Palo Alto to redraw golf course, add playing fields | July 27, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 27, 2012

Palo Alto to redraw golf course, add playing fields

City Council embraces flood-protection plan that adds recreational opportunities to Baylands site

by Gennady Sheyner

What began as a plan to boost flood protection around the San Francisquito Creek has turned into an ambitious effort to enhance Palo Alto's recreational opportunities by completely revamping the city's golf course and adding three sports fields to the Baylands site.

The City Council unanimously agreed Monday, July 23, to approve a $7.5 million redesign of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, a project that will move at least 15 of the course's 18 holes, create a new levee to contain flood water from the fickle creek and make 10.5 acres available for three athletic playing fields. Despite some reservations from local golfers, council members enthusiastically embraced the most expensive and dramatic design option on the table — a plan known as "Option G."

The project is spearheaded by the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority, an agency that includes Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the San Mateo County Flood Control District. The agency, which is charged with improving flood control around the creek, proposed building a levee at the Baylands golf course as one of several projects downstream of U.S. Highway 101.

But the council decided to leverage this emergency-preparedness project into something greater — a chance to significantly expand the city's recreational facilities. Under Option G, the creek authority would pay about $3.2 million for the golf-course redesign and the city would contribute $4.3 million, with the local revenue coming from golf-course fees over 20 years.

The option the council voted to pursue is more than twice as expensive as Option A, the $3.5 million "baseline" option that would meet the creek authority's objectives but would create only minimal enhancements to the course. But members agreed even the $7.5 million price tag is a bargain considering what the city would be getting for its money — namely, improved flood protection, a golf course with a "wow" factor and three new full-sized athletic fields.

Councilman Pat Burt, channeling the consensus opinion, called it a "win-win-win-win-win" situation — a chance for the city to improve the golf course, boost flood protection, pursue the most financially lucrative design, open three new playing fields and better integrate the course with its surroundings.

"It's going to be turned into an exciting course that has a natural habitat and will become integrated with the Baylands and be part of the Baylands rather than apart from the Baylands as it is today," Burt said.

The option entails removing 10.5 acres from the 170-acre course and putting on this land three athletic fields, a small playground, a wetlands park and picnic space.

The council's decision to pursue Option G was supported by an analysis from the consulting firm NGF Consulting, which projected this option would have the highest return on investment over time. Under the firm's estimate, the golf course would run at a deficit of $124,000 in 2013 and $459,000 in 2014, the years of construction. After that, the course's bottom line would gradually rise, reaching $743,000 in 2020. Under the most pessimistic scenario, one in which the golfer fees and the number of rounds played both drop, the course wouldn't start making money until 2019.

Not everyone, however, bought the economic argument. The city's Golf Advisory Committee questioned NGF's analysis and urged the council to approve the more conservative Option D. Golfers were particularly put off by the costs that they would have to shoulder through their playing fees. Craig Allen, president of the Palo Alto Golf Club, said he would happily play on the redesigned golf course but urged the council not to force the golfers to foot the bill for the entire project.

"You're asking the golfer to pay for athletic fields," Allen said. "I think it's inappropriate."

But others praised the most ambitious option as by far the most beneficial. The city's Parks and Recreation Commission had voted to support Option G. So did the council's Finance Committee.

Some members shared the golfers' concerns about the project's cost, particularly if the consultants' projections about the golf course's future revenues don't pan out. Councilwoman Karen Holman said she'd be more comfortable with an option that doesn't require the city to take on long-term debt.

Mayor Yiaway Yeh said he's excited to add recreational opportunities to the Baylands but encouraged his colleagues to start considering, as soon as possible, ways to pay for the additional improvements. Even with the financial uncertainty, Yeh praised city's decision to invest in the golf course.

Councilman Larry Klein said the bigger risk would be not to pursue Option G.

"We have an opportunity here to, in effect, create 10 acres of land for $4 million or so," Klein said.

Klein estimated that it would cost somewhere between $5 million and $10 million to buy an acre of land for athletic fields elsewhere in the city. He called the $4 million expenditures a "good deal."


