Guest opinion: Curtis Street park trial failed; city needs to figure out why | October 11, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - October 11, 2017

Guest opinion: Curtis Street park trial failed; city needs to figure out why

by Dana Hendrickson

In September the Menlo Park City Council abruptly terminated its three-year, downtown pocket park experiment after the temporary Curtis Street installation was soundly criticized by residents and nearby businesses. Our mayor concluded the field trial had successfully demonstrated the project was not viable, and the council unanimously voted to remove it.

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4 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 11, 2017 at 2:07 pm

I invite residents to comment, and anyone interested in actively supporting either or both these initiatives to send me a message at

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Posted by anonymouse
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm

It thought it was called a "pop-up park" not a pocket park...

2 people like this
Posted by move on
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 13, 2017 at 1:28 pm

I can remember the "new artificial turf" smell at Mueller's State of the City (Web Link). The Community thought it would be a fun idea, and it was fun. Sadly, the turf took a lot of abuse, so now it's time to move on.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2017 at 1:29 pm

Anonymous: the city in different situations called it a pop-up park, a mini-park, a paseo, and a minI-park. In reality, its is none of these and that just added to the confusion about what it was trying to do. Google any of these terms and you will see examples. Also, see pocket park. And using artificial grass put this space in its own category as I cannot find examples. Calling it a "park" was a bad idea as many residents wondered why it was needed since we already have Fremont. Of course, that park is not a centrally located public space.

8 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Dana Hendrickson - what is your role in this? Why do you want people to email you their opinions?

We are in that area of town frequently. Not once were we tempted to use the park. It is much easier to enjoy the other parks nearby, or Burgess.

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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2017 at 3:52 pm

Hmmm.... I am a long-time resident and author of this guest opinion who is interested in seeing who else might want our city to study the creation of a small, inviting and attractive plaza for the center of downtown. It would NOT be a park. I would want the plaza to be designed by a professional and evaluated as a formal city project, not like an informal experiment. Neither happened with the recent "trial".

4 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:10 pm

No "parks" which take away parking or restrict movement. You want a downtown park? Then how about a parking structure in the lot behind the post office and the roof level as a park - real lawn, real trees, benches, eating places and perhaps one or two very inexpensive eating options which as part of their permit would keep the area clean. Move the Wed night movies and concerts from the park across from Peets to it. Go for it city council instead of wasting all that money on replacing the library. Heck maybe Arrillaga wants his name on a garage park.

10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Calling it a Park is a bit of a misnomer. It really was just a blocked off street. A formal plan would not have changed that. The closed area would still have caused traffic problems, removed scarce parking spaces, invited permanent overnight guests and annoyed and disrupted the adjacent businesses.
Downtown Menlo Park already has a lovely park-Fremont Park. Put resources toward that park, not towards a competing project a few blocks away.

10 people like this
Posted by Bill Frimel Jr.
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 16, 2017 at 9:37 pm

As a downtown business owner, I was strongly opposed to the turf park. It is difficult to concisely describe the negative impact and atmosphere that was generated by the turf park. As a daily / hourly observer of the turf park, I can attest that the location and concept is a faulty one that no amount of introspection, planning or permanency can cure. There are the objective aspects of disrupting traffic, parking and inconvenience and the subjective aspects of negative human behavior by those that ignore or refuse to practice common courtesy, respect or basic hygiene. I have dozens of pictures that tell the story much better than the written word – they are impactful and irrefutable.
The following is just a short list of some of the issues the park suffered from on daily or weekly basis (1) passed out drunks who vomited in the park and soiled themselves while passed out, (2) a large volume of dog feces and urine; (3) small children rolling on, crawling over, and eating off of the same areas; (4) a shocking amount of trash, candy, half eaten plates of foods, spilled sweet drinks and general litter (typically left by middle schoolers); (5) rats appearing at dusk from the sewer to eat the trash/food left behind; (6) endless amplified music – frequently with profane lyrics; (7) the park attracted smokers of all sorts – cigarettes, pipes and cigars. In addition to the obvious issue of the smoke itself, all the ash was left on the turf; (8) shopping carts filled with a variety of items that are difficult to categorize; (9) three permanent residents that used the park as their bedroom, dining room and, occasionally, bathroom – including shaving and haircutting that would drop on the turf; (10) countless temporary residents that used the pop-up park in a similar way, including using the public electric utility outlets meant for the tree lights to power laptops, cell phones, tablets and portable heaters; and (11) pungent odors that would ebb and flow based on the volume of the above and the strength of the sun. Environmental testing (paid for by a concerned citizen) revealed high levels of dangerous bacteria. This report was shared with the City.
In addition, the turf park only frustrated those trying to use downtown and those shopping at Walgreens, Trader Joes, Starbucks, Bank of the West, Bistro Vida, Left Bank, Village Stationary and Ace Hardware – at a minimum. The loss of parking was conservatively estimated to be over 12,000 parking opportunities a year. The street closure pushed thoroughfare traffic into the crowded parking lots. As a result, drivers used the parking lots as streets to get in and out of the area behind the park. When people were not looking for parking and simply trying to get out of the area they drove far too quickly.
Sometimes a well-intentioned idea is just a bad idea. The idea, however named, and however permanent, is just a bad idea.

