New plan aims to boost Palo Alto's parks

City unveils 33 'priorities' for improving recreational offerings

From pickleball courts and community gardens to dog runs and nature trails, everyone in Palo Alto seems to have an idea for improving the city's already popular park system.

Now, the city is putting the finishing touches on the city's first parks master plan -- a document that will aim to turn these proposals into reality.

On Tuesday night, more than 30 residents got a preview of coming attractions at a community hearing put on by the Community Services Department to discuss the new Parks, Trails, Natural Open Space and Recreation Master Plan, which is scheduled to be formally adopted early next year. The vision document has been nearly two years in the making, with staff and consultants from the firm MIG surveying the community, visiting and assessing every park, conferring with the Parks and Recreation Commission and painstakingly crafting dozens of policies and programs to work on for the next 25 years. The latest, which was distributed to attendees on Tuesday, is a list of 33 priorities for improving the city's recreational offerings.

The wishlist includes projects both big and small, short-term fixes and long-term planning projects. In the short-term category are dog parks and park bathrooms -- two amenities that have been identified as "high priorities" over the outreach process, according to staff and consultants. A handout distributed by the Community Services Department at Tuesday's meeting states that during the process, the community "generally came to a consensus that restrooms make sense in parks with amenities that draw people, especially children and seniors, and encourage them (to) stay at the park for a span of time."

"Though there have been varying opinions regarding specific sites, additional review will be conducted to site restrooms and security measures such as automatic locking mechanisms, and lighting will be included to address some of the concerns related to restrooms," the letter stated.

The idea of having more bathrooms in local parks isn't new, though it hasn't always received consensus community support. Councilwoman Liz Kniss noted at a September council discussion of the parks that she has recently heard from several residents who are less than thrilled about having bathrooms in their local parks.

"I think especially at some of the smaller parks, which are heavily used, people are concerned that the restroom brings in more people and allows them to stay longer," Kniss said, "Maybe that's unneighborly, but I'm just sharing the kind of things I have heard."

The council, for its part, generally agreed that it's a worthy priority. And at Tuesday's meeting, not a single attendee had anything negative to say about the idea of installing more bathrooms at local parks.

Nor did anyone raise any objections to having more dog parks, particularly in the northern half of Palo Alto, where there currently aren't any (the three existing dog parks, at Mitchell, Hoover and Greer parks, are all south of Oregon Expressway). Daren Anderson, manager for open space, parks and golf, said the city is now looking at two locations for near-term dog parks: Eleanor Pardee Park and Peers Park. Ultimately, the plan calls for building six new dog parks.

"The lack of dog parks on the north side of the City, together with the prevalence of people allowing dogs to run off-leash outside of designated dog parks in parks and on school property, underscores the need for more off-leash dog parks in the near term," the priority document states. "Locations for dog parks have been strategically selected at certain parks and planning efforts are underway."

In addition to more bathrooms and dog parks, the new document sets as a high priority the development of conservation plans for the city and to "incorporate sustainable practices in the maintenance and management of parks, open space and recreation facilities." As part of the latter effort, Community Services Department staff will develop a strategic plan for sustainable practices and develop measures for tracking their adoption.

Other projects that the city hopes to pursue in the short-term are: enhanced seating areas at local parks, development of new community gardens in underserved areas, create more adult-fitness areas in local parks and improve wayfinding signage of safe routes to parks. The plan also calls for exceeding the Americans with Disabilities Act requirement in parks and to "strive for universal accessibility, where people of all abilities can utilize and enjoy parks."

During all parks-related capital improvement projects, staff will not only update amenities and design to current ADA standards, but will also seek opportunities to achieve universal access.

While these improvements could start soon, other items listed on the 33-project list will take time to get off the ground. This includes planning and designing for new recreation uses at the 10.5-acre site in the Baylands that was once part of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course (the ongoing redesign of the golf course has made this land available for other uses) and at Cubberley Community Center. Officials also look to launch planning processes for the undeveloped 7.7-acre site that was recently annexed to Foothills Park (the site is now being subject to a hydrology study), to construct a new public gymnasium and to improve the Rinconada swimming pool.

Nearly half of the items on the list are programs that the city hopes to either introduce or expand in the next 25 years. This includes more offerings for seniors, more non-academic programs for teens, an expanded aquatics program and a new intramural sports program for middle and high school students. The priority list also calls for identifying potential park donors (and establishing partnerships with them), expanding recruitment and training of coaches and instructors and encouraging "unstructured play" at parks and community centers.

