Palo Alto welcomes new vision for parks | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto welcomes new vision for parks

City Council approves master plan with dog runs, park bathrooms, restrictions on corporate parties

The new plan for Palo Alto's park system includes a treat for just about everyone who likes to play outdoors, from dog runs and athletic fields to community gardens and pickleball courts.

There's just one exception: Corporations that wish to rent and occupy a local park for an extended period of time will almost certainly have to look elsewhere.

Thus ruled the City Council, which on Monday night unanimously and enthusiastically approved the new Parks, Trails, Natural Space and Recreation Master Plan -- a vision document that will help guide the city's park projects for at least the next two decades. Two years in the making, the plan proposes a wide range of improvements to the city's cherished park system, including six dedicated dog parks, restrooms at seven parks (Bol, Bowden, Pardee, Johnson, Ramos, Robles and Terman); and new parks in parts of the city that are currently lacking.

Yet the one proposed change that generated the most discussion Monday wasn't an addition but a prohibition. Inspired by Palantir's two-week takeover of a Cubberley soccer field in April for a corporate event, the council approved a new policy that would make such arrangements nearly impossible in the future.

The new policy severely limits the ability of a company to claim exclusive use of a local park by effectively prohibiting such use during "peak times," such as weekends and weekday evenings. Private uses would also be limited to a maximum of five days, which includes the setup and break-down periods, and would require notification to the neighboring community at least 14 days before the permit could be issued.

The only exception to this rule is the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, which is now in the midst of a long-awaited renovation and which council members agreed is uniquely suited for corporate functions and private sponsorships.

Mayor Greg Scharff, who proposed excluding the golf course from the broader policy, noted that unlike other parks, the golf course is supported by an enterprise fund and -- in effect -- is expected to pay for itself. He also worried that a policy that's too broad would inadvertently limit park activities that are less exclusive or controversial -- functions like weddings and birthday parties.

"I think what we want to do as a community is not overreact and sweep up a lot of other things because we are concerned about a corporation that rented a park," Scharff said.

Others felt that the policy doesn't go far enough. Councilwoman Karen Holman thought a 14-day notification period is so tight that it's pointless; she suggested 60 to 90 days. Councilwoman Lydia Kou thought allowing even five days of exclusive usage to a corporation is excessive and suggested limiting usage to three days.

"Even the biggest events the city puts on -- May FĂȘte and Arts and Wine Festival -- are over in one day," Kou said. "I can't figure out why five days would be needed."

The policy doesn't entirely close the door on private events at public parks. The Community Services Department will have discretion to approve events, though its approval would now be guided by the restrictive criteria in the new policy.

"We can't anticipate every scenario and there may be a scenario where it might make sense to allow a large corporate function of multiple days," said Deputy City Manager Rob de Geus, who in his prior position as director of Community Services Department played a leading role in crafting the document. "But if we do that, we'd need to be very careful about making that decision. That's what the policy is trying to do."

Ultimately, the council adopted a policy that hewed closely to the one recommended by staff and the Parks and Recreation Commission. The council also endorsed the rest of the voluminous plan, which was forged after many months of community surveys, public meetings and commission hearings and which received rave reviews from the council.

Both Scharff and Vice Mayor Liz Kniss praised staff for its work on the document, while Councilman Tom DuBois called the new document "one of our best plans." He also said it's critical for the city to find more park space and to introduce new senior services as the city's population continues to grow. Councilman Cory Wolbach called the plan "exemplary."

"You can almost flip open any page and find something to like," Wolbach said.

But while everyone agreed that the improvements look good on paper, the council now faces a big question: Who will pay for them? The plan includes an implementation section with various funding options, including bonds, fees, donations and public-private partnerships. Scharff suggested exploring a ballot measure to get the needed funding for the projects in the plan. His motion to approve the plan included a provision directing the parks commission to further consider funding sources, including a ballot initiative, to pay for the improvements.


