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 paloaltoparksplan.org.
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."