“I forget all of my problems when I play soccer.” – Destiny C. age 14
There is a regional deficit of playing fields in San Mateo County and has been for many years. Multi-purpose fields that can accommodate soccer, baseball, lacrosse, football, cricket and on it goes are in high demand.
Fifteen years ago, I engaged students from Hillsdale High School on how they would re-design Bay Meadows in San Mateo. They said definitely more playing fields! Have we made much progress?
In 2015, San Mateo County Parks attempted to answer that call when they kicked off the Reimagine Flood Park planning process. It was high time for a renovation and Flood Park already had playing fields, they just needed to be revamped. That planning process is still in motion but was hit with another delay on November 5. That’s when the Flood Park Landscape Plan and Final Revised Environmental Impact Report (EIR) came before the Board of Supervisors, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
A brief history
Flood Park was the second park to be added to the San Mateo County Parks system, not long after Memorial Park became the first. Memorial Park will celebrate its Centennial in 2024. Flood Park’s main feature for many years was a 180,000 gallon, unheated, sixty by one-hundred-foot pool, built in the 1930s. In the 1940s and 1950s, Flood Park was one of the most popular recreation spots in south San Mateo County. There could be up to 200 people splashing in the pool at any given time and as many as 60,000 admissions each summer.*
That is a lot of people! The pool was removed in the 1970s, but Flood Park remained a popular place for all kinds of events. And it remains an ideal spot for much-needed playing fields.
The Landscape Plan
San Mateo County Parks held a series of community meetings in 2015 and 2016 to gather the community’s input on what should be included in a redesigned Flood Park. Some of the new and improved elements proposed for Flood Park include rehabbing the baseball field, installing a new soccer/ lacrosse field, redoing the tennis courts and adding a basketball court and pump track. A pump track is a continuous loop of dirt berms and smooth dirt mounds that you ride on a bike, but without pedaling.
Also included in the plan is preservation of the old adobe structure and many of the park’s mature trees. Flood Park is known for its heritage trees including coast live oak and California bay laurel. The playground will be renovated and a demonstration garden has been proposed and all of this plus more adds up to an intensification of activities which answers the call of “more playing fields please!” from many of the youth in the surrounding area.
Neighbors have concerns
But with intensification comes impacts and that has some neighbors worried. These concerns center on parking impacts in surrounding neighborhoods, traffic congestion at Bay Road and Ringwood Avenue and increased noise coming from traffic and soccer games.
For example, neighbors said the County did not analyze concurrent events to address peak parking demand. And some do not like how close the soccer field is to the back fences of the homes along Del Norte Avenue.
On November 5 at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors’ hearing, County Parks’ staff presented their response, which included re-configuring the parking lot with 369 spaces and waiving parking fees for drop offs and pickups. And while the majority of the public comments at the November 5 hearing were in favor of the plan, it was clear that neighbors’ concerns gave the Supervisors pause. Ultimately, they felt County Parks needs to do more to mitigate traffic and noise impacts. County Manager Mike Callagy recommended continuing the discussion to a future date to make sure all concerns are properly addressed. The Supervisors agreed and voted unanimously to continue the discussion.
Our thoughts on the matter
The majority of public comments came from youth who live in North Fair Oaks and have little to no access to parks and playing fields. North Fair Oaks is an unincorporated county pocket and residents do not have priority on fields in Redwood City or Menlo Park. Everest High School, in North Fair Oaks, has a soccer team but no field and most kids end up playing on concrete.
As the Bay Area’s booming economy continues to grow, safe and fun places for youth, like Malibu Grand Prix with its arcades and mini-golf, get swallowed up. This is what makes parks so special. They belong to all of us. Homes and jobs are not enough for a thriving region. We need places for youth. We need parks and playing fields. Here are our thoughts on the Flood Park plan:
Keep the playing fields: If the soccer field is combined with the baseball field, the project objectives will not be met. The goal is to provide more playing fields, not less, to meet a regional deficit.
Don’t charge for parking at Flood Park: This addresses neighbors’ concerns about overflow parking and is more equitable overall. Not all County parks charge for parking and some that do not charge have much smaller lots and more dangerous parking problems.
Don’t build for peak parking demand: This is bad planning and not sustainable when we are trying to address environmental issues. Instead, people should be encouraged to carpool or ride their bike (as the Siena Youth Center’s Bulldog Riders do). The days of building enough parking for the few days when everyone needs it should be behind us.
Don’t punish Flood Park for previous planning decisions: Traffic in and around Menlo Park is the result of many developments (Hi Facebook!) over many years. Traffic is especially painful when the economy is doing well and when we fail to build enough homes to house a growing population. Flood Park alone is not responsible for our traffic woes, so it seems unfair to hold up its planning over traffic.
Coordinate with the City of Menlo Park and the users of the playing fields to reduce car trips: Promote alternative ways of getting to the park, including car-pooling. Some people will need to drive, but not everyone does. This requires educating people about their travel options.
One of the most inspiring comments during the Board of Supervisors meeting came from Armando. He shared that access to a soccer field growing up opened up a world of opportunities for him. He received a scholarship to play soccer at college, which he would not have been able to afford otherwise. Today, he is a police officer. “Youth deserve a safe space to play,” he said. “Don’t let kids in North Fair Oaks fall through the cracks.”
Parks are for today and for the future. It is time to move forward on Flood Park. It is time to deliver to the community more of the amenities that come with a booming economy, more development and more traffic. Parks and playing fields fit the bill. They add value to a community and to a neighborhood. They lead to healthier and happier residents.
The San Mateo County Parks Foundation is eager to see the Flood Park planning process move to the next phase so that implementing the community’s vision can begin.
- San Mateo County Parks: A Remarkable Story of Extraordinary Places and the People Who Built Them, by Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett