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November 02, 2005

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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Menlo Park: Council to give direction on Bayfront Park Menlo Park: Council to give direction on Bayfront Park (November 02, 2005)

** Cries continue for preserving open space, constructing playing fields.

By Rory Brown

Almanac Staff Writer

Hikers, dog walkers, kite flyers, bird watchers, environmentalists, soccer players, baseball players, coaches and golfers all have their reasons for listening to what the Menlo Park City Council plans to do with Bayfront Park.

At its meeting tonight (Tuesday, November 1), the council will discuss the future of the 160-acre park, and consider city staff's recommendation to authorize the city manager to enter into a financial agreement with Buena Park-based Highlands Golf to prepare designs and environmental studies associated with building an 18-hole golf course, driving range and three playing fields at the park.

The proposal would occupy 82 acres of the park.

Located near the intersection of Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway, and adjacent to the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge, the park is built atop a garbage dump, and has been a hot -- and divisive -- topic of discussion.

More than 30 people attended the October 19 Parks and Recreation Commission meeting to see two proposals unveiled for developing the park: the Highlands Golf plan, and a proposal by San Francisco-based Pate International to build a 45-acre "GolfTrack" facility where players can practice different aspects of their golf game.

At the parks commission meeting, public works director Kent Steffens said a golf course on the park's grounds is the best option to cover the $187,000 cost to maintain the park -- expenses currently covered by a $1.6 million Bayfront Park Maintenance Fund. But the only revenue to the fund is interest earnings, and the fund will run out in about seven or eight years, said Mr. Steffens.

Highlands Golf would cover all costs of building two lighted soccer fields and a lighted baseball field, costs that could reach $4 million to $5 million, according to Mr. Steffens.

The council has received more than 200 e-mails concerning the future of the park, most of which either oppose developing the park, or support the three playing fields attached to the golf course proposal.

Advocates for keeping the park the way it is say the issue is much more complex than an open space versus playing field debate.

"A lot of people want fields, but nobody asked for a golf course," said Bruce Shapiro, former regional coordinator for the American Youth Soccer Organization. "We need to break the fields off as a separate issue, and ask, 'Is a golf course what we want to do at the park?'"

Mr. Shapiro and other advocates for preserving the park -- including former council members Mary Jo Borak, Jack Morris and Steve Schmidt -- have formed "Friends of Bayfront Park," a group against moving forward with plans for developing the park.

"The city is ignoring the real debate, which is a land-use issue," said Mr. Morris. "If that debate gets pushed back far enough, then there's the argument that we've already spent time and money, so plans to change the park are OK."

"We need playing fields, so let's look at that issue," said Mr. Shapiro. "But the council is in a position to change things at [the park] for more than 50 years. We don't need to look at that option right now."

In an e-mail to residents, Councilman Andy Cohen made it clear he doesn't think the city needs to push plans for a golf course forward. "The council majority has yet again proved that their style of government has little in common with either open government or stated city goals for open space," he wrote.

Mayor Mickie Winkler said she supports the idea of multiple uses at Bayfront Park, and there will be significant input on any proposed development.

"The idea that [the park] can't be shared is ridiculous," she said. "When anybody is opposed to something, they cry for open government. But city staff told [the council] the environmental review will take 12 to 18 months."

Many playing field supporters are echoing support for the proposed golf course since Highlands Golf would construct much-needed playing fields.

"It's a tough decision, but it's a tradeoff that's worth it," said Tom Gaa, vice president of the Mid-Penninsula Striker Futbol Club, a Community Youth Soccer Association (CYSA) group.

The current field situation has several sports competing for a few fields, according to Mr. Gaa, who will become president of the CYSA club in several weeks, and also serves on the board of the Menlo-Atherton Little League.

"There's a very low probability that the money needed to build these fields could come from another source," said Mr. Gaa. "If there's another option, I haven't heard it proposed."

But people who like the park as it is say there are other options, but the city hasn't asked the public to help solve the problem.

"If priority number one is covering the costs of maintaining Bayfront Park, then let's view that as a separate issue from playing fields," said Julie Kennedy, a member of the Friends of Bayfront Park. "If playing fields are the top priority, then let's see what our options are -- what other cities have done."

The city should explore the possibility of playing fields on a strip of land near a recently approved housing project on Hamilton Avenue, or negotiate a land transfer with a local developer, said former councilman Steve Schmidt.

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