Dog owners in south Palo Alto have plenty of reasons to get excited as they watch the city expand its offerings of fenced play areas for their furry companions.
The southern half of the city already includes three dog parks – at Greer Park, Mitchell Park and Hoover Park – and it will soon get a fourth at Boulware Park, which is set to be completed a year from now. They can also look forward to a forthcoming expansion of the dog park at Mitchell Park, a project that the city went out to bid on this fall.
Things, however, look different in the north, which got its first dog park in 2018, at Peers Park. While there's no shortage of dog owners, they is a dearth of off-leash areas in which to spend quality time with pets – a problem that the city has been trying to tackle with limited success for the past six years.
This week, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission reaffirmed its commitment to look north for the next dog park location. It determined to do so at its Sept. 27 meeting despite recent failures to identify a suitable site and despite calls from Barron Park residents who believe their neighborhood should be next in line.
Daren Anderson, assistant director at Community Services Department, outlined the challenges that the staff has been encountering in its search for a north Palo Alto dog park. One early candidate was Hopkins Park, which includes a 0.35-acre section that is already fenced on three sides and that includes a water fountain and seating.
"It's in an underserved area of north Palo Alto, it's shared. There's a lot of benefits to this site that we thought had potential," Anderson told the commission.
There is however, one complication: the park is next to the San Francisquito Creek and local environmentalists don't like the idea of having dogs next to a riparian corridor. While local laws require a setback of only five feet for construction near creeks, conservationists have asserted that this is not enough.
Shani Kleinhaus, who serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission and who is a long-time legislative advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, suggested Tuesday, Sept. 26, that the distance between dog parks and creeks should be somewhere between 100 to 300 feet, depending on the site and the project.
"Riparian corridors are sacred," Kleinhaus said at the meeting. "We really need to keep development, including dog parks, away from riparian corridors."
Given the location's proximity to the creek, Anderson said the staff decided to back off Hopkins Park.
"We thought we might be at odds with the environmental community on pitching this one and started looking at other options," Anderson said.
Most of these options, however, have their own drawbacks. One idea was Johnson Park, which is located at Hawthorn Avenue and Waverley Street. The small park proved less than ideal, however, because of the proximity of the proposed dog area to neighborhood homes.
El Camino Park, which is next to the Menlo Park border, seems to avoid such problems. It includes a grassy area that city officials had evaluated for a possible dog park years ago, when the park was being redeveloped. Today, however, El Camino Park also seems less than ideal. Two potential areas at the park's periphery that seemed like possible options were crossed out because they are owned by Stanford University, which indicated that it has other plans for the building.
This leaves another potential area in the park's interior, closer to the soccer fields. Anderson said this area has the advantage of being farther away from residences. That advantage, however, is also the site's disadvantage.
"It's not an easy walk form the neighborhood, which is why some of our stakeholders said we don't think this is a good spot for a dog park," Anderson said.
Perhaps the most viable option – and one that hasn't been fully vetted yet – is Rinconada Park, which has the advantage of being both spacious and centrally located. It also includes a section east of the swimming pools that is relatively unused today, Anderson said.
While any new plans for a north Palo Alto dog park are years away from coming to fruition, the commission agreed Tuesday, Sept. 26, that the proposals for Rinconada and El Camino parks are intriguing and worthy of further exploration. They also agreed that once the city completes the new dog park at Boulware Park and the expansion at Mitchell Park, its focus should shift to the north.
"They've been waiting a long time," said Commissioner Anne Cribbs, who serves on a subcommittee that has been working on dog parks.
The commission was somewhat less enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing a new dog park to Barron Park, a neighborhood with a robust community of dog owners. Numerous dog owners from Barron Park called on parks commissioners Tuesday to expand dog amenities. Some, like former planning commissioner Samir Tuma, urged the city to launch a pilot program in his neighborhood with temporary fencing to accommodate a growing hunger for dog parks.
"The demand and the desire have increased," Tuma said. "What's also increased in the short run is conflicts. … There are some unfortunate situations where people are not pleased about dogs being in certain locations. It's creating disharmony, which is really the last thing in the world that we want to see."
Tuma said that as a developer he is used to putting up temporary fencing, which he said is quick and relatively inexpensive. Others made a similar plea for either a pilot program or a permanent one to support Barron Park's growing dog-owner community. Carolin Li, a neighborhood resident, presented an online petition that the area launched in November 2022 calling for a dedicated park. As of this week, it had 665 signatures.
"Barron Park has a lot of dog owners and a dog park would meet a growing need – a community service that we already desperately need," Li said.
Residents also presented three possible options for a dog park: Bol Park, Briones Park and Strawberry Hill, an area behind Gunn High School. Two of them, however, come with significant complications. Strawberry Hill is owned by the Palo Alto Unified School District. And Bol Park, much like Hopkins Park, includes a creek (Matadero Creek, in this case) – an amenity that Kleinhaus suggested would make it a non-starter as a dog location.
The commission agreed that its dog park subcommittee, which consists of Cribbs and Vice Chair Amanda Brown, will continue to meet with Barron Park residents to discuss a future dog park. They also agreed, however, that the city should focus its limited staffing on the two ongoing projects at Mitchell and Boulware parks. Once those are in place, it should aim to bring a new dog park to north Palo Alto.
Commissioners also rejected the idea of creating a dog park with temporary fences or an off-leash area with no fencing at all. Creating an off-leash area in existing parks for specific times would create an enforcement challenge given the city's limited staffing, according to staff. And Brown suggested that having temporary fencing would be risky.
"My dog is 100 pounds and he would knock over in a second any temporary fencing," Brown said.
She also suggested that having a temporary program would "mess with community expectations."
"Once you have a fence up, the community may expect that the fence will be permanent, and that may either anger residents if they don't like the location or make people think that it's going to be permanent … and it goes away. It's very hard to undo that effort," Brown said.