Today (July 2nd, 2022) , I walked through an empty Martin Luther King Park on a beautiful Saturday morning on the Fourth of July Weekend. Parks around the country are packed with activity this holiday, but here in EPA MLK Park was completely empty, with both the gate to the parking lot and the bathrooms locked off.
It is a curious decision by the City of East Palo Alto to lock off MLK Park on July 2nd, the Saturday of a major holiday weekend. While the park was empty, the Bay Trail alongside the park was busy with bikers and families walking. People in EPA are clearly out walking and biking this holiday weekend - just not in our parks. This needs to change. We have great park spaces in East Palo Alto, but the lack of investment by the city in our parks has led to parks that are nearly abandoned, with few community members using them. East Palo Alto deserves to have excellent parks that are safe, well maintained, and packed with fun activities.
Here are some ideas that the City can do to bring our parks back to life:
· Bring back a Parks & Recreation Department. Due to budget problems in years past, EPA dissolved the Parks & Rec Department. EPA should hire a Parks Director and set aside a significant budget for park maintenance, programming, staff, and infrastructure. Parks are an essential and basic part of city government, and the fact that we do not have a Parks and Recreation Department and Director speaks volumes about what the city priorities are – and what they are not.
· Open small cafes at at MLK, Cooley Landing, and Jack Farrell Park. Our community needs more spaces for people to meet up and this would be an easy win – there are already kitchens in these parks. Serve coffee, bagels, lemonade, hot dogs, ice cream, iced tea, sandwiches, etc. Create jobs in the community and have the café employees monitor the park for trouble and make sure the bathrooms are clean.
· Install field lighting in Jack Farrell & MLK Park to enable afternoon and evening practices and games. It is hard to have games or practices in winter months without lighting, and teams should not have diesel generators powering temporary lights in order to practice.
· Convert Jack Farrell and MLK Park to multiuse fields: soccer, football, baseball, and rugby should all be able to use the same space. Additionally, install field turf on MLK Park – ground squirrels make it unsafe to have normal grass and will create hazards. Fields should never be locked off to the public, and field rentals should be administered in a open and transparent manner.
· Install security cameras ASAP – there is an ongoing problem of crime in our parks including murder, drug dealing, public drunkenness, and graffiti. Cameras will not stop all crime, but are a step in the right direction.
· Increase police patrols and presence in our parks and make sure that bad behavior is immediately corrected. In 13 years, I have NEVER seen a police patrol in MLK Park, even after the murder investigation of Santiago Gonzalez.
· Music & Movies in the Parks – Live Music at Jack Farrell Park with food trucks and live jazz, blues, reggae, mariachi, and other suitable genres. Movies in the Parks are popular and should be part of our kids summertime memories.
· Park bathrooms should be open, clean, and have baby changing stations in them. No parents will visit the park if their kids do not have access to bathrooms. Bathrooms should be installed at Bell Street Park and Joel Davis Park
· Tennis Courts should be included in future park developments. Tennis is popular in East Palo Alto, yet there are no public courts in our city parks
· A dog park should be developed in the city owned park land, perhaps under the PG&E lines adjacent to MLK Park.
· Adult Sports Leagues: Soccer, Softball, Rugby, and Ultimate Frisbee. Women's, Men's, and Coed sports league would thrive in EPA.
· Bay Run - EPA a 5k fun-run on the Bay, starting at Cooley Landing and having a celebration with live music & BBQ
· Bike Repair Stands should be in every park
· East Palo Alto should maintain the Bay Trail in EPA – we should not be reliant on Palo Alto Rangers to cut back weeds on a trail in our own back yard.
Yoga, Tai-Chi, and other classes would be popular for residents of all ages
Plant a Rose Garden at Jack Farrell Park - there is currently a dirt border with nothing in it. Plant a garden, put some benches down and voila! Instant date spot.
On the Westside, San Francisquito Creek is a perfect place to have a walking path, benches, and a small park. I believe this is something that is included in the SFCJPA for flood improvements, but even a few benches alongside the creek would be a welcome addition.
What ideas do you have for improving the park? I have listed a bunch in this post, but I am sure other people have great ideas on how we can improve our parks. Drop a comment, I am sure there are many more ways to improve our parks.