Sports fields may go to ballot

City officials are weighing a pair of ballot measures that would ask residents to vote in November on the creation of sports fields at Bayfront Park and a utility tax that would help offset the city’s $2.9 million structural deficit.

However, recent consultant reports show that installing athletic fields on the former landfill open space could be outrageously expensive, while a utility tax may scare away businesses.

In a recent voter survey, 60 percent of residents but only 30 percent of businesses favored a utility tax of 4 percent, according to a report from Management Analyst Diel Hutchins. It would need a simple majority to pass.

While business owners often can’t vote in Menlo Park elections, they will wind up paying two-thirds of the tax, according to City Councilmember Mickie Winkler.

“We’re known as being business-unfriendly. If we start heavily taxing them, we’re contradicting our efforts and harming our potential for growing our way out of the deficit,” Winkler said.

City Councilmember Andrew Cohen disagreed that a small tax will drive business away, considering most other cities already impose similar taxes. He proposes adding a sunset clause that forces officials to revisit the tax every one to two years.

The city faces similar complexities when it comes to the Bayfront Park measure, which is meant to address a shortage of playing fields for local youth and adult sports teams.

Highlands Golf in March pulled out of a deal to build a golf course at the 160-acre Bayfront Park, taking with it plans to create three athletic fields.

Creating them on its own could cost Menlo Park $10 million to $17 million, and come with excessive maintenance costs as the former landfill settles, creating uneven playing surfaces, according to a report from SCS Engineers.

While most residents agree on the construction of more sports fields, some favor a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Committee to expand existing fields, such as the one at Kelly Park, according to resident Elizabeth Lasensky.

If the city builds fields at Bayfront, “It’s clear we would be exposing our city to liabilities down the road,” said Lasensky, who intends to run for City Council this year. “It could be very expensive, environmentally and financially.”

The Menlo Park City Council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 701 Laurel St.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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