Although the particularities have yet to be worked out, Mountain View is looking to expand its park system with an ambitious plan that will bring more parks, trails and open spaces to the city.
The plan is part of the city’s efforts to meet its goal of providing three acres of open space per 1,000 residents over the next 15 years, according to a report to the City Council in April.
“The city recognizes that more park space is needed and that some parts of the city have greater access to city-owned and open space than other parts of the city,” said Community Services Director John Marchant, who participated in a Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 20.
Increasing park space is expensive, and the city is looking at several ways to pay for it, including fees on future commercial and hotel development, as well as the possibility of a ballot measure next year, Marchant said.
But funding is just one piece of the city's larger vision for what Mountain View's park system should look like in the future, and who it will serve. Last month, the city kicked off its Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan with a series of community meetings, with a goal of learning more about how people use the city’s parks, trails, open spaces and recreational facilities, and to solicit feedback from residents on what they want to see in these public spaces.
Neelay Bhatt, CEO and founder of the consulting firm Next Practice Partners, gave an update on where the strategic plan was headed and key findings from the community meetings, which were attended by about 200 people and conducted in four different languages, according to the PRC report.
The city is growing in its population size and racial and ethnic diversity, Bhatt said, noting that the city’s demographics are an important part of developing a strategic plan that is responsive to community values and needs. Different racial and ethnic groups have distinct recreational preferences, he added.
Bhatt also asked the PRC to provide feedback on their vision for the strategic plan, with commissioners stating that parks and open spaces, particularly for underserved communities, was a top priority.
Speakers at the Sept. 20 meeting pushed the commission to make biodiversity and urban forestry a more explicit focus of the strategic plan, which many felt was lacking in the questions asked by Next Practice Partners at the August community meetings.
“I thought we were given choices that were not relevant to the city of Mountain View, and kind of were a little bit tone deaf to what we want as a community,” said Mountain View resident Jim Zaorski.
“This is especially so because five of the nine planning areas within this town have virtually no parks," Zaorski said. "And you really can't get started on things like obstacle courses, splash pads, sports courts, etc. until some of these people have their basic needs being filled,” adding that they were not given choices about whether they would like to see more trees, undifferentiated play spaces, native plantings and biodiversity.
Marchant said the city was working with other departments and scientific consultants, like the San Francisco Estuary Institute, and would be incorporating urban forestry and biodiversity into the Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan. “There's going to be more outreach and more opportunities to engage with the community about biodiversity as well as the urban forest plan,” he said.
Public commentators also raised concerns about a questionnaire that the city plans to send out to several thousand households, which likely will occur in early 2024. The survey will be weighted more heavily than other community feedback tools because of its statistical reliability, Bhatt said.
“We all know surveys are only as good as the questions asked,” said Mountain View resident Jessica Chohan, who asked the commission to preview the survey with the possibility of public comment on it prior to sending it out.
Commission members favored the idea, agreeing that sustained community input is needed, but highlighted a perennial concern for making the strategic plan a real possibility.
“I think that at the end of the day, the top priority is really the funding. So, we need the funding and partnerships to allow us to expand our park system so that we catch up in those areas where it's a little bit inequitable distribution,” said Commission member Sandy Sommer.
More information about the city’s Parks and Recreation Strategic Plan can be found on its website, ImagineMVparks.com.