Mountain View Voice

Opinion - November 19, 2010

Park neighbors deserve better

Although they may have come late to the game, a band of residents who live near McKelvey Park have every right to come out swinging against a plan to devote most of a $9.1 million park upgrade to a pair of baseball fields that have been at that location for many years.

The McKelvey upgrade is part of a Santa Clara Valley Water District flood control project which will drop the park floor 15 feet to act as a catch basin in the event of a 100-year flood. A design concept including two new fields and a new .7-acre playground area passed on a 4-1 City Council vote in March, but a final plan has not been approved. The water district was to take public comments on the park plan featuring the two ball fields at a special meeting Thursday, Nov. 18.

Among their many complaints, St. Francis Acres neighborhood residents say they had little or no say in the decision to continue to devote a major portion of McKelvey to one major league-size field and a smaller Little League diamond. If neighbors prevailed and the two fields were closed, community park supporters say baseball leagues could play at two new city fields that will be built next year on Garcia Avenue near Shoreline Golf Links.

City policy on establishing new neighborhood parks, usually less than one acre, is to survey residents and involve them in the design process. McKelvey, at 4.7 acres, is not new and is considered more of a regional park, although the carve out for a .7 acre playground area was looked on by some City Council members as meeting the city's guidelines for neighborhood park. In part, the council's decision to support the ball fields is likely a nod to the long, 50-plus-year tenure of baseball fields at the site.

But the need for that tradition needs to be re-examined with the new Shoreline ball fields in the works. And neighbors are beginning to see McKelvey as the neighborhood's park, and believe they should have a say in any redesign that will be done courtesy of the water district. They back up that claim with a petition signed by more than 200 residents of St. Francis Acres, which was presented to the City Council two weeks ago.

Yu contends a community park could be built for only $4.6 million, instead of the $9.1 million for the baseball fields, that will come equipped with new snack shacks, batting cages, bleachers and WiFi throughout the facility. Mr. Yu has already presented a design for a community park that features one large field that could be used for lacrosse, soccer, football and Frisbee, along with tennis and basketball courts and a playground.

So despite the council's 4-1 vote in favor of the baseball fields in March, it is appropriate now for the City Council to give the petitioners at least one more hearing and belatedly survey the neighborhood about what residents want in their park.

There is no doubt that removing the ball fields from McKelvey would bring a chorus of boos from the baseball community. And we know that city approval of the Shoreline fields was made in the hopes of opening up more fields for the north side of town. Taking away the McKelvey fields would mean the city's stock of playing fields will simply remain even.

Nevertheless, it is hard to argue against giving McKelvey Park neighbors more space for community use. The large baseball field boasts 90-foot base baths and is 300 feet down the foul lines, nearly as large as AT & T Park used by the San Francisco Giants. A ball field this size is hardly a neighborhood use, and in fact monopolizes McKelvey for a sport that few neighbors care about.

If the council reconsiders the McKelvey redesign, members will have a tough decision to make. And if they don't, there will be a crowd of St. Francis Acres residents who are going to cry foul.

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