With news that had Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth exclaiming "Booya!," City Manager Ed Shikada announced at a May 20 City Council meeting that the city has entered into a purchase agreement with the Pacific Bell Telephone Company to buy a parcel next to Boulware Park for $2.75 million.
Filseth is far from the only resident excited about the purchase, which the city has been mulling ever since it learned more than two years ago that the 0.64-acre property in the Ventura neighborhood would be going on the market. The parcel is part of a larger, 1.65-acre Pacific Bell property, which includes a building that is not part of the sale.
In late February, just before the council unanimously voted to make a bid for the item, numerous Ventura residents urged the council to expand the triangular 1.5-acre park. Scott Van Duyne pointed to the growing number of children in the neighborhood, which has seen an uptick in development, and the area's need for recreation resources. Jonathan Brown, a member of the Ventura Neighborhood Association, said the purchase would fulfill a goal of the city's recently adopted parks master plan, which encourages the creation of new parks. The last neighborhood parkland to be added in the city was in 2003, when the 8-acre Heritage Park opened in the University South neighborhood.
The Parks and Recreation Commission also lobbied for the council to acquire the land in an April 2017 memo. The location of the property offers "unique potential" for employing the public right of way for recreational use, the memo stated, referring to the possibility of closing the street that runs between Boulware and the new parcel. The land can also be used to develop a creek walk connecting the park with future development at the site of Fry's Electronics, which is currently the focus on a master planning process.
The May 17 agreement between the city and Pacific Bell kicks off a 60-day period that allows the city to inspect the property at 3350 Birch St. and review all the pertinent documents. Once purchased, the city would move ahead with various improvements to the property, including the planting of grass and the potential removal of the segment of Ash Street that currently divides the existing park and the new parcel.
While the deal has not yet been closed, city staff has already presented various options for improving the park: The most ambitious option calls for planting turf, reconfiguring Chestnut Avenue to create a turnaround point and taking out a portion of Ash. Costs could range from $315,000 to about $1 million.
On Tuesday, in its final review of the fiscal year 2020 budget, the council's Finance Committee delved into possible funding sources for the work, such as parkland fees collected from developers.
While the council has yet to take up the subject of future improvements, Committee Chair Tom DuBois said he would favor the redesign of the park to create more space.
"I think we should remove Ash Street and expand the park," DuBois said.