12 people like this
Posted by Downtown
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 17, 2017 at 11:08 am

I cannot believe this topic is even coming back up. As a Menlo Park homeowner and business owner in the downtown, I have never seen something so badly designed. It was a place for people to dump their trash, throw bottles at the building, and was unsanitary. There was environmental testing done and the city has a copy. I would not allow my children anywhere near it. Then you had the parking issue and all the back up. How is this coming up again? I would love to see where you work and maybe have it put out in front of your office for a test study. I am certain you will then see what we are seeing. Use the park that we have, interesting how zero money or time is being utilized there. I suggest you ask the council about that instead of trying to make this "fake park" happen again.

4 people like this
Posted by Kim Glenn
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 17, 2017 at 5:05 pm

While I appreciate that this was a well intentioned idea, it was poorly executed and resulted in something that detracted from the beauty and usability of our city. For any future "paseo" plans to work , the residents and business owners must all be reassured that their lives and livelihoods will not be negatively impacted . Paseos and promenades that work in European and Asian locations necessitate people walking to them or being transported by bus /rail lines. While putting some further resources into Fremont Park, let's investigate locations other than Curtis Street and, simultaneously, figure out some long term parking (multi level) elsewhere off of Santa Cruz Avenue.

9 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 18, 2017 at 6:53 am

Given that traffic and parking are already a problem downtown -- and continue to get worse -- having a mini-park that closes off access to Santa Cruz Ave. was just a bad idea.

Maybe I missed the times that it was being used because it was mostly empty when I saw it. But the Council is not known for its good ideas on streets and traffic -- remember the bump-out curbs on Santa Cruz Ave several years ago that were installed and then removed after many complaints. And now the re-configuration and removal of parking on Oak Grove Ave -- another bad idea.

6 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 19, 2017 at 1:17 pm

I am so glad to see that so called park gone. I could list a slew of objections to the park, but, for me, the worst of it was its attraction to people who wanted to camp out there on a regular basis. I see that one of those men has now taken up residence on the patio at the entrance to Starbucks. The other day, this person's large bundle occupied one table and he occupied another. No way did I want to sip my coffee in that ambiance. (Incidentally, that particular Starbucks has an ongoing problem keeping it premises clean, inside and out.)

1 person likes this
Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2017 at 2:28 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

I see the heart of Dana's article as not being so much about the park but more one identifying ways that city officials and staff can improve the "process" aspect of making and refining decisions. In that, I appreciated the thoughtful article that clearly took much time to write. I too would like to see improvements in the way that our city approaches decision-making. Taking a more rational and comprehensive approach --along with more program analysis and other systemic approaches to decision-making --is needed. At least one major decision, that I am personally familiar with, was based more on hearsay, faulty assumptions and inadequate analysis than on a systematic and rational analysis. Yet some cling stubbornly to their (misguided) decision rather than being open to more evidence. I would like to see more questioning of staff who supply inadequate analysis and evidence to support their opinions and more rational analysis.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Here is a summary of the results of the recent survey the City Council conducted to collect feedback on the Curtis Street “paseo”. Residents would have benefited from having the survey results well before our Council terminated this experiment, as the solicited community feedback clearly shows many residents believed other alternatives warranted consideration. This is an important and surprising finding given their poor experience with the City’s first effort.

While the answers to “yes or no” type questions are always useful, the comments submitted by the 475 participants provide valuable information on WHY they voted as they did and what might have satisfied them. Here are the highlights of what I learned. Interested residents can review the actual survey data and final report as it is now available on the Re-Imagine Menlo Park website at Web Link.

A significant number of residents do want our city to create an attractive public space in the center downtown and not necessarily a miniature version of Fremont Park.

Survey Results

1. An overwhelming majority criticized the poor execution of the current installation – unattractiveness, trash, and the homeless are the primary concerns.

2. 62% want the current installation removed permanently.

3. 39% want either a temporary or permanent installation, but only if major improvements were made.

4. The second most cited objection is that a very small downtown park is not needed because Menlo Park already has nearby Fremont Park.

5. Lost parking and poor traffic circulation were also cited but drew less criticism than the actual installation.

6. Poor sanitation was the least noted criticism.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Heendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 31, 2017 at 2:33 pm

I have repeatedly heard that Menlo Park has a difficult time competing against neighboring cities for excellent employees in part due to how often new civic projects are unprofessionally managed. I can only imagine how the Curtis Street project negatively impacted those public works employees who had to live with and maintain it. This is the type of AVOIDABLE significant problem residents seldom hear about and our entire city loses when this happens.

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