by Helen Wolter, Legislative Advocate
On August 8, the East Palo Alto City Council voted to adopt stronger requirements for parkland dedication in the Development Code. We’re glad that residents of East Palo Alto will benefit from the stronger communities and improved physical and mental health that access to parks brings!
East Palo Alto has suffered from a lack of sufficient parkland for its population for a long time. Although the city’s recently-approved General Plan aspires to provide the California standard of 3 acres of parkland per 1000 residents, currently East Palo Alto has only 1 acre per 1,000 residents. That’s why Committee for Green Foothills got involved when East Palo Alto began to update their Development Code. We saw this as a great opportunity to ensure that future development in East Palo Alto improves, rather than worsens, residents’ access to open space and parkland.
I worked with community members, city staff, planning commissioners, and city councilmembers in this effort. Although the Development Code provided that new for-sale residential development required fees for smaller projects, or the dedication of land to the city for parks and/or the payment of an in-lieu fee, there were several weak spots in those requirements.
For example, there was nothing in the Development Code requiring that any land provided had to be actually usable as parkland. This meant that the city could be stuck with a piece of land that was simply leftover scraps from development — oddly shaped, weirdly sloped, or inaccessible. I proposed new language for the Development Code requiring that such land be reasonably adaptable for park and recreational purposes taking into consideration its size, shape, topography, access, and location.
In addition, with the current development boom, it’s never wise to assume that land for parks will be available for purchase. If developers are only required to pay park impact fees without being required to dedicate any actual land, the city could end up with fees that they cannot use due to the lack of available land. I urged the city to follow the example of other local cities and require developers to dedicate a minimum amount of land before paying the rest of their obligation in fees.
At the August 8 meeting, the East Palo Alto City Council adopted my recommendations. Thanks to the City Council and everyone else who worked on this effort to increase parkland for the benefit of the community!