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By Paul Losch

Hugging Golf Course Trees

Uploaded: Jan 22, 2014

I served 9 years of the Parks and Recreation Commission, ending in 2012. Here are some thoughts I have about this golf course tree matter.

First, the Commissioners are not firebrands. They have various points of view, do not always agree, and do attempt to achieve consensus. Their purview can bring out all sorts of different interest groups with disparate opinions, and in my experience, the input is taken seriously when it is serious input.

A significant part of the Weekly's reporting was mention of a task force of Commissioners and various stakeholders. While that type of task force is not perfect, you do have "everyone in the room." I view it as a best practice for local Palo Alto government. I do not think the public understands or appreciates the time and effort required outside of public meetings for task forces to develop their recommendations that must then be reviewed and approved at the Commission and Council level.

Such a task force was in place for dealing with the tree issue at the reconstructed golf course.

Public input on what to do with the golf course occurred over several years. Many open meetings took place to get input and feedback from the public, for those who chose to participate.

The architect chosen to develop the initial design is from a blue ribbon golf course design firm, and had several alternatives for the Commission and City Council to choose from. The design chosen is very exciting, and while I am not a golfer, I can see how the new course will be a much more attractive place to play than is its predecessor.

The new design calls for removing trees, many diseased or inappropriate for salty marshland, and some that do not fit in the new golf course configuration. The latter trees are the ones that call for mitigation. Replacement trees will be compatible with the environment in which they are planted, and will grow and thrive as the years go on. Loss of canopy for a period of time? Yes. Better canopy in future years? Also a yes, particularly since there will be trees planted in other parts of Palo Alto as part of this project.

This golf course re-design is driven by a multi-county, multi-city effort to make major changes around San Francisquito Creek. After the El Nino floods of 1998, it was decided that entire creek, from the bay to the hills, including the golf course, Pope Chaucer bridge, and other bridges upstream, needed improvement. We are now, at long last, seeing some action.

I have long been an advocate of getting more recreational space for youth and adults In Palo Alto. "Soccer moms" were an indirect influence on carving out some golf course space for more recreation facilities, but they mostly don't spend time on these questions. They just want a place for their kids to play and to be able to spend time with fellow parents and kids in a positive environment.

We do not have enough space for families to achieve that objective. The new space at the Baylands can add to that capacity. That will help reduce out of town trips by car for games, offer evening activity as a result of lighting, and potentially offer a gym for all those volleyball and basketball players that have limited playing space in Palo Alto right now.

There is the space, but not the funds, to develop this new recreational facility. I will comment at another time about that funding matter.