Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 27, 2014

Palo Alto to seek public opinion, engagement on parks

City to adopt new 'intercept' tactic to gauge residents' wishes

by Chris Kenrick

The "intercept event" — a new tactic to elicit public opinion — is coming soon to Palo Alto.

Desperate for residents' views on what they want from their public parks, city volunteers and consultants will attend large public gatherings such as concerts or community events and ask people to answer short questions and stick pins or dots on a map.

The "intercept" technique was explained Tuesday to the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission by Portland-based consultant Ryan Mottau of planning-and-design consulting firm MIG. The firm last fall won a $327,535 contract to analyze Palo Alto's park and recreation system and create documents to help guide future renovations of local trails, open space and recreation facilities.

"In most communities these days we don't get great turnout in a traditional community meeting," Mottau said. "So we're going to take these questions out to where people already are ... and ask them some quick questions they can answer easily by sticking dots on the boards.

"It's a chance to engage people who would never come to a community meeting but who use the parks and have no idea this planning process is going on."

Mottau said his firm will run four intercept events in Palo Alto — the first one this Saturday, most likely at Rinconada Park — and suggested that Parks and Recreation commissioners and other volunteers run similar events and use his materials to gather more public comment.

"We've found that with intercepts there's a real limited time frame you can expect — you can only grab people for about five minutes," he said.

Mottau's observations on the dearth of attendance at community meetings were corroborated in two other items taken up by the commission Tuesday.

A mailing of 1,800 postcards notifying nearby residents of a May 28 community meeting about an upcoming $332,000 renovation of Bowden Park yielded an attendance of five people, city landscape architect Peter Jensen said.

And "no comments were received" from another May 28 community meeting about a $67,000 project to improve landscaping and furnishings in King Plaza in front of City Hall, Jensen said.

The Bowden project will renovate children's playground equipment and swings, which are nearing the end of their 20-year life span, Jensen said. Resurfacing some playground areas with rubber or engineered wood fiber known as Fibar also will boost accessibility for children with handicaps, he said.

The project also involves repaving and fence renovation.

Jensen said he's already used about half of a $125,000 King Plaza budget to add native landscaping and now wants to focus on replacing the turf along Hamilton Avenue with more sustainable plants.

The replanting is an interim measure, he noted, because the entire plaza — which sits atop underground parking — will need to be renovated in a multi-million dollar project in the next 10 to 15 years. The existing planters — even those containing large magnolia trees — are only 3-feet deep because of the parking underneath, he said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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