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5 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2017 at 8:36 am

Bravo to the city council for their support of this updated master plan, and support for the city's parks and open space. As stated, now it is time to look for funding to support this new plan.

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2017 at 8:48 am

Two separate comments.

Corporations should never ever be allowed to bump sports leagues for children or adults off their fields. If a Corporation is allowed an event (not that I am altogether in agreement with this) it should be some park where there are no regular sports practices or games scheduled.

Bathrooms should be available at Baylands. I was there on Labor Day and both centers were closed for the holiday so the only bathroom facilities were the portapotties. This is not good enough. We need to have the same type of facilities as many of the other city parks that are open from dawn to dusk, not just when the Interpretive Centers are open.

33 people like this
Posted by Arastradero
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2017 at 10:38 am

Please stop "fixing" the trails at Arastradero. Many of the beautiful single track trails there have now been destroyed. The very poorly constructed gravel golf cart paths that are taking the place of the nature trails are not only an eye sore, they are dangerous in many sections and very poorly designed from a drainage and longevity standpoint. Pouring gravel on well designed walking paths not only leads to erosion, but creates a soft shoulder that leads to twisted ankles, horse trips, and mountain bike falls.

If the city wants to see how a proper trail is constructed, head down to the Pogonip in Santa Cruz. Beautiful sustainable trails are being built there every day, without backhoes, steam rollers and gravel.

22 people like this
Posted by Punt it to Residents
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2017 at 10:42 am

"Scharff suggested exploring a ballot measure to get the needed funding for the projects in the plan. His motion to approve the plan included a provision directing the parks commission to further consider funding sources, including a ballot initiative, to pay for the improvements."

Of course, have a ballot initiative and punt the costs for the residents to bear. Watch out residents, the Council votes to add more development, office and housing, overwhelm city resources, and then puts the burden on the residents.

7 people like this
Posted by Onlinr Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 12, 2017 at 10:59 am

Something for the residents?? Oh, the horror. Let's take a big step back and think this through.

20 people like this
Posted by Authoritarian chairman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm

1. Scharff really pushed and pushed for a Ballot Measure. He said he wanted the commission to know it had the "Council's backing."
Except that he was speaking only for himself. No one else addressed the issue.

2. When the agenda turned to the Council discussion after the public spoke, he introduced Council's turn and said, "I may as well begin." This violates the role of the Chair. He takes liberties with the proper role of the chair, which is to make it possible for others to express their views before he does.

His authoritarian-parent takeover style is highly improper. And really unpleasant to watch.

9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2017 at 8:28 pm

"His authoritarian-parent takeover style is highly improper. And really unpleasant to watch."

Nobody will ever mistake Scharff for a fair player. He has his agenda, and it ain't for the benefit of our town.

6 people like this
Posted by Monica Engel Williams
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2017 at 8:14 am

Thank you Mayor Greg Scharff, the City Council, the Palo Alto Recreation Department, and all those involved in the Master Plan for a superb job well done! Approval of pickleball courts is particularly exciting. This sport is booming because it's easy to learn, inexpensive, and can be played by all ages from youth to super seniors. Our local Pickleball Club already has 300 members and is only too happy to help with the funding of pickleball courts. We want to share the joy of this fun sport with all the community so we are teaching Palo Alto residents at Mitchell Park for FREE most Wednesdays and Weekends at Noon. Come on over!

Like this comment
Posted by Super
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 13, 2017 at 9:39 am

[Post removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Ashok
a resident of another community
on Sep 13, 2017 at 9:55 am

Appreciate planning for more pickleball courts. This will bring joy to many. Thanks.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2017 at 10:04 am

I am always pleased about new bathrooms, but I do see the problem with them attracting homeless encampments.

However, I am not sure that portapotties all over the Baylands doesn't do the same thing.

