A group of Menlo Park moms is considering the idea of forming a non-profit organization that would help fund Flood Park, regardless of whether or not the city or county is the park’s guardian.
Sarah Cueva, resident of the Suburban Park neighborhood, is one of those moms. She said that since the park closed, there isn’t a place where she can take her children to play without having to get into the car and drive.
“This park is one of the anchors of our community,” Cueva said. “It’s our gathering spot and very much a part of the identify of our neighborhood,” she said.
Cueva was in the crowd of more than 70 people who packed Jill Olson’s living room Thursday night to speak with Jim Porter, San Mateo County Director of Public Works, and Gary Lockman, San Mateo County Parks Superintendent, about the park’s future.
Cueva and Olson are two of the organizers of the Save Flood Parks social movement that formed as citizens sought ways to reopen the park, which has been closed since September 2010.
It was initially closed to enable the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to make upgrades to the water supply pipelines that run through the property. But on March 17, 2011, San Mateo County staff recommended that Flood Park be closed indefinitely, after they were asked to cut a total of $650,000 from the budget, according to Porter. The County reduced its net spending by $204,896 by closing the park, which costs about $370,000 a year to operate. That number is offset by the $20,000 the park gets from allowing a cell tower to remain on the property, as well as a remainder of the difference that is earned from space rental and entry fees, according to Lockman.
“What we want to do is keep the park open,” Porter said while standing in front of the fireplace. “It doesn’t matter who runs it, so long as the public is able to use it.”
Menlo Park Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith rose from the audience in the kitchen at that point to say, “Of course we want to keep the park open,” Keith said. “It does matter to the city, financially.”
Keith noted that this is the only park being closed out of the 15 parks the county runs, and suggested that the county find another park to close that was less trafficked.
City Manager Glen Rojas toured the park recently to see if it would be fiscally responsible for the city to take responsibility for the park, which features tennis courts, a baseball field, multi-use pavilions, open spaces, heritage oak trees and picnic areas. He is in favor of keeping the park as a whole, but is assessing all the data before making a decision.
Approximately 75,000 people used the 21-acre park in the fiscal year of 2009-2010, according to public documents. A use survey sent out to about 6,200 people who made reservations during that time yielded data that suggests 29 percent of park users live outside of San Mateo County. 71 percent came from Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton.
Amy McGaraghan, Suburban Park resident, said that it was highly likely that more people used the park than the county has counted, given that only two people in the room had received the use survey, although everyone in the room had used the park. She raised the idea of forming a 501(c)(3) organization that would operate exclusively for providing revenue for preserving the park and keeping it open for her and her neighbors to use.
“If the need arose, certainly community members in Menlo Park would be willing to form some kind of “Friends of” organization similar to the one that the library and have,” McGaraghan said from the kitchen.
"Out of all of the people I've spoken to, none of them said we need to fix Flood Park; they were all just happy to have it open," she said.
No action was taken at the meeting, but many creative funding ideas were presented to the group.
Some of the ideas included:
- Dividing the park and developing a section of it. The profits gained from that endeavor would go toward paying for park operating costs.
- Giving responsibility of park maintenance to users such as softball teams, or non violent criminals who have to clean up places as part of their community service sentences.
- Raising funds through silent auctions, or private donations.
- Asking corporations to adopt sections of the park and fund their maintenance.
Porter said The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will be holding budget hearings to take action on the city staff’s recommendation from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 20 and 21.