An ambitious plan to create new dog parks throughout Palo Alto picked up fresh momentum this week, when the city's Parks and Recreation Commission enthusiastically recommended moving ahead with two off-leash recreational spaces.
With its unanimous vote on Tuesday night, the commission sought to put some teeth into a proposal that has been painstakingly crafted and modified over months of meetings and discussions and that is scheduled to go to the council next month. While commission members have spoken for years about the need to expand the city's meager supply of dog parks, progress so far has been hard to come by. Most recently, a plan to include an off-leash area in the newly redesigned El Camino Park fizzled because of the park's proximity to the San Francisquito Creek, home to the endangered steelhead trout.
While El Camino remains a long shot, city staff is now focusing on two sites for near-term improvements: Eleanor Pardee Park and Bowden Park. The commission on Tuesday recommended that the city begin conducting the needed outreach to get these projects going as soon as possible, a recommendation that the council will consider on Sept. 19.
At the same time, the commission also recommended that a specific dog-park policy be included in the city's new master plan for parks and recreation facilities, a broad document that will guide the city's decisions on new programs and amenities. The plan is expected to lay the foundation for creating more dog parks in other parts of the city.
Chair Ed Lauing noted Tuesday that one of the lessons that the commission has learned over its many months of working on the master plan is that dog parks are a major priority for local residents. Currently, the city has only three such facilities, all in south Palo Alto. Only one is larger than 0.25 acres, the industry standard.
While the dog area at Mitchell Park is 0.5 acres, the ones in Hoover and Greer parks are 0.14 and 0.12 acres, respectively. Meanwhile, residents north of Oregon Expressway have no dedicated dog parks at all.
"There is a sense of urgency," Lauing said. "And the commission has more or less committed, as much as we can, for a number of years to the dog owners that we'll work on this and that we'll get it done."
Whether or not the city will actually proceed with these parks will be up to the City Council. But by issuing a unanimous recommendation, the commission tried to make the case for proceeding with these projects without further delay.
Commissioner Jennifer Hetterly, who serves on a subcommittee that has been refining the dog-park proposal, said that passing a formal recommendation is a good way to to indicate to the council that the issue of dog parks is "really important to us."
"We've been talking about dog parks for at least a decade and haven't made any progress," Hetterly said.
The two parks were chosen for near-term improvements because of their sizes and locations. The centrally located Eleanor Pardee Park is 9.6 acres, with plenty of unused space to "dedicate a large dog park with minimal impact on other uses, and with significant buffer space for adjacent residents," states a recent report from Daren Anderson, division manager for Open Space, Parks and Golf Services.
The 2-acre Bowden Park, while much smaller, also has an open area that, according to Anderson, is currently underused because of its proximity to the busy Alma Street.
"The proposed dog park site will have minimum impact on other park users and nearby residences as well as accessibility for multiple neighborhoods given the proximity to (the) California Avenue underpass," Anderson wrote.
Other parks that are expected to be evaluated for potential off-leash areas are Heritage Park, Juana Briones Park, Kingsley Island, Peers Park, Robles Park and Werry Park. The city also plans to explore relocating and expanding the existing dog parks at Greer, Hoover and Mitchell.
Hetterly said a basic dog park is expected to cost about $30,000, though costs would go up if a water fountain, benches or other amenities were added. Commissioner Keith Reckdahl said the new facilities are "well worth the money" and that he "wholeheartedly" supports moving ahead with near-term improvements at Bowden and Eleanor Pardee parks.
"We have a lot of people with dogs, and I think they will appreciate both parks," Reckdahl said.
Commissioner Anne Cribbs agreed and advocated for moving as quickly as possible on refining the cost estimates for the new parks and pursuing the pilot programs.