Viewpoint - March 30, 2011

Editorial: Park offer too good to refuse

Ever since Menlo Park kids and others from the surrounding communities have become year-round sports fanatics, the city has suffered from a chronic shortage of playing fields.

Unlike the days when Little League and AYSO soccer were virtually the only sports options for kids, today we have AYSO and advanced soccer for boys and girls; Little League and higher-level baseball teams; rugby and more exotic sports like field hockey and lacrosse.

But these sports all need practice and game time on playing fields, preferably close to home. Meeting that demand has been a scheduler's nightmare in built-out Menlo Park, where little if any vacant property exists to accommodate playing fields.

Now, a potentially good deal has surfaced — a bid by the county to possibly turn 21-acre Flood Park on Bay Road over to the city. The park has a baseball field, softball field and tennis court, along with open space and picnic areas. But it is the potential — space to build two more soccer fields — that is so appealing. If this once-in-a-lifetime offer comes through it presents a tremendous opportunity for Menlo Park, but also an equally huge challenge that goes with this "gift horse."

Owning a 21-acre park is one thing; maintaining it is quite another when money is short and the county has no interest in helping out with the estimated $200,000 annual expenses.

The financial burden of acquiring Flood Park was raised last week by Community Development Director Cherise Brandell, who is already worried about loss of funding if the Las Pulgas redevelopment agency (RDA) is taken away by the state, as proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Without the RDA funds, it would limit the city's options for the park, "... if not eliminate the possibility of taking it over completely," she told the Almanac.

But she added, "Even with the RDA, the costs to maintain and complete capital projects at the Park would be a major financial challenge."

We agree, but before summarily turning down this possible gift of a 21-acre park within its borders, the city should make every effort to win private support for maintaining and enhancing the property.

As far as we know, no one has offered to help out, but the city should challenge the local athletic community — AYSO, Little League, rugby, lacrosse and field hockey families — to provide financial help and leadership to raise the funds necessary to operate and maintain Flood Park.

Another option would be for the city to acquire the park and then sublease space for two or more sports fields to a private party that would operate and maintain them according to stipulations set down by the city.

We believe parents whose children are heavily involved in youth sports should be willing to help pay for park maintenance, and perhaps begin a campaign to build two new soccer fields there.

Even without the threat of losing the RDA funds, the city would be hard-pressed to find $200,000 a year just to keep the doors open at Flood Park. But the park is an asset that shouldn't go unclaimed. Opportunities like this don't come often.

There are also public safety concerns; Suburban Park residents who live nearby are already worrying that a vacant park could attract criminal activity if the county closes and fences off the property.

Unfortunately, this opportunity comes at a time when the city's revenues are falling, and employee expenses are rising. But if the county actually decides to let the park go, the city — and sports parents — should not let this opportunity pass by.


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