Participants at the Tuesday meeting generally embraced the priorities included in the new master plan, though a few had questions about how these "priorities" will be prioritized (there are, after all, 33 of them) and about specific improvements that staff had proposed for specific parks (these site-specific projects, staff said, will be subject to their own outreach processes and will not be approved as part of the master plan).

Council candidates Lydia Kou and Don McDougall, both of whom serve on a citizen committee charged with updating the city's Comprehensive Plan, made the case for having seniors services in mind. Kou suggested that the plan consider a new senior-services facility in south Palo Alto, possibly as part of the redevelopment of Cubberley. McDougall pointed to the city's growing senior population and urged staff to consider this demographic trend as part of the long-term-planning process.

He also made the case for having "pickleball" striping at city tennis courts and cited a past meeting in which pickleball players made their pitch to the city.

There was also a broad consensus that new parks and playgrounds should include "passive" space and areas that connect residents with nature. Resident Shani Kleinhaus also made a case for having shuttles that take residents to Foothills Park and other open spaces areas.

"It's important to a lot of seniors and people who want to get to the parks and can't get there," Kleinhaus said.


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2 people like this
Posted by Roy M.
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Roy M. is a registered user.

To Gennady or anyone who was at the meeting, were any options laid out for the use of the 10.5 acres by the golf course? Is this still something that the city would be open to ideas? Who is in charge or that particular plan. Thanks.

16 people like this
Posted by Pulllleeeeze!
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm

Pulllleeeeze! is a registered user.

Please install restrooms at more of the parks!

Toddlers, preschoolers, and primary grade kids have small bladders!

14 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 2, 2016 at 8:43 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

For the love of God, please no more community gardens. At least take out the one at Johnson Park, which is a complete waste of space.

At first blush it seems like kind of a good idea, but if you think about it, how is it different than renting out small slivers of our park for private use only? Why do we want that?

And if you go to Johnson Park on any day, at any time of the year, you will find virtually no one in the community garden, many if not most plots fallow, and the rest of the park, particularly the playground area completely overcrowded.

Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Nov 3, 2016 at 10:37 am

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

@Roy: There were no options laid out for the 10.5-acre site at the Tuesday meeting. Staff indicated that there will be a community-outreach process and a community plan for the site. Stay tuned.

Like this comment
Posted by Roy M.
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 10:59 am

Roy M. is a registered user.

Thanks Gennady.

2 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:22 am

Community gardens are great. There should be enough open space to have a few community gardens. They are great places for young people to actually see things they never see, learn how to grow things, and eat healthy food - that is community gardens perform a necessary purpose. There should also be some kind of subsidy or resources provided for people to grow local organic food inside the city limits. The Baylands might be a good spot for something like that. There are a few greenhouse grow operations around here and having more could provide top quality food and some jobs and education for a lot of people who want to do something productive.

2 people like this
Posted by JavaJoe
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:32 am

Perhaps it's too late, but would love to have some access to refreshments at some of the parks. This is more common in Europe and makes for a lovely experience with families. Recently a café opened at the main library near Mitchell Park and this has really made a difference for the people who can take it vantage of a small snack and a cup of coffee while enjoying magical bridge!

13 people like this
Posted by Winter
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:47 am

Left out completely is a public swimming pool here in South Palo Alto. To only have one such pool for 65,000 residents is clearly inadequate. Not even a school pool is available to us at any time. We all know this is great exercise for seniors too. CC candidate Greer Stone brought up this pool idea - it should be in the mix here.
We want a public swimming pool in south Palo Alto. Mitchell Park? Cubberly?

1 person likes this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm

@Winter There was talk at the meeting that the possibility of adding a pool would presumably be part of the Cubberley redevelopment planning. Staff also seemed attuned to the need for more aquatics programs and facilities (potentially elsewhere in the City) to support those. The concern also dovetails with comments we heard about the desire for more aquatics as part of fitness opportunities for seniors.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 3, 2016 at 1:04 pm

Kudos to Staff for their long hours of work and listening on this project. It was good to hear at the meeting that the "new public gymnasium" part of the plan is to be an additional gymnasium, not just a revamp of the one we already have at Cubberley. Gym space is too limited, and another gym is desperately needed--we shouldn't have fifth graders forced to practice basketball at 9:30 pm as we do now.

3 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 1:41 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.


Your arguments about community gardens would be more compelling if Palo Alto was a blighted, low income, urban environment. We are not that, and I would argue our kids know what gardens look like.

