Rinconada, located along Embarcadero and Newell roads, is surrounded by a residential neighborhood, a community garden, a fire station, Walter Hays Elementary School, the Main Library, Lucie Stern Community Center, Art Center and Junior Museum and Zoo. But all of those attractions, and elements within the park itself, are like separate islands, residents and a consultant from Verde Design said.
Residents at Tuesday night's meeting divided into groups and marked their recommendations on large maps. Many said they wanted to see unsightly portable classrooms at Walter Hays Elementary School screened from view or moved. But they also used the school as an example of how better connector paths and signage could make the park more useful. A walkway could lead schoolchildren to the park and perhaps join with an outdoor classroom area where kids learn about nature.
Bike enthusiasts also said there could be better connections along the Newell Road side and from Hopkins Avenue, which is to the north and borders a residential neighborhood. A series of bollards currently impedes bike access from a Newell entrance near Embarcadero. A second access point behind the fire station, would improve connectivity along Newell and from the planned Ross Road bicycle boulevard. Residents also wanted better access between the park and the library and art center. A path to the pool between the tennis courts would also help, they said.
Hilary Jones' group called the path to the pool from Embarcadero Road "a little ambiguous." Her group suggested keeping the paths as natural as possible and not introducing much hardscaping, she said.
The group also recommended adding a kiosk at the entrance that would inform people about events.
Greg Betts, the city's director of community services, said the park contains many hidden treasures, but due to space constraints, "there are not great opportunities to expand what you came for," he said.
Echoing Jones' group, he said people in his group wanted a Parisian feel by adding a snack shack or café.
Others noted that another park gem, the Magical Forest, is nestled behind the tennis courts. Adding additional picnic tables and having paths and signage would make the grove more accessible, they said.
Julie O'Grady's group would like to see better signage for finding various restrooms, as people with small children have been using areas under trees and in bushes throughout the park.
Her group also recommended combining the tiny-tot area with the bigger kids' playground, so grandparents don't have to split their time trying to accommodate children in both age groups.
O'Grady, who lives in the adjacent neighborhood, said adding lighting for evening tennis games in the courts near the library would help take the focus off the court on Hopkins, which is often used and is noisy at night. Nearly everyone agreed the locker rooms near the pool also need renovating, and some wanted to add a storage and tennis check-in area.
Verde Design consultant Derek McKee said he would recommend bringing art into the park to help establish a link with the art center.
Mug-shots of unsightly Dumpsters flashed on a screen at Tuesday's meeting, stirring the crowd to laughter. Everyone agreed the Dumpster and garbage areas need work. McKee surveyed the images.
"You just need a bear," he said.
The park's groves of mature trees, particularly redwoods at the Embarcadero Road end and the Magical Forest near the tennis courts, were praised by residents. McKee said his firm would recommend the trees be well-maintained and additional plantings added, so that as old trees die out, the look and feel of a mature forest would continue.
City officials stressed Tuesday night that they have no specific plans or design for the park, although City Landscape Architect Peter Jensen said the first $1 million would mostly go toward paths, irrigation and basic infrastructure improvements by about 2015.
A second community meeting is scheduled for April 17. The Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss Rinconada on April 24, and the Bicycle Advisory Committee on May 1. A third community meeting on the design development is planned for June 5.
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