For the past six years, I have been a member of the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission. It has been a very rewarding experience for me, and I want to encourage others to consider joining it, or any of the city's other commissions this fall. The city currently is recruiting new board members and commissioners through Oct. 19.
My wife, Jane, was right when she suggested that serving on the commission might help me bridge the gap into retirement, although many members are younger and not retired. Being a commissioner has allowed me to serve the community without having to run for office and get elected; members are appointed by the City Council. It also has allowed me to be part of changes that I believe would be good for the future, instead of sitting around feeling helpless. Also, it has given me an inside track into how our city and regional governments work, as well as a great appreciation for those dedicated city staffers that we rely on every day.
At every meeting, I observed the value of something I learned about long ago — the three Ps of success: patience, persistence, and above all, politeness. I am very proud of the way the Parks and Rec commissioners, city staff and city council members have worked so well as a team all these years. They get things done with the minimum of politics, bureaucracy and infighting that I have read about elsewhere. Patience, persistence and politeness are so important toward meeting our goals.
One more "P" is passion. This is neither something I came into the Commission with, nor was it something I felt every week. I didn't bring special knowledge or training with me, other than my active involvement as a Palo Alto parent of three, enjoying youth sports, school activities, parks and open spaces. Passion for some of the topics that came up really helped me to put in the time and do the best job I could, despite the pull of work, being a husband, parenting, grandparenting and attending to my elderly parent. I especially felt passionate about open space issues and Cubberley Field.
There is something to be passionate about for everyone in this diverse community. The commissioners represent all walks of life: soccer moms and dads, academics, techies, retirees, young people, tennis players, pickleball players, joggers, coaches, lap swimmers, environmentalists, dog owners, neighborhood champions, apartment dwellers, fundraisers and employees of Palo Alto businesses. In thinking about all the people who use our parks and open spaces (we call them stakeholders), it is not difficult for commissioners to be passionate about different things and bring that passion and expertise to bear on the rest of us.
I am proud of the mix of issues and successes that have highlighted our agendas this past six years. In many ways, they have been a mirror of the challenges facing the entire city, not the least of which is an increase in population (4,000 more residents in the past 10 years, as reported in this paper). Parks and open spaces are affected by everything that goes on in this city, and conversely, they are always near the top of the list of things residents love about our city.
The commission's three biggest accomplishment of all since I've served, are the new 25-year Parks and Open Space Master Plan approved in 2017, the incredibly challenging opening of Foothills Nature Preserve to all, and the challenges of dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth programs, sports, playgrounds and park maintenance. The master plan influenced everything we did since 2017, including the creation of new parkland and the revamping of several of our urban parks every year (this year is Boulware and Rinconada parks).
We also stood on the shoulders of those giants before us and completed the popular Magical Bridge Playground, the new Mitchell Park Community Center, a plan for the future Cubberley Community Center, the expansion of the purple pipe recycled water system for park irrigation, and the renovation of the Baylands Boardwalk.
The commission has seen youth programs and year-round camps and sports leagues attract record numbers of kids, and the successful outsourcing of Rinconada Aquatics program. There's also the new regionally recognized pickleball center at Mitchell Park, the new Junior Museum and Zoo, the U.S. Highway 101 bike bridge, the renovated El Camino Park and Cubberley field, the rebuilt Emily Renzel Pond, and the new Baylands Golf Links (formerly Palo Alto Golf Course), which was renovated as part of the completion of the huge San Francisquito flood control project to fight climate change and sea level rise. Last but not least, we accomplished the incredibly challenging opening of Foothills Nature Preserve to all, and tackled the challenges of dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth programs, sports, playgrounds and park maintenance.
All of these involved fostering community input, dealing with severe budget constraints, identifying legal concerns, reconciling conflicts between various park users and neighbors, identifying safe bike and pedestrian routes to schools and parks, addressing mandates from school, city, county, regional and state government agencies. We also addressed rising tides and climate change and the impact of Stanford University's growth.
There is something here for everyone to get excited about, and I encourage everyone, young and old, to apply and be a part of this microcosm of our democratic process at cityofpaloalto.org.
As they say, democracy is not a spectator sport. Become involved.
David Moss is a longtime Palo Alto resident who serves on the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission. He can be reached at [email protected].