(Editor's Note: This discussion has been postponed to a later meeting, committee member Christine David told The Almanac this morning.)
Atherton resident Christine David often walks around Holbrook-Palmer Park with Benji, her 4-year-old labradoodle, greeting old friends and meeting new ones.
Although David, an Atherton Park and Recreation Committee member, and her neighbors enjoy these walks in the park with their dogs, they want to go a step further: They want their pets to be able to run free.
That's why David will propose a timeline for building a fenced-in, off-leash dog park between the Playschool preschool and the tennis courts in the 22-acre park at the committee's next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 4. The committee is not expected to take any action on the proposal at the meeting.
"When I joined the committee (in 2017) I said, 'I have two words for you: dog park,'" David told The Almanac. "All of this is about bringing the community together."
In addition to a dog park, she would like to see dog-related community events in town, such as a Halloween parade featuring dogs in costumes, or a wine and cheese event with dog owners and their pets.
The park now requires dogs to remain on leash. A 2015 survey showed that an off-leash dog area was the greatest single requested new use in the park, which currently has indoor and outdoor facilities that include a baseball field, tennis courts, a playground, gardens and walking paths. Other local off-leash dog areas range from a half-acre to 1 acre in size. There are dog parks in nearby Nealon and Willow Oak parks in Menlo Park.
A town rendering of an off-leash dog area was part of the town's 2015 master plan for the future development of the park. The rendering included a 20,000-square-foot park with fencing, decomposed granite surfacing, signs, benches, a litter station and water fountains.
Atherton resident Paula Darby Lipman walks her 9-year-old labradoodle, Finn, in the park daily. She would like to see a dog park added because dogs can socialize and interact more naturally off-leash, she said.
Another resident, Victor Para, said he is a big proponent of a dog park. He takes his dog Darby, a goldendoodle, to the park several times a week.
"Frankly, I think a dog park makes it safer and more comfortable for those non-dog owners because dogs won't be chasing balls or frolicking around in an open area," Para said in an email.
Betsy Davis, a Menlo Park resident, said she would support a dog park in Holbrook-Palmer Park. When she takes care of her daughter's dog Crash, she walks him in the park and brings him to one of Menlo Park's off-leash dog parks to run around with other dogs.
"He's (Crash) used to running on trails in the East Bay," she said. She likes that Holbrook-Palmer Park is a little more off the beaten path, she said.
The area that officials are considering for a dog park borders Menlo Park's Felton Gables neighborhood, so officials would need to gauge neighbors' possible concerns, David said.
The possibility of an off-leash dog area has come before the City Council a couple of times, and many times before the Park and Recreation Committee over Vice Mayor Rick DeGolia's six-year tenure on the council, he said. DeGolia, who is City Council liaison to the committee, said the most common users of the park are adults who walk the 2-mile loop and children playing sports.
"I don't think that an off-leash dog area would disrupt the kids, but we (town officials) have heard many concerns expressed from older adults who walk the park and are concerned about their ability to comfortably walk if more dogs are in the park and if there is an off-leash dog area," he said in an email.
"That said, we have continued to look at it because there are dog owners, some of whom are Atherton residents, who would like to bring their dogs to (Holbrook-Palmer Park) for that experience, rather than having to go elsewhere."
Next steps, funding discussion
David said the committee won't seek price estimates for a dog park until there's been more discussion, but that she believes there's enough interest from residents that such a park could be fully funded through donations. She would like to keep the dog park "inexpensive and simple," she said.
Residents could donate benches and gates to fund it, she said. There could also be a donor dog wall (with the names of dogs, not their owners) to raise funds, she said. The town could charge a nominal fee for keys to access a dog park.
The committee previously discussed a potential off-leash dog area at a March meeting. At the meeting, DeGolia noted that the town wouldn't be able to fund this project until at least 2023, according to the meeting minutes.
During the March meeting, David said the next steps would be to create park specifications; get quotes for a project; and start fundraising. If the Park and Recreation Committee approves plans for a park, the proposal would then go to the City Council for a vote.
If a dog park is approved, the town would need to set hours of use and complete a more detailed design plan for the area before construction, according to the 2015 master plan. Officials would need to pick a material for ground cover, decide whether to separate large and small dogs, and determine the fencing design and other site amenities, which may include pet litter stations, tables, benches, signs and dog drinking fountains.
It would be a nice gesture to name the dog park, if approved, "Olive's Puppy Park" to honor Olive Holbrook-Palmer, said David. Holbrook-Palmer willed the property, which was her family's summer residence and farm, to the town in 1959 as a park, according to Friends of Holbrook-Palmer Park, the fundraising arm of the Holbrook-Palmer Park Foundation.
The Park and Recreation Committee meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 4, in the park's Main House at 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton.