Mountain View Voice

News - December 14, 2012

Council delays vote on McKelvey flood basin

Loss of trees, site of drop-off area among concerns about current plan to lower baseball fields

by Daniel DeBolt

The City Council delayed approval of a plan to turn McKelvey Park's baseball fields into a flood basin after examining several controversial aspects of the plan Tuesday.

The council voted 6-0, with member Laura Macias abstaining, to delay the vote and look at alternative designs for the park.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District wants to lower the pair of highly popular baseball fields that dominate the park into a 15-foot- deep basin to catch Permanente Creek flood waters in a major flood.

It's part of a project designed to protect 2,720 properties in the area — 2,440 in Mountain View — from flooding during a rare 100-year flood. The project includes one other basin at Rancho San Antonio County Park after plans were ditched for basins at Blach School and the Cuesta Annex. The McKelvey flood basin would mostly protect 1,600 properties downstream, water district officials say.

Homeowners behind the park have threatened a lawsuit over the plan because it rotates the larger baseball field at the park and places home plate against their backyard fences for increased noise and possibly more foul balls flying into backyards.

The plan would also remove 51 trees, 32 of which are large redwoods. Some shield the adjacent backyards. To replace them, 48 new trees would be planted.

"Those redwoods are the ones that protect us," said adjacent homeowner Tapan Bhat, who told the V Voice last week that he and others are considering legal action to change the plan. "They protect us from lights, protect us from noise. It's a big loss of privacy and quality of life."

Bhat said that with the loss of trees, combined with the cement structures around the park and artificial turf, "we could be ending up with a heat island, which will cause other problems."

Public works director Mike Fuller said it was likely that light could be focused away from homes, and an 8-foot sound wall and sound system that places a larger number of smaller speakers around the fields could keep noise at current levels. But neighbors noted that no sound study has been done to prove such measures would work.

Some speakers raised doubts about the need for the flood basin and challenged the water district's flood predictions. Several council members considered an analysis by Los Altos resident Richard Moll, who said that flood events predicted by the water district "every six years have not happened in 59 years." The district's flood predictions "are not supported by real-life events. There's no need to tear up McKelvey park to create a basin. If I'm right you need to have the district come back and explain the situation."

Keeping the redwood trees or rotating the baseball field inside would mean less room for parking or the mini-park. The plan includes 47 parking spaces, down from 55 there now. Rotating the field would knock parking down to 34 spaces. Officials say there is already a parking problem, with game attendees parking in the lots of nearby businesses and at St. Joseph's School.

"The field can be rotated but that would impact the parking, or the field dimensions, or both," said Afshin Rouhani, engineer for the water district.

Keeping the redwood trees would probably have the same impact, officials noted.

A previous plan from 2009 kept the field in its current location, but the mini-park was smaller and pushed out to the busy corner of El Monte Avenue and Park Drive. When the mini-park was moved in a later design to the corner of Mountain View Avenue and Park Drive and increased in size, it pleased the neighborhood but also meant a smaller parking lot and the need to re-orient the baseball field, to the chagrin of immediate neighbors.

As a result of the tight squeeze, the dimensions of the larger baseball field are smaller than what was recommended by youth sports leagues, but city staff members said in a report that that would be mitigated by a larger outfield fence.

"There's no free lunch here," said council member Tom Means. "I feel the baseball people have sacrificed a lot" in accepting a smaller baseball field.

Much of the discussion focused on a surprisingly controversial drop-off area in the plan, which would allow parents to avoid the busy parking lot while dropping off their kids next to the baseball fields. Neighbors expressed discontent over the loss of 2,200 square-feet that would be devoted to the drop-off that could instead go to the new mini-park and playground in the project — which by all accounts is likely to be a popular addition to the neighborhood. It would also put cars dangerously close to the playground, neighbors said.

Those involved with youth baseball disagreed. They said the alternative — a designated drop-off area on Park Drive — was unsafe because kids would have to get out on the street and cross a busy parking lot.

"We would like to see a drop-off in the park so we can make sure they are in the park and they are safe," said Caroline McCormick.

All of the issues raised caused reluctance on the council.

"I'm actually back to square one on this project in terms of 'convince me that we need this,'" said council member Ronit Bryant.

"I have very serious doubts about this problem and this solution to this problem," said council member Jac Siegel. "If we come in and take away those trees, you are living in a different place. We're really trying to do too much with too little. We're not getting quality. Not many people are building detention basins anymore. It's kind of 1960s technology. Sunnyvale turned down a couple of detention basins because they didn't want them. McKelvey is great, it is greatly used, it is loved. I really don't want to see a concrete jungle there. The whole experience of baseball is not being in a concrete pit, to me."

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga suggested the approved motion, which directs city staff to look at alternative flood basin plans for McKelvey that keep the redwood trees along backyard fences and keeps the larger baseball field in its current configuration. Abe-Koga added provisions that natural turf be used instead of artificial turf and that the city look at recouping expenses for staff time.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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