Have you had your say on the new gym? | February 6, 2008 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - February 6, 2008

Have you had your say on the new gym?

by Rory Brown

Efforts to build a new Burgess Gym with Menlo Park taxpayers' dollars got off to a confusing start last week, as gym user groups and neighbors were invited to weigh in on what the new gym should look like, but the general public was largely left out of the picture.

To kick off efforts to build the new gym, the city held several "focus group" meetings aimed at garnering input from people who frequent the gym — such as residents in adult sports leagues, or parents with children in the gymnastics program — and those who live nearby.

At the meetings, a city-hired consultant took a written record of suggestions about what should or shouldn't be incorporated into the design of a new gym.

Although fliers about the meetings were handed out at the gym to sports participants and distributed to the neighborhood, there was little public notification of the meeting to the rest of the general public and the press.

Sports user groups and neighbors may be most impacted by the design and features of the new gym, but the new facility will be paid for by the next wave of funding from Measure T — the 2001 bond proposal passed by Menlo Park voters to improve the city's parks and recreation facilities.

"My understanding is that the city was looking for more of a sample of the community rather than opening it up to everybody," said City Manager Glen Rojas of the meetings. Mr. Rojas added that the city may opt to hold more meetings to get more public input.

City Councilman Richard Cline said he plans to push the city manager to "restart the meetings entirely" and make sure the entire public is notified.

"There's an imperfect notification system in the city," Mr. Cline said. "In order to build a community project, we have to get more community input."

Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Nick Naclerio said the aim of the focus groups was to get specific input from people who are familiar with the gym, not to block public input.

"We're not trying to exclude anyone from providing input," he said. "We're trying to figure out the deficiencies with the current complex, and what people want in a new complex. Everyone will get their say."

Mr. Naclerio said residents can comment on what they'd like to see in a new gym at the next meeting of the parks commission, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 20. He said parks commissioners will discuss the new Burgess Gym at each monthly meeting until narrowing the options down to three potential designs that will go before the City Council.


Posted by Menlo Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 7, 2008 at 12:12 pm

As a gym- and basketball-parent who attended one of the focus groups, I'm a little puzzled by the tone of this article. ("Have you had your say on the new gym?") Is the reporter is pursuing his own complain-about-City-staff agenda? Too lazy to capture what was said so non-participants who might have other views would get involved? Proud to have 'discovered' that the focus groups were taking place but suddenly aware that they were too banal to report any substance on?

It seems to me that, like any good architectal team, the groups investigating the gym renovation project were talking with current users, current staff, and neighbors first (NOT exclusively) to decide what direction to take this in. It is a reality in busy Menlo Park that, until you put some plans on the table, 99% of the opposition stays home. (See the school redesigns as an example -- did neighbors come to the school board and informational meetings BEFORE there were plans showing two-story buildings covering playing fields? No. Did they show up in droves afterwards? Yes.) Bottom line: get some plans, then everyone will start a dialogue. Hold a focus group and either keep it to those people who really care or open it to every blowhard who wants a forum, which bores away the truly involved parties.

Personally, I thought the City was very thoughtful in their attempts to schedule focus group sessions so those of us with school kids could attend, so neighbors could attend, etc. They should be commended, not damned, for their efforts to address needs, retain what's great about their programs, and do so in a way that gets this moving forward quickly.

Posted by AnotherView, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Actually, it seems to me that there has been an awful lot of foot-dragging on this. It's been what, 2 years now, since they redid the park & pool and I thought the gym was supposed to be redone right behind that effort, with the money having already been committed. I'd like to see a story why it's taken so long and they're only not just "meeting" with small groups of people to "discuss" things!

Posted by inside out planning, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Good points Menlo Mom, but let's not misinform re:school plans.
Oak Knoll, for example, had a 2005 plan drawn by the present district architect and presented to the voters in June 2006 with the 2 story gym/theatre/music rooms in the back of campus (on the present paved basketball courts) based on his assessment of best location and available utilities, minimal impact on the neighbors... During the whole part of committee site planning in late 2006, early 2007, none of the immediate neighbors were invited to participate. They had no idea that the site committee would throw out the voter approved and neighbor supported plan and stick the massive building and adjoining parking lot right in the middle of the current Oak Knoll front playground, removing a perfectly healthy 400 year Heritage Oak in the process and impacting the immediate neighbors. With the proposed site 3 feet above Oak Street the visual impact will be monumental, where the original site was 3 feet below Vine AVe., and sinking the bldg. down like many gyms,theatres, would have topped out at maybe 20 feet, hardly visible from residents across Vine. The offsite impacts on traffic circulation, storm drainage (did you see the flooded Oak/Bay Laurel intersection on Friday Jan. 25th), loss of heritage oaks and open space, and additional creek pollution are astounding, and are just now being understood, and city and other agency officials are alarmed and prepared to challenge the district.
This is an example of bad planning at its worst and the district taxpayers and children deserve a lot better than the current plan.