I would rather anybody have a proper flushing toilet with running water to wash hands than the bushes. I have had to take toddlers into a portapotty and it is not an easy thing to do particularly as most don't even have enough space for an adult as well as toddler let alone the inability to wash hands afterwards.

The homeless topic is very different issue.

5 people like this
Posted by Swim More
a resident of Addison School
on Sep 13, 2017 at 10:25 am

The city (after huge population growth ) needs a few more public swimming pools (such as Rinconanda ). Also, why are development fees not collected to increase parks and recreations - especially with all the variances and exceptions they seem to get?.

7 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Although the new policy on private companies renting city facilities seems like it restricts companies, it seems likely to me that it expands it. My understanding is that current policy discouraged all private rentals. I thought you had to be a Palo Alto resident or a nonprofit or a company that provides services to Palo Alto youth or residents (soccer groups) to rent a group site or athletic field. Now the city explicitly allows renting PA facilities to private companies, albeit with a few restrictions.

It would be far better to say that residents and non-profits or groups serving Palo Alto youth and adults get priority. Private companies could only rent parks if no one else is interested. Given the demand in Palo Alto for sports fields, I doubt this would happen, unless someone again pays off an existing group with a reservation as Palantir did. That should not be allowed. Think of the inconvenience to parents and children expecting to attend a game in Palo Alto to find the game has been relocated at the last minute to facilitate a local corporation. The people inconvenienced by Palantir had no say - only the board of the organization.

9 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 13, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Re the parks and Rinconada, note that the proposed expansion of the Children's Zoo will eat into the parkland and eliminate 85 parking spaces needed by the Walter Hays teachers and parents trying to pickup/drop off their kids as well as Community Center visitors.

This area is already gridlocked with commuters and glutted with school parents pushed onto nearby streets, sometimes blocking our driveways.

Very very oddly, the city planning official Amy French has scheduled a hearing on this expansion for 8:30 AM, 9/21 at City Hall -- precisely when most of those effected will be otherwise occupied. One might cynically think want residents feedback.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dtnnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm

We do not need bathrooms everywhere. totally against bathrooms at Johnson park. Not enough room and it will attract more homeless people. We already have people sleeping in the park. It also will attract larger gatherings and Johnson park can not accommodate the larger groups. Leave the smaller parks alone!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 13, 2017 at 2:07 pm

No bathrooms. [Portion removed.]

There is already a very good dog run park next to Shoreline Park. Palo Alto does not need any dog runs.

Who is going to pay for this? IR'A huge wish list for a city that does not even have the common sense to continue to pay for an animal shelter that does serve and help the community.

2 people like this
Posted by Mary Fran
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 15, 2017 at 3:28 pm

So excited to see the the vision for PA parks includes recognition of the the growth of pickleball - a great sport for any age, low cost and social connection. Thanks!

1 person likes this
Posted by Livability Matters
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 16, 2017 at 1:22 am

Juana Briones is a stupid place to put a dog park. Residents already turn the school yards into de facto dog parks rather than Briones, for reasons that are obvious if you live there. The plan says densely populated areas, as that one is identified to be, should be prioritized for purchasing space, which should be done there to provide a dog park, and badly needed civic/community space for youth, instead of taking away the only amenity on that side of town (right between all the schools). A City pool on that side of town would be due, for example, since the one at Rinconada is pretty inaccessable now because of the overdevelopment. The City should not be surprised if they press taking away Briones Park and get another uprising, only this time, with residents putting forward initiatives to ensure the City starts investing in its livability. I'm for seceding, it's not like many of us ever go to downtown anymore since it became Palantirville and all the traffic of overdevelopment, and we are tired of being afterthought/hotel dumping ground/never in line for any civic amenities. Since they keep pushing hyperlocal stuff but imposing just the negatives and never providing the positives, that may be the only recourse. Let's be small, compact West Palo Alto, and put a City Hall where we can actually reach it and have representation. Just waiting for that next prod...go ahead, tone deaf City Hall, make our day.,..

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