Atherton OKs Little League ballpark plan on 3-2 vote


By Barbara Wood | Special to the Almanac

It took four years, but the Menlo-Atherton Little League has finally won permission to build new facilities on the baseball field in the town-owned Holbrook-Palmer Park.

At its Jan. 15 meeting, a divided Atherton City Council voted on the guidelines for the new field, which include covered seating for 200 people, covered dugouts, a permanent scoreboard and improvements to the field.

"We do make it hard to actually donate something to the city," said Bob Hellman, an Atherton resident representing the Menlo-Atherton Little League at the meeting.

The approval was over the objection of members of the town's Planning Commission. Philip Lively, vice chair of the commission, said after three public meetings the commission had decided that the Little League plans needed down-sizing. "Improvement is needed but the Little League plans are too monumental," he said.

City Council members Jim Dobbie and Bill Widmer agreed with Mr. Lively, and voted against the Little League proposal. Council members Elizabeth Lewis, Cary Wiest and Rick DeGolia voted to approve the plan, asking that the building be "consistent with the old-fashioned character of the park."

The town will now draw up an agreement with Little League, which will then go through the usual town approval process before beginning construction. The agreement will be for 10 years with two five-year extensions possible.

Among the features that were approved are:

● A covered seating structure.

● Backstop and dugouts.

● Permanent perimeter fencing extending along both base lines from the backstop to just beyond the bullpen areas.

● Removable perimeter fencing from the bullpen areas to foul poles.

● Permanent flag pole/foul pole in right field and removable foul pole in left field.

● Permanent electronic scoreboard.

● Grading, drainage and irrigation improvements to existing field area.

● Modification to existing path and walkways.

The Little League will pay for these facilities and agrees to donate $27,500 to a fund for repairing the park tennis courts, plus 5 percent of the final construction costs up to a maximum of $50,000 that will go toward "park beautification improvements."

In 2012, voters overwhelmingly approved the Little League project. But after the vote, debate arose over just what the voters had said yes to. Atherton City Attorney Bill Conners said that judges have found that details in the voter's guide arguments for and against the measure as well as the so-called impartial analysis of the measure are included in what voters approve when voting, not just the wording on the ballot. It was in the arguments against the project that the number of 200 seats had been raised.

"This is what the court cases say – you have to look at all the information," Mr. Conners told the council.

The council on Jan. 15 also made two other decisions affecting the park:

● Hiring a catering company, Catering by Dana, to return large events such as weddings to the park.

● Reducing the fee that residents pay to use the tennis courts to $50 a year. It had been $150. The fee for non-residents remains at $200 a year.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter Sleeth
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 22, 2014 at 9:51 pm

In the fall of 2012 our community voted to “Save Our Park” by aborting well thought out plans for a library, which might have benefited all Atherton citizens. Now, a small group of highly organized individuals from both Atherton and Menlo Park have convinced three of our council members to vote for very large permanent covered concrete bleachers in the Park for the seasonal use of a small group of grade school Little League players many of whom aren’t Atherton residents. The new concrete bleachers would hold up to 200 spectators.

It is ironic that the Burgess Park Field in Menlo Park has uncovered non-permanent metal bleachers totaling about 50 running feet, five rails high and accommodating no more than 150 spectators at the ‘20 inch per bottom rule’ presumably used by the Atherton Council.

I played baseball as a boy and I like the Little League, but I think concrete bleachers displacing green areas of the Park are not what this community was hoping for when they voted to Save Our Park in 2012. I agree with our residents desire to give the Little League a better field here in Atherton, but is this the way we want it done?

Alternative suggestions were made for non-permanent metal bleachers and scoreboards at less cost to the Little League, but the Little League refused this. (When Councilman Widmer, after being told by the Little League that there were no removable scoreboards, researched such a product and found that it could be purchased, the Little league officials and the 3 council members voting for the concrete bleachers turned a deaf ear to him.) Other modifications suggested by the Town Planning Committee have been completely ignored by the Town Council.

It appeared that at least one if not several Council members, voting for the permanent bleachers, relied on a biased and unduly narrow interpretation of the so-called case law concerning what should be relied on in considering the scope of a ballot measure. Many voters had assumed the Planning Committee would be able to do its job and recommend that the bleachers be sized for the historic park–like setting we have. Many of the residents, who voted yes on Measure M, as I did, would have voted “No”, if it had been understood that our vote would be interpreted to saddle the Town with a concrete 200 seat, covered bleacher. This action by a 3-2 majority of the Council ignored reasonable voices asking that second thoughts be given so as to reduce the size of the structure and to make sure ‘out-lying ‘ structures, i.e. fences, foul poles and scoreboard could be removed in the off season. These structures are likely to become safety hazards. There was an unnecessary rush to judgment.

If you want to Save Our Park, now is the time to make your wishes known. Please email all of our Councilpersons your concerns.

Like this comment
Posted by Confused
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 22, 2014 at 10:55 pm

I'm not seeing the consistency here. It seems the same group that pilloried Kathy McKeithen, Jim Dobbie, and Bill Widmer for advocating a library in the park, because residents spoke clearly that they wanted to preserve the open space, now votes for a little league facility that goes way beyond what is needed to play little league? I don't get it.

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