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.