Posted by AnotherView, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2008 at 10:40 am

To Inside Out Planning:

Your school & the gym: apples vs oranges.

At Burgess, everything else has been redone - park, pool, parking lots. They're not going to turn around now & put the gym somewhere else. The "footprint" is set - its just a matter of renovate vs. knock down & start from scratch, along with how to allot the available space (gymnastics, b-ball court, etc.). It ain't rocket science. But instead, this city council seems to much more interested in "grand plans" for the city than actually getting things done!

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 8, 2008 at 11:16 am

AnotherView: our downtown plan trumps the gym project by a huge margin. Take all the pot shots you want at the council, but don't even try to equate a new gym with a 20-year downtown city plan. Planning may seem like a new foreign idea to all the old school MP politicos, but plan we must. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Posted by new gyms now, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2008 at 7:58 pm

If you read this thread, you'll understand why the city invited gym users and neighbors to the focus groups--those are the people who care about the gyms! There are way too many posts on this thread about issues that are totally irrelevant (Oak Knoll, El Camino). Can you blame the city for wanting to keep the discussions on the matter at hand rather than hosting a free-for-all where people can air any gripes they may have about anything related to Menlo Park?

I went to one of the meetings and agree with MM that the consultants, staff, and commissioners were eager to get input from anyone willing to give it. They were respectful of all comments. I am sure that they will be equally available to listen to anyone who has something to say about the gym.

Thank you, council, for getting this moving. We have been waiting a long time for better gym facilities.

Posted by AnotherView, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2008 at 9:12 pm

New Gyms Now:
"We have been waiting a long time for better gym facilities."

That was exactly my point! And why have we been waiting? Because the city council has had "grander things" in mind - too much to be bothered with a "little old thing" like updating an old/obsolete public facility that is heavily used.

Its funding mechanism - Measure T - was passed over 6 years ago (in 11/01)!

Here's a quote from an Almanac story back on June 21, 2006:
"Mr. Cline said Measure T funds could go toward building fields at the park, but he doesn't want to lose funding for other projects. Fields are a top priority because of the current limitations, but the gym and the recreation center are at the top of the queue, too," he said.

Almost 2 full years later and we're still just "discussing things."

What a joke!

Posted by ngn, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Rich wasn't on the council in June 2006, and parks and rec is only an advisory group with no decision-making power. Kelly, who was mayor from the time the new council majority took office until December 2007, had her own agenda. I am hoping that with Andy at the helm, we will not only get this gym moving but the rec center too. If the city can invest big $$$ in private dance studios, they can surely spend some money to fix up their own dance facilities that are also heavily used every day by kids.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 8, 2008 at 10:09 pm

Another View:

Keep it in context if you can. Cline was a commissioner responding to that ridiculous Bayfront Park $18M boondoggle and he also authored the fields study to prove that we did not need Bayfront fields. That was four months of wasted time by your last council just trying to push a crap idea down the residents throat!

Posted by AnotherView, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2008 at 10:21 am

Rich, Kelly, Andy, etc., etc. ect. - the names change, but the story's still the same - ALL TALK BUT NO ACTION!

Let's take another poll, let's do another survey, let's hold a series of "town hall" meetings - don't look now, but we've become PALO ALTO!

Posted by Menlo Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 9, 2008 at 9:35 pm

I wondered about the time lapse, too, Another View, and can only wonder whether the pool/Sheeper situation played into this ... that is to say, whether discovering that building a great new site and having the funds to operate it were two different things. The last-minute scramble to find a tenant was a bit bizarre.

Inside Out, I'm sorry, I was thinking foremost of the process at Hillview where many of us were surprised to have neighbors talk about the shock of needing to have the campus extended -- after we'd heard and read about months of discussion of this at the school-board level.

That said, the Oak Knoll example is a good one -- sketching out a pretty design for voting without full information, then deciding to pursue another, leaves a terrible taste in everyone's mouth.

In any case, I sincerely hope that the city got whatever basic requirements information it needs from current users. That should allow it to design something that addresses that set of needs, at least, which then can be used as a stalking horse to solicit full community input. And I am glad that neighbors were among the first groups to be consulted, instead of the last.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 10, 2008 at 11:25 am

AnotherView: I have a suggestion. Since you seem so passionately negative about anyone who serves on council (well not everyone), why don't you sack up and put up your real name and run and show the world how it is done! You fail to mention Winkler or Duboc or Boyle so it is obvious where you come from. November is a long way out and you have plenty of time to be the hero for your "party."

I trust our parks commission and our council will give us a great gym in time. I am sorry your experiences made you such a cynic. So give it a run and see if a majority of Menlo Park voters want your new approach.

