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By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
Frogs croak around the pond in the meadow on the southern side of the Portola Valley Town Center, and they now have official encouragement to continue croaking.
On April 13, the Town Council reached a consensus -- Mayor Ted Driscoll was absent -- to accept recommendations of the 21-person Ad-Hoc Spring Down Master Plan Committee, a group of residents and town officials who met four times in 2010 to discuss the future of the meadow, which was already designated as open space.
The discussion was not without argument. There were proposals for a skate park or space for a pick-up baseball game, but that remained a minority view, according to a staff report.
"It very much emerged that a consensus wanted to keep it in an open state (though the minority's views) were definitely considered," committee liaison and Councilwoman Ann Wengert said in response to questions from Councilman Steve Toben.
For Phase 1, the report recommended a perimeter trail, a "rustic" perimeter fence and some changes to vegetation at a cost of about $30,000, Public Works Director Howard Young told the council. The trail-building will begin before July 1, he said. A bench or two is not out of the question.
The 2010-11 budget allocated $75,000 for the project, Mr. Young said. With Phase 2 expected to cost $79,000, additional money could be set aside in the coming budget year, he said.
Phase 2 involves hiring a biologist to look for endangered species. If none are found, the town would then hire a hydrologist to change the eight-foot-deep, manmade, oxygen-starved, debris-strewn and possibly dangerous pond into something natural, seasonal, shallower and perhaps welcoming to amphibians and insects.
"The pond could be the crown jewel," said committee member Gary Nielsen.
As is true now, the water would be deoxygenated, having nowhere to go, but animals could use it, it wouldn't be more than a couple of feet deep and it would dry out in the summer, Mr. Young said in an interview.
"We don't believe we're going to find endangered species there," he added. "We're pretty sure of that."
Such a finding would complicate matters and add about $20,000 to the cost, Mr. Young said. The town would have to engage the federal Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers, and the council would have to weigh the extra time and expense of getting permits.