Pleasanton is closer to having its first all-abilities playground after the City Council unanimously approved moving forward with the design phase at its meeting last Tuesday night.
For the past three years, residents with special-needs family members have told the city about the need for an all-abilities playground in the community.
The playground will be located at the site of the current playground near the softball fields at Ken Mercer Sports Park. City staff recommended Mercer Park after extensive community input because it "already has most of the necessary infrastructure" to build an all-abilities playground faster and for less money.
The current playground was scheduled for renovations in the next one to two years, and would be completely replaced then with an all-abilities design to accommodate more users including disabled children.
An all-abilities playground was the unanimous top priority for the Parks and Recreation Commission's 2019-20 budget cycle, and adopted as a priority capital improvement program (CIP) project by the city council just a couple months later.
Community members told staff during earlier planning stages that some desirable elements for an all-abilities playground include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) access, ample parking, restrooms, and "no conflicting uses." Placing the playground at Mercer might require additional handicapped parking spaces, as staff noted "parking opportunities are limited."
Following a staff presentation, Councilwoman Karla Brown noted the city's spacious and well-known Patelco Sports Complex did not appear at the Parks and Recreation Commission for consideration.
"We see at the Bernal Patelco Park, lots of open space; there is a wonderful play structure," Brown said. "It does meet many of your requirements for parking but it was not one of the two selected to go to Parks and Rec. I wonder if you can tell me why."
City assistant director Michele Crose said staff "looked at all of the major parks -- Val Vista, Bernal, Ken Mercer and the area known as Staples Ranch, as well as a couple of other locations in Pleasanton" but found parking was problematic and "the uses were too heavy already."
"What we were looking to do was find the locations that checked as many boxes as possible in those desired attributes. Bernal, one of the most difficult areas to check that box was parking and conflicting uses," Crose said. "With Patelco Sports Park, it's incredibly popular and it was discussed in staff, and the question came up at Parks and Rec Commission as well, and that same understanding was that the uses were too heavy already."
Councilwoman Julie Testa said she was "surprised" Patelco wasn't "explored to a greater degree."
"I can't imagine that Patelco is more over-utilized than our (Mercer) Sports Park, that place is just always packed," Testa said. "My frustration is that what we would be doing is replacing a park at a sports park instead of just creating a new resource. I'd love to have that new resource without losing something, and I would think that Patelco would be a good place to find that new opportunity."
Pleasanton resident Stephanie Rauscher, whose son has cerebral palsy, told the council during public comment that she felt "very passionate about this project."
"Growing up here, he had limited access to the playgrounds here, so this is a very personal project for me. There's many kids who would benefit from this playground," Rauscher said.
Though "surprised" by the selection of Mercer Park for the playground, Rauscher agreed with the decision and said the site was "used widely," and has accessible parking and bathrooms "which is super important."
Rauscher continued, "I know a lot of you brought up why Patelco wasn't part of the decision process. As a parent, my question was, well why wasn't this addressed when you originally designed Patelco? Why wasn't it an already ADA-accessible park when it was originally designed?"
Rauscher also called the parking lot at Patelco "a hot mess" and said she has waited upwards of 20 minutes to pick up her child after soccer there some nights. "Unless you're going to access more parking on the other side of Bernal, I don't think that's even an option," she said.
Rauscher continued, "Going forward, I feel like Ken Mercer Park is probably the best suited in regards to budgeting, accessibility and the fact that people know about that park. I feel like (the playground) would definitely get a great use at the park, and that's what we want as a community."
Prior to casting their votes, the council members shared their excitement for the new playground.
Councilman Jerry Pentin called it a "wonderful project for Pleasanton" and Vice Mayor Kathy Narum said it "gives me goosebumps that we're setting this in motion for these children to really have a place to be able to play and not be hindered by a disability."
Referring to Rauscher's comments, Testa said, "I think it's very exciting and the question is a good one -- why didn't we look at this, why didn't we consider this in the past? It would've been a wonderful addition to Patelco when it was built. The decision to put it at the sports park is a great one; I'm excited to see it materialize."
Brown called Pleasanton "an inclusive community" and said that "everybody deserves the right to play on a playground, for heaven's sakes, and it's kind of embarrassing it's taken us so long to get here."
The CIP budget has $400,000 earmarked for hiring a master plan design professional to begin work on the project, according to public documents. The estimated total project cost is approximately $4 million.
In a related Mercer Park item Tuesday evening, the council also signed off on the recent replacement of a concession stand built in the early 1990s by the Pleasanton Girls Softball League, in partnership with the city. According to staff, the concession stand "was at the end of its useful life and did not comply with current health code requirements for serving heated food."
The outdated structure was replaced earlier this year with a "prefabricated masonry building" to the cost of approximately $453,873.
In other business
* Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) testing at the Alameda County Fairgrounds will receive more than $1.1 million of additional funding, after the council unanimously approved an agreement Tuesday night.
Under the final memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Alameda County, the city of Pleasanton will reimburse Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare up to $1.16 million in additional funds or COVID-19 testing at the fairgrounds on Pleasanton Avenue, where Stanford-ValleyCare has been testing for the potentially fatal respiratory illness since April.
The MOU states that "the city will reimburse up to $1,168,709 to Stanford-ValleyCare for fairground testing services through August 28, 2020. In turn, the city will invoice the county for the amount Stanford-ValleyCare invoiced the city for fairgrounds testing services."
Under the proposed agreement, "the city has no other financial obligation."
In spring, the cities of Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore entered an agreement with Stanford-ValleyCare to provide COVID testing at the fairgrounds, with prioritized testing for Tri-Valley residents, first responders, and medical and disaster services professionals. Each city reimbursed Stanford-ValleyCare $100,000 for testing equipment and supplies costs.
The multi-jurisdictional effort aimed to "alleviate pressure off of hospital emergency rooms; provide quicker answers for recently exposed first responders, health care workers, and persons with recent suspected exposures to COVID-19; and to enhance the region's capacity to suppress new transmissions through isolation after testing."
City staff said testing "is an important strategy to reduce community transmission of COVID-19, especially as the county relaxes shelter-in-place restrictions and expands contact tracing." The previous weekend, Alameda County hair salons were finally allowed to reopen for business, after being closed nearly six months by order of public health officials.
According to a staff report, 9,003 residents were tested at the fairgrounds site between April 27 to July 20, "with an average 3.22% of positive results on finalized tests." An additional 7,000 tests were also expected to be administered and processed through Aug. 28, per the report.
* Other city parks slated for renovations include Orloff and Kottinger Village parks, where the basketball courts at both facilities will be resurfaced. In 2014, the city's Parks and Recreation Master Plan identified the two parks as "being amongst the courts in most need of repair."
According to staff, the courts at Orloff have "significant issues with the court lines, acrylic surfacing, and asphalt," while the Kottinger Village Park court has "significant uplifting and drainage issues."
The cost of resurfacing for the courts at both parks is $281,172, and will be funded by the CIP budget.