Fifteen homes on Felton Gables Drive in Menlo Park have an unusual asset on their property: a back gate leading directly into Atherton's Holbrook-Palmer Park.
A town investigation shows that all but two of that street's 17 homes sharing a back boundary with the park have such gates, as do two of four properties bordering the park on Atherton's Lane Place. A public gate leads to the park from Felton Gables Drive.
The private access may soon be restricted because of liability concerns.
The town plans to survey the park's boundaries as part of its project to build a water-capture facility in the park. The project, funded by a grant, will capture runoff water on its way to the Bay to prevent flooding and remove pollutants. The survey will determine if any of the gates or fences are on town property.
At an October meeting, the Atherton City Council asked City Manager George Rodericks to send a letter to the 21 homeowners whose properties back onto the park. The letter explained that the town is studying private gates into the park because of concerns about security (both for the park and the homeowners) and the liability the gates could pose for the town.
Residents were reminded of the sunrise-to-sunset park operating hours and asked to lock park access gates.
The matter was brought to the town's attention in June, when two Felton Gables Drive homeowners requested permission to repair a concrete board fence on Atherton property that divides their yards from the park.
"Almost all these fences have access gates, but it's another thing for the town to bless it," said then-Public Works Superintendent Steve Tyler last year. For example, if a criminal accessed a property through the park, the town could find itself liable.
"When we do allow gates, we put security on them," Mr. Tyler said.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis said the council agreed years ago to gradually phase out private access gates by constructing a public gate, and not allowing new private gates.
However, because the properties are in Menlo Park, the town never sees plans for new fences and gates, and there may now be more gates, not fewer.
The town ended up making repairs to the fence in July, and counted the number of gates, documenting their locations.
Council members appeared divided on restricting the gates.
"I'd like to see them all go away," said Councilman Bill Widmer. But Councilman Rick DeGolia said that since it is a public park, the public should have access to it.
The matter will probably be reviewed again after the town surveys the park property line.
"We really need a survey for one purpose," said City Attorney Bill Conners. "Any gate needs to be on their property, not ours," he said, or the town would be liable. "We're the owner and we're responsible to make it safe."
Christian Wagner contributed to this story.