What do you think of the City Council's decision to have golfers fund the changes to the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, including the addition of sports fields? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm

The golf course is heavily subsidized by city property tax money, yet the majority of golf course users are from out of town. Common sense says the city should not by subsidizing a huge facility for out-of-towners when there is a huge demand for more parks for our kids.

The golf course area is easily accessible by walking or bicycle via the bicycle bridge over Hwy 101 near Embarcadero Road, so this area is much more kid-friendly than the Arastradero Preserve or Foothills Park, which are not accessible via child-safe bicycle routes.

Posted by Ben, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2012 at 10:55 pm

This whole thing sounds absolutely dumb and a huge expense, and folks I'm not even a golfer. The golf course should be redone and cleaned up, but the athletic fields and picnic area...well we already have those everywhere. It would be nice if the course was improved and a nice club and lodge for dining and cocktails, but why do that when you can have a bunch of fields [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff]?? Ben, Old Palo ALto

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Don't know anything about the golf course, but the playing fields and the wet parking lot need to be improved.

But, and it is a huge but, the cost is something we must be very concerned about. We don't have any idea of how this is going to be funded and it seems the council don't care about that aspect of the plan.

How will this be funded? PA taxpayers don't have bottomless pockets!

Posted by Mike, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:09 pm

My home is changing.
This is very frustrating.
Palo Alto Gov.

Posted by A Baylands Regular, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:42 pm

"No negatives" Mr. Scharff? Despite crippling the revenue-generating golf businesses for several years (can they and their employees survive the plans without federal food stamps?) and putting a greater cost burden on golfers instead of the future new playing field, picnic table and wetlands park users.

Orwellian. Each according to their needs....but just for the favored ones of today.

I am not a golfer. I just hate to see any group unduly burdened or picked on while doling out favors to others. Will the council even attempt to be "fair" to golfers and golf businesses in all of this? Or is the fairness just the "favor" the council gives them to keep a bit of land for a much smaller course?

I look forward to the next city council elections.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2012 at 7:27 am

Where did the City Council find $4.3 million in the city budget to pay for this?

Posted by Sam, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 24, 2012 at 9:03 am

The playing fields should be located out at Byxbee Park, where the old recycling center used to be. That's what parks are for. Cuesta Park in Mountain View has tennis courts. Rinconada Park has the pool. Putting the playing fields at the golf course will ruin it. Plus, the fields will be used only on the weekends, is my guess. Drove by the Mayfield Soccer Complex on Saturday....not one person was using either field. And, the argument that the course doesn't attract enough local residents is bogus. That's true at every golf course. Check out who's using the parks in Palo Alto, too....I bet fewer Palo Alto residents than most people believe.

Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jul 24, 2012 at 10:39 am

I am golfer and so do my kids. Last Friday, when we try to go home from the driving ranch around 5PM, it took us 20 minutes just get to 101. I saw kids ridding bicycles around the golf course, with the narrow road and the amount of trafic, it is just accident awaiting to happen. Building more sport fields and picnic area in that area? It is just nuts! BTW, there are so many golf courses around bay area, if you rise "tax" for our sports and family in favor of others, we can always find other home courses.

Posted by Anne K, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2012 at 10:42 am

I wonder if the city planners have considered narrowing Embarcadero Road between 101 an the Baylands, and reclaiming that land for part of their plan. We don't need 4 lanes now that the dump and recycling center are gone.

Posted by loyal to the "Muni", a resident of Professorville
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm

There were alternative, cheaper, and sensible plans, but the City Council, none of whom are golfers, and especially Pat Burt, was determined to have it all, 3 athletic fields not 1, picnic area, trail, all "shoehorned" into the golf course area. Community meetings indicated desire for athletic fields, also, but not necessarily in that location.
The only positive is the redo of basic infrastructure of the golf course and some "wow" factor for the new holes (assuming it did not mean cute windmills on the putting surfaces!). If this project is not a successful golfing environment for players, the revenue the city is anticipating will not materialize. Closing the whole course for a year and more will be unfortunate for the employees and the players. They are all too important to lose.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Didn't the PA Muni just finish a renovation of the course within the past 5 years? A renovation that took WAY too ling to complete if I remember correctly. Even if the renovation was 10 yrs ago - GOLF COURSES do not upgrade this frequently unless they are PRIVATE clubs with 5 figure membership fees, like Sharon Heights.

