Almanac

Viewpoint - February 19, 2014

Editorial: Atherton vote on Little League facilities not clear

Atherton voters who read the "impartial analysis" of Measure M when they voted in the 2012 election should be forgiven if they thought the following words on the ballot meant approval was not final: "...Voter approval of the measure will not automatically grant the Little League improvement proposal which will still have to go through the normal Town land use review process."

When reviewing the proposal to build a covered 200-seat grandstand and improve the Little League field in Holbrook-Palmer Park, the Planning Commission after three public meetings decided that the size of the proposed project "was too monumental and too large in scale," and recommended that it be downsized.

But rather than continue the hearing process, the City Council last month decided, on a 3-2 vote, to move ahead, sanctioning a 200-seat grandstand if the structure conforms with codes and other legal requirements of the permitting process. Menlo-Atherton Little League, which is donating the grandstand, including public restrooms, an electronic scoreboard and perimeter fencing along both baselines, as well as other improvements to the field, will now submit its final plans in order to acquire permits from the town.

Neither the ballot language for Measure M nor the impartial analysis, written by City Attorney Bill Conners, specified the size of the "covered seating for spectators." A number of residents have stated publicly and to the Almanac that they voted for the measure, but trusted that the town would engage in a rigorous review process to ensure that the scale of the project was appropriate for the town's only park. What the City Council has signed off on, they say, is inappropriately large.

Councilman Rick DeGolia said he would have preferred a scaled-down grandstand plan, saying, "Personally, I believe that it's a third (larger) than what's needed." He said he voted for it because he did not want the Little League to walk away from the project. "I believe it was proposed (by town officials) to the Little League to reduce the seating numbers, but they rejected that." He went on to say he didn't think removing 50 seats was worth sacrificing the donation to the town and the park.

So now, unless Mayor Cary Wiest, Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis and Mr. DeGolia change their minds, a good chunk of prized open space in Holbrook-Palmer Park will be taken up by a very permanent, covered Little League grandstand. It is unfortunate that a compromise could not be struck to reduce the grandstand to a size more in keeping with Little League needs. As some readers have pointed out, in the unlikely event that there are 40 players (a generous estimate of 20 players per team) at the field for a championship game, even if each family had four people in attendance, it would mean only 160 spectators would use the grandstand. In our view, a capacity of 150 seats is plenty big enough for a Little League grandstand in Atherton.

Little League officials have been very generous to donate the facility and other improvements — not only to the ball field but the park in general — but the town has an obligation to protect the legacy of the park and maintain much of it as open space. This over-sized grandstand is not in keeping with that tradition.

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