incredibly rare.

I've spent years visiting dog parks with my pet that needs to run more than he can on leashed walks, and have occasionally witnessed aggressive dog incidents. They are fairly rare, and usually stopped pretty quickly by the owners.

Dog parks do need to be maintained, just like other parks and public spaces. Dog owners are tax paying citizens, just like you.

Not saying PA needs dozens of dog parks. A couple really good ones that are well maintained will do.

Upwards of 40% of households own a dog, so parks are needed!

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

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