And even if there was a substantial group of residents in Palo Alto who really needed a gardening experience, is the best solution to rent out (for free) plots of our public spaces to a small number of individuals?

But whether any feature makes sense depends on what the best alternative is. At my neighborhood park, Johnson Park, which is tiny, the gigantic community garden is out of proportion and totally underutilized. If you ever visit Johnson Park, compare the number of people at the playground vs the garden. They're roughly the same size. It's usually something like 30:1, or 50:0. I think you could literally put anything in that space (a pile of rocks, for instance), and get more usage. How can that be a good use of public space?

6 people like this
Posted by They Couldn't Care Less
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 3, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Decades ago, I was told by elderly locals, there WAS a pool at Mitchell Park-- that's why it still has those nice, big restrooms.

At some point, the pool was reduced to a kiddie pool--also nice to have. But now, Mitchell Park has these difficult-to-activate sprinklers, that require tremendous pressure in order to turn on a short sprinkle. The water is also recycled, causing some small children to become sick from trying to drink it.

4 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 3:15 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

I can understand people in South PA wanting a pool, but I would argue that it might make more sense if the one we have is actually open more. Our current pool is closed more than its open. It's closed for open swim half of the year, and "fall" hours (which starts on August 15 and ends September 15) means open 4 hours on Sat only. After that, they say, "see you in the spring!" It's kind of sad, and we've had to go to Menlo Park, which has a much more useful pool.

4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 3:34 pm

Above all we need more park acreage, especially in the verydensely populated downtown area.

1 person likes this
Posted by Malagueno
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 5:35 pm

We have plenty of parks relative to usage and need.
Over 5,000 acres of it.
What we DON'T have enough of, is land for low income housing and parking for those less fortunate folks parking in RV's along El Camino, near the parks and along the RR frontages. The city is wisely using Eminent Domain to take the land it needs for Buena Vista from the property owner. This is how bad it is.

"No" to land use for parks when it could be used to house the less fortunate.
"No" to any more "Maybells" in Palo Alto
Swimming Pools ??? Seriously ??? We have a water shortage people!

1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 10:01 pm

"We have plenty of parks relative to usage and need."

Not in the right places. Most of our park acreage is in our low-density suburbs, where the residents enjoy private microparks in their yards. By contrast, only 5 acres of park exist in the high-density downtown area.

"What we DON'T have enough of, is land for low income housing..."

There is an abundance of land for low income housing in our unrealistically low-density suburbs like Barron Park, Midtown, Crescent Park, etc., etc., where, coincidentally, there also happens to be a gross surfeit of public open space.

An intelligent city government would build new high-density affordable housing in those underutilized suburban areas, while converting every available square inch of land in the existing high-density downtown area to parks for the open-space-starved residents and low income housing already there.

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Posted by cm
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:55 pm

Where is the plan to save funds to buy new parkland? Currently no funds are set aside in a dedicated "park fund" so that if an opportunity to buy a large piece of land for a park, community center, or place for a pool were to come up the city would probably claim they don't have the money. We should be setting funds aside earmarked for new acquisitions. I hear talk all the time about the "Fry's site" and plans to increase urban density with massive housing complexes there. Instead we should plan to increase city livability with a large park with perhaps a pool or playing fields, a dog park or even an updated animal shelter that is easy to get too and can be incorporated into the community feel of our town.

No where at this meeting was there a plan to acquire more land. We need more dedicated park space and need to save and plan accordingly.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2016 at 8:46 am

Great meeting last night at Mitchell Park Library hosted by Daren Anderson to discuss proposed plans for a new dog park at Pardee Park. Things I took away from the meeting:

1) Those whose homes abut the fence closest to proposed location are understandably concerned about safety, noise, smell and other potential issues.

2) Vast majority are in favor of a dog park at Pardee.

3) Private/citizen funds to augment what City of PA can do seems like it would help address (1) by allowing for buffer zone, more frequent cleaning and several design improvements to address safety, noise, smell, etc.

I hope we can all work together to get this done in a way that everyone's happy with!

1 person likes this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2016 at 12:44 pm

A dog Park in Eleanor Park is a VERY BAD IDEA.

Sorry, but Palo Alto dog owners ( not all but a large number ) are rude and irresponsible with their dogs. Doing anything that will reward this group sends the wrong signal. Money spent on this will eventually lead to more problems and more money having to be spent to monitor, modify and fix it.

Plus, it is downright rotten to dump a bunch of concentrated dog noise on the neighbors and neighborhood and ruin a very pleasant park.

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

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