This is an expanded version of a story that appeared in print.
Despite a staff report questioning whether Menlo Park truly needs more open space, the Parks and Recreation Commission voted 5-0 on Nov. 16 to recommend the city move forward with acquiring Flood Park -- as long as there's a solid plan in place to cover the operating costs. Commissioners Nick Naclerio and Thomas Cecil were absent.
"In general, we see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity how else could the city ever hope to obtain roughly 21 acres of parkland? We do recognize that there is a significant cost involved, but when compared to the potentially amazing open space and park we can add to our city, it is a chance that must be taken," commission chair Kelly Blythe told the Almanac.
The recommendation came as part of a months-long process in evaluating whether taking over the 21-acre park on Bay Road from San Mateo County makes fiscal sense for the city. Staff estimated that running Flood Park could cost the city $595,000 a year, nearly three times as much as the county paid for maintenance.
One-time renovation costs could rack up an additional $20 million over the course of 10 years if the city opts to upgrade the park to bring it up to the same standards as other parks in Menlo Park.
Some sports club representatives that attended the Nov. 16 meeting took issue with staff's contention that the city might not need more open space, based on the results of a study performed in 2006. A frequent park visitor for 30 years and volunteer with the new nonprofit Friends of Flood Park, Kathy Nicosia said the disparity may be the result of groups not requesting space from the city because they already knew none was available.
"The city approved four new organizations for field usage," she noted. "They claim there's no shortage, but there really is a shortage and everybody realizes that. With these new people coming in, it jumpstarted Parks and Rec to say we really do need Flood Park."
The park, closed to let the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission install a water pipeline, reopened on Nov. 12. Faced with a demand to cut 10 percent from the county's operating budget, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors had at first recommended permanently shutting down the park. The board then reversed course, approving enough funding to keep the park open until March 2012.
According to Ms. Nicosia, the proposal now goes to the City Council on Dec. 13. She summarized the Catch-22 facing the council. "The city doesn't want to take on the park without knowing where the money's coming from, but the money won't come until they know who will be in charge, and the county doesn't want to give more because it's already donating a multimillion dollar piece of property."
The Friends of Flood Park may be able to play a role in making the park financially viable, but hasn't started looking at those options yet because of the recent uncertainty surrounding whether the park would even reopen in the first place, she said.
Mr. Blythe pointed to the city's development of Burgess Park and Kelly Park as models. "We would like the public engagement process to also include looking at ways to raise funds to maintain and develop the park," he said. "We recognize that the City is full of folks with excellent ideas of how best to accomplish this, but two ideas we would like to see explored are public-private partnerships, and selling [or leasing part of the land for recreational use."