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February 08, 2006

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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Guest opinion: Park's founding use was open space Guest opinion: Park's founding use was open space (February 08, 2006)

Brielle Johnck

The absence of a public policy discussion and determination by the Menlo Park City Council regarding the use of Bayfront Park has created a situation where the horse is definitely trailing the cart. Despite the council's direction to staff in January of 2003 to conduct an outreach program to determine the general public's interest in recreation and open space at Bayfront Park, such outreach has never been conducted.

And because of this charge, open space advocates specifically were excluded from serving on a Parks and Recreation Commission task force formed last November to study the issue of sports fields. Yet as of mid-January, it seems that the charge to the task force has expanded to question the fair use of public open space. Raising the question implies that the current and historic use of the park is and has been unfair.

Bayfront Park has consistently been used as proposed, planned and approved by all required parties involved in December 1974. The cities and the permitting agencies who agreed to turn over the Marsh Road landfill to the City of Menlo Park relied on the guarantees made by the city that the park concept was a:

"...hilly, bay view, regional park with natural groundcover, wildlife enhancement and passive use, providing public access to the Bay and an opportunity for people to enjoy peace and quiet." (Nov. 26, 1974 City Council minutes.)

Another indication of the thinking at the time came from a 1976 report:

". . .permanent active recreation facilities such as ball diamonds is inconsistent with the natural character and should not be included."

(1976 Environmental Report, Page 2.)

Throughout the years, the City of Menlo Park held firm to this concept and repeated its allegiance when applying for amendments to the original BCDC (Bay Conservation and Development Commission) 1970 landfill permit.

"The future use of the site is intended to be a Bay front park for passive recreation including nature walks, an interpretative center operated in conjunction with the Greco Island Refuge, picnicking, day hiking and meadow sports, as well as just plain enjoyment of the silence."

(March 27, 1974 letter from Michael A. Bedwell, Menlo Park city manager to the Army Corps of Engineers.)

If the Parks and Recreation Commission suggests to the City Council any active recreational uses at Bayfront Park, it should be familiar with the environmental and legal limitations that exist. Already, the city has moved way too hastily without conducting its due diligence regarding the legal permissibility of a golf course at this site.

The council has approved $250,000 staff time to pursue active, revenue generating activities without one phone call to the governmental agencies that have jurisdiction over Bayfront Park. In addition, we now have the surprising news that the city will reimburse itself for costs to explore the golf course idea from the "sinking fund" created to pay for all aspects of maintenance of the park.

Let's get the horse before the cart.

Brielle Johnck lives on Central Avenue in Menlo Park.

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