Visitors to Palo Alto's newest parkland could be forgiven for thinking they'd wander astray.
Instead of walking trails, shaded benches and vista points, the marshy 36.5-acre stretch that Palo Alto added to its park network in June includes old pipes, obsolete power lines and two abandoned buildings that for years have been suffering from natural and man-made wear-and-tear. Instead of a welcome sign, there is a fence barring public entry.
Palo Alto purchased the former antenna field from International Telephone and Telegraph in the summer of 2016 and last June voted to "dedicate" it as parkland, thus ensuring that the Baylands site would not be used for any purpose other than open space and recreation. Shortly before the dedication, Mayor Greg Scharff celebrated the city's $250,000 purchase, which he called "the largest dedication of parkland that has occurred in 50 years."
"I think it's something we should celebrate in this community and let people know about," Scharff said during a May meeting.
Now comes the harder part: figuring out what to do with a site that for decades played a critical role in ship-to-shore communication but that in recent years has suffered from neglect and vandalism.
This week, the City Council took an early step in planning for the future of the former ITT site when it approved the spending of $400,000 to begin sprucing up the new parcel. According to Public Works staff, the money will be used to make immediate repairs to address some of the area's most critical deficiencies.
"Break-ins, theft and vandalism prior to the City's take-over left the ITT site with many safety issues and the most recent winter storms have caused an urgent need to protect it from further deterioration and damage from winter rains," a report from Public Works states.
The newly approved repairs aim to facilitate the site's conversion to recreational open space. The road leading to the site will be improved so that the "badly deteriorated asphalt" that exists today will be replaced with a smoother surface so that the public can walk or bike to the site. The road, which connects to the old transmitting building and warehouse, may also be extended to connect to other existing roadways near the Baylands.
City staff also plan to remove the rocks, abandoned pipes and other debris so as to rehabilitate the site and make it safer for hikers and bicyclists. According to staff, new soil and compacted base rock will be used to create space for walking and gathering near the old buildings. Crews will also be removing old utility poles, power lines, transformers and utility cabinets, the report states.
The city is also eying improvements to the buildings themselves. Public Works plans to add roof liner to the main building to prevent further rain damage and to waterproof the crawl space to prevent water damage from ponded surface water. And to bolster security, staff plans to cover up the windows and most doors at both buildings and to install a new fence adjacent to them to "deter unauthorized access and further vandalism."
While the council has yet to determine the future design of the new parkland, the city's long-standing policy called for removing the antenna field and restoring it to nature. The Baylands Master Plan has a policy that calls for replacing the antenna field with marshland and "incorporate this area into Byxbee Park."