Back in 2008 when the city first got word that philanthropist John Arrillaga was willing to provide more than half the funds needed to build Menlo Park a new gym with two NBA-size basketball courts, most city officials went to great lengths to rush the project through the planning process and make sure the donor got what he wanted.
With few other options, the city and Mr. Arrillaga agreed to build the gym behind the Recreation Center and share a down-sized parking lot with the library. The available spaces shrunk from 132 to 115, clearly not enough when the gym is hosting a tournament or other special event. Library supporters cried foul over the parking lot grab, but lost a close vote at the Planning Commission and got mowed down 4-1, with Andy Cohen dissenting, at the City Council.
Now, two years later, the parking problem is again an issue that has been confirmed by a Library Commission study. It is no surprise that on certain days and at certain times it is impossible to find a parking spot in Lot 6, which is forcing library users to park far away at a lot off Alma Street. For the elderly and parents with children who want to use the library, such remote parking is a hardship that the city should do everything it can to remedy.
The good news is that on most days and most times, there is adequate parking in Lot 6. But it is hardly acceptable to say there is no parking problem 69 percent of the time, as shown in the commission's study, which also shows that on nearly one out of three visits to the lot, library patrons or gym users will be shut out and forced to either park far away or skip a visit to the library or gym altogether.
City officials say in about six weeks, 40 spaces will be reopened in the main Burgess lot after the new gymnastics gym is completed. They hope that players and spectators headed to the basketball gym will take advantage of these newly open slots, which would relieve the squeeze for library patrons.
We hope so, but also believe that more work could be done by the city to educate gym users that they are not automatically entitled to park in Lot 6. Perhaps better signs inside and outside the gym would help. Another possible solution would be to impose time limits on some or all the Lot 6 spaces.
Mr. Arrillaga made a magnificent gift to the city, for which all residents should be grateful. The city would have been hard-pressed to construct such an expensive building on its own without using reserves or issuing more bonds.
But looking back, it appears that in the eagerness to make sure nothing went wrong with Mr. Arrillaga's project, decisions were made in the planning process that in retrospect could have been given more thought.
Many library users and others, including this newspaper, raised good questions about the parking squeeze that would result from the loss of spaces and the increased parking pressure from the gym. Today's problem could have been avoided with better analysis two years ago.