Additionally, if anything should be changed it sure should not be the back 9, its the front 9 that sucks. Especially holes 10, 11, 12 - quite possibly my three favorite holes at this course.

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm

This project would not have cost the city a 'dime' if Plan A had been chosen. Even the golfers know that and many would have preferred it. Also the down time of the entire course would have been shortened. This council has delusions of grandeur. Lining up playing fields along the golf course? As one golfer said, "Our balls don't always go where we want them to go". So if a golf ball hits a child playing baseball or softball or soccer, who's to blame? Who gets sued? And where do all the mommies and daddies park? Where will be the parking lots? Will out-of-town soccer players use these fields like they do en masse at the corner of El Camino and Page Mill? Remember Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg's plaintive wail that THOSE soccer fields be for our Chilllllldren. (Kleenex please). And then there will be the cheering and hootin' and hollerin' at the playing fields. Golf is a quiet and almost solitary sport -quiet for relaxation. This decision is a first class JOKE. Again, this Council is clueless.

Posted by Kirk Fry, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Hey, are the kids going to pay $50 for a round of soccer? You take a swamp and you will never turn it into a Wow golf course, not for $4M at least. There is a limit to what folks will pay to knock a little white thing around with sticks on what is essentially a mud flat. What assumption did they use for green fees? This is unlikely to be a win for the golfers.

Posted by Barbara, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm

This is the most ridiculous idea yet! Like Palo Alto needs more playing fields, parks, etc. Is it really so important to spend, spend spend. . .what's the point to this renovation? The golfers will end up paying for it IF they continue playing Muni after a year or more without a home course. And, now, we hear that the MacArthur Park Restaurant will be part of the golf course. When does it stop?

Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

"Klein estimated that it would cost somewhere between $5 million and $10 million to buy an acre of land elsewhere in the city. "

The 10 acres at Byxbee Park recently undedicated would then also be valued at $50 to $100 million and Measure E advocates, including Klein, want to make that available for FREE to a private firm to use to make compost. It's interesting how we compartmentalize in politics.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 24, 2012 at 4:01 pm

For those implying that the golfers at PA Muni are the elite-they are not. If you ever played there you would know that. And many of them are older Palo Alto residents or kids.

How many soccer fields are enough? Most of these kids stop playing soccer when they get out of high school if not before. Is this really a priority for our city?

Indignation should be directed to the very heavy use of many of our city parks by non-residents. Why not make field availability a priority for residents if playing opportunity is the issue. Or is our mission to supply soccer fields to the greater Bay Area?

For a city that is not able to keep its streets in decent repair we sure find a lot of alternate ways to spend large amounts of money. Better save some for the high speed rail kitty-you know Brown is soon going to be asking for everybody to help pay for that new $50+ Billion obligation.

Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm

@ Pat Burt: "It's going to be turned into an exciting course that has a natural habitat and will become integrated with the Baylands and be part of the Baylands rather than apart from the Baylands as it is today," Burt said.

I ask: since when did hitting golf balls get to be considered a "natural habitat" activity?? Golf courses are bright-green, chemical-intensive areas where birds and other creatures are in the way. Likewise trees, bushes, and other features of a natural habitat.

One is sick and tired of the council's window-dressing. Tell it as it is!

Posted by Alternative Idea, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 26, 2012 at 11:02 am

I think they should scrap the golf course and fields and build a giant water slide park. Fun for the whole family! Both old and young! Of course, you'd have to be a Palo Alto resident to get in.

Posted by Fore!, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2012 at 11:30 am

@ Bob-

If you paid attention and looked at the proposed map with the three fields, you'd notice that the fields are clustered and tucked together away from the greens with a buffer zone between. The fields are a tiny fraction of the total size of the 18 hole golf course, so a little sharing with other sports isn't asking much. Only holes 10 and 11 are anywhere near the playing fields. Hole 11 tees off in the opposite direction of the fields, and hole 10 plays near parrallel to the fields. If you're hitting balls into the fields, you should probably find a different sport. Maybe soccer?

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