And I am serious, you should run.

Posted by basketball fan, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2008 at 1:14 pm

Re the timing issue: the situation with Measure T is that the bonds were to be issued in three rounds of funding rather than all at once. This was done because the city wanted to keep the amount that would show up on your property tax bill below a certain dollar figure. So a chunk of money was raised in the first round, something like $13 mm, and that mostly went to the aquatic center (in fact, the pool had so many cost overruns that money that was supposed to go toward fields--also to be fixed up in round 1--was diverted to the pool).

The gym was always scheduled for round 2, but round 2 couldn't happen until finances permitted--I assume the city had to pay down all or part of the bonds from round 1. So the delay isn't because people have been dragging their heels but because the money from Measure T wasn't available yet.

If there is any money in round 3, and who knows what our economy will be like in 2011 or 2012, that is earmarked for the rec and some other improvements.

Meanwhile, as we patiently wait, city council members come up with pet projects, and somehow there is always money (the special slush fund only accessible by council members) for those. It does make you wonder

Posted by AnotherView, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 11, 2008 at 9:42 pm

OK, "truth", put me down for slamming ALL the politicos since 2001 - left, right or sideways, however you want to define them.

The truth is (pun intended), that if you told voters back then that after 6 years we'd still be just in the talking phase about a new gym, Measure T would have gone down in flames!

Basketball Fan - thanks for the info on timing. Sure seems like the pool fiasco played a major part in this - so "truth", who was responsible for that - your side or the other?

Posted by basketball fan, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 11, 2008 at 11:59 pm

During the Measure T campaign, voters were told that the improvements would take place over a period of many years, not at once. The campaign literature, which I still have, says that $14 mm would be raised initially, $24 mm over the next 15 years.

Voters did not read the literature. They also didn't do the arithmetic, or they would have realized that there was NO WAY all the improvements promised could be financed with $38mm.

Posted by Also_disappointed, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2008 at 5:59 am

The measure T bond money was indeed to be raised in stages and there was going to be a large time lag before all the sought for projects could be funded.

The gym situation is really sad. You would have thought that during this period, the Parks and Rec commission would have been doing the out reach and had a plan in place. That never seems to have happened, so now we are just going through this process.

But what overall is so very unfortunate is we will never see another money raising effort like measure T, because memories live on, and what has happened thus far with the money is not pretty.

I remember when I voted for measure T thinking, they are not spelling out exactly what will be built, but rather a basket of projects was presented.

Now the pool was built, and the Jellins, Winkler, DuBoc majority gave it away to a private enterprise at the sales price of $1 / year rent. Now Mr. Sheeper is rolling in so much money, he is putting at his own expense a bubble on the pool, and out of the kind heart he possess, he is going to donate it to the City. What an eye sore this is going to create. He also now wants the City to spend money on the Bell Haven pool, I guess he wants to control it also.

So memories do live on. Do you think I am ever going to vote for a bond measure knowing that they will just give the projects built away? Is that what might also happen to the gym, if it ever gets built?

At the very least this council should pass by law, that when the gym is built, it will not be given away like pool was.


Posted by gym rat, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Don't blame parks & rec. They are a advisory group made up of volunteers who cycle on and off the commission. Community Services should have led the charge, but they didn't, and they won't because that's not how this city runs.

Remember that a little over a year ago, all that Measure T money was going to be spent on Bayfront Park. Wouldn't you feel foolish if you had invested a lot of time designing a great new gym only to see your funding disappear? No, waiting until the money is a sure thing (or close to it) is the only way to go in Menlo Park.

And if you want to guarantee that we don't Sheeperize the gym, be careful how you cast your vote this November.

Posted by MemoryLane, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 13, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Gym Rat:
"Remember that a little over a year ago, all that Measure T money was going to be spent on Bayfront Park."

Hey I thought the idea was that we were going to put in a "gold mine" golf course that would pay for the entire city budget, with leftovers - at least according to the "gone but not forgotten" ex-city council members:)

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 14, 2008 at 7:30 am

The pool is not a factor at all in this decision. The funding is set up a certain way and the funds are only available now to build the gym. That is it. No conspiracy. The outreach has been very scattered but at least we have one more meeting to voice our feeling on the gym. And Another View, I don't want to blame councils at all to be honest. I just want a new gym. If you can get it for me, I'll vote for you.

Posted by registered user, Rory Brown, a resident of Almanac staff writer
on Feb 14, 2008 at 2:25 pm

The city just sent out notice that there will be another public meeting regarding the new gym. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25, in the Burgess Recreation Center. All residents are encouraged to attend.

The Parks and Recreation Commission is also expected to discuss plans for the new gym at its meeting on Feb. 27. That meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the Onetta Harris Community Center at 100 Terminal Ave.

Here's the notice for the Feb. 25 meeting:
Web Link