Menlo Park's popular Flood Park faces closure amid deficit woes

As San Mateo County stares down an estimated $82 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, officials say they might have to shut down a park.

The Parks Department, under orders to trim about 10.6 percent of its $6.5 million budget, has proposed to temporarily close Flood Park or possibly hand over responsibility for it to the city of Menlo Park, said Gary Lockman, a parks superintendant.

Closing the 21-acre open space would save the department about $205,000 annually, on top of savings from a merger between the Public Works and Parks departments announced earlier this year. Also, both departments are proposing to eliminate vacant director and gardener positions for an additional $350,000 in savings.

Flood Park has been targeted in part because there are about 22 city parks in the surrounding area, said Jim Porter, the county’s public works director.

But area residents have already organized efforts to fight the proposed closure.

Thanks to a “Save Flood Park” Facebook page, news of the park’s potential closure spread to Suburban Park neighborhood residents. Bonnie Neylan, who’s lived in the neighborhood since 1968, is one of many residents who have posted homemade “Save Flood Park” signs.

“We need to save it,” said Neylan, who remembers throwing her children’s birthday parties at the park. “This is definitely an eye-opener for all of us.”

One alternative floated by the county would be a takeover of the park by Menlo Park. It is not clear, however, if the city can absorb the expense.

“We’ve had some preliminary discussions and we are evaluating the benefits of that,” said Glen Rojas, Menlo Park’s city manager.

“We’ve been getting emails asking for the city to take it over or for the county to keep it open,” Rojas said, adding that closing the park would mean fencing off the 21-acre property. “It’s kind of sad to think about it that way.”

The park, which houses sports fields and courts along with about 30 picnic sites, has been temporarily closed since September for construction on a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission water pipeline upgrade project. County officials said that did not play a role in the proposal to close the park.

Though Porter was optimistic about Menlo Park potentially taking over the open space, he said it will close if the city can’t.

While it might be tempting to look to private funds to save the park, it’s unlikely the county’s nonprofit Parks Foundation will be able to make up the money without a large donation, said Julia Bott, the foundation’s executive director. The group already raises around $300,000 to $700,000 annually, about 75 percent of which comes from people in the community.

The county currently operates 15 parks and two historical sites.

Shutting open space

The following shows a breakdown of proposed budget cuts:

– Closing Flood Park: $205,000 (includes three ranger positions)
– Cutting director of parks position: $250,000 (after merger with Department of Public Works)
– Cutting gardener position: $103,000
– Realized additional revenue: $85,000

Annual attendance
– Flood Park: 75,000
– Other 17 county and historic sites: 1.7 million

Sources: Public Works and Parks departments

aterrazas@sfexaminer.com

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