Palo Alto's basketball, pickleball and tennis courts reopened Wednesday after a monthlong hiatus, as did parking lots near the city's nature preserves.
City Manager Ed Shikada announced the plan Monday night, one of several signs that the pandemic freeze that began in March is starting to slowly thaw. The city also planned to resume construction work this week on the California Avenue garage and the new bike bridge over the U.S. Highway 101 — projects that were briefly suspended. The city's building inspectors also have resumed making appointments with local property owners to visit construction projects, Shikada said.
The city's moves follow the recent easing of restriction on the county and state levels. Santa Clara County last week modified its own health order, allowing outdoor recreation facilities to reopen and letting construction projects, landscaping services and real estate showings resume. And on Monday afternoon, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that he planned to issue guidelines on Thursday that would allow bookstores, clothing stores and other businesses that can accommodate curbside pickup to reopen as early as this Friday, subject to county approval.
Palo Alto's decision to reopen parking lots next to two major nature preserves — the Baylands and Foothills Park — responds to both the county's guidance and a local outcry over the closure, which was implemented on March 27. Critics have maintained over the past month that it is foolish to limit access to vast nature preserves where keeping a physical distance is relatively easy. Others argued that keeping these preserves open but closing off parking lots limits entrance to only the fittest residents.
Michael Zent called the closures of the parking lots near the open space areas "absolutely ridiculous." Arastradero Preserve, where parking lots remain closed, makes it possible to stay 50 feet away from other people, he wrote to the council Saturday, May 2.
"People need to get out in nature and the arbitrary closure of this park is totally and completely unnecessary! What happened to common sense?" Zent wrote.
Shikada and Mayor Adrian Fine both indicated Friday, May 1, during their streamed "Table Talk" program that the parking lots near the nature areas will be open only on weekdays. Shikada also said that the city will take measures to ensure social distancing.
"We want to make sure we're providing an environment in which users can have that maintained, including one-way trails," Shikada said.
Palo Alto is also considering reopening the Baylands Golf Links, though the recently renovated course may be open only to solitary golfers pulling their own handcarts, said Kristen O'Kane, director of the Community Services Department. She said her department is trying to determine whether, given these social-distance restrictions, the course would be financially viable.
In addition to athletic courts, the city reopened its playing fields, track, and skate park this week. In all cases, users will be required to comply with social distancing rules. For all "ball" sports, this means only playing with members of your specific households.
In addition to reopening shuttered facilities, Palo Alto also plans to advance later this week its plan to divert cars from three existing bike boulevards. Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi said Monday that the program would be limited to Bryant Street, Ross Road and Park Boulevard. Drivers wouldn't be banned so much as discouraged from taking these streets with signage.
"We're hoping it will end up lowering the volume and speed on those streets and they won't be used for cut-through," Kamhi said.
The city chose these streets because they're already part of the bike network and, as such, have relatively low car volumes. The approach is modeled after similar efforts in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Denver, Colorado; and Oakland, which restricted cars at 74 miles of bike boulevards as part of its "slow streets" initiative.
Kamhi said the city will not be preventing deliveries on these streets, keeping residents or visitors from driving on the roadways or issuing citations to drivers.
"It's really to discourage nonlocal traffic," Kamhi said.
Editor's note: The story has been updated to reflect the fact that the city is still banning vehicle access for visitors to the Arastradero Preserve.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.