Basketball and tennis courts may be out and more picnic area in when it comes to planned improvements to the lower portion of Hesse Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.
On July 17, the city council instructed city staff to draft a scaled-down version of the park improvement plans after hearing testimony from residents opposed to the athletic courts.
However, the council also called for keeping the courts in an environmental review of the plan to give the city the option to construct them if it chooses to.
“We would be looking at a worst case environmentally,” said Eduardo Schonborn, a senior planner for the city. “It’s a lot easier to evaluate the most we might do and then reduce it later.”
The council authorized $63,628 for an environmental review called a mitigated negative declaration. A total of $56,882 of that amount has already been paid to the environmental consulting firm Willdan Engineering for technical studies, including a traffic impact analysis, noise assessment, gnatcatcher survey and a biological assessment of the planned improvements.
The plan is called the Pacific Plan to differentiate it from another option the council considered when it first directed city staff to develop a scenario for park improvements in November of 2010. In addition to the basketball and tennis courts, the Pacific Plan includes improvements to the existing trail system, landscaping, picnic benches, repair of a pedestrian bridge and the establishment of lawn spaces.
Council members voted to direct staff to develop a scaled-down version of the plan after hearing testimony from several residents, including Pacific View Homeowners Association President John Freeman, who has lived near the park for three decades.
“We have all along advocated for passive recreation improvements in the lower part of the park,” Freeman said this week. “That was how the park was originally designed more than 30 years ago, with active recreation in the upper park and passive in the lower.”
The upper section of Hesse Park includes a field used for both baseball and soccer, a playground, a community center (where the council meets), picnic benches and a looped walking path.
Freeman said that the homeowners association objected to the courts because fencing and trees would block ocean views and the pouring of so much concrete would spoil the park’s natural ambiance. Instead, the association would like to see an expanded grassy picnic area.
“There is an understanding that the park needs improvements,” he said. “It just doesn’t need to be done with overdevelopment.”
Freeman said the neighbors are not opposed to more people using the park, and in fact would like to see the area made more enjoyable for families looking to have a picnic, take a walk or enjoy the sunset.
Freeman also pointed out that construction of the project, which is currently unfunded, will be less expensive without the courts. The city staff report stated that the Pacific Plan would cost $2,770,041. Taking the courts out of the plan would save $120,000, according to the report.
To develop the scaled-down plan, Freeman and other members of the community will work with city staff, including Katie Howe, administrative analyst for the city’s Recreation and Parks department.
Howe said the city has heard from residents who want both active and passive recreational amenities at the park. She did not completely rule out the inclusion of the basketball and tennis courts.
“Nothing is really set in stone until we sit down and talk,” Howe said.
Two years ago, 866 residents responded to a city survey regarding proposed improvements at the park, which at that time included a possible dog park and more sports fields.
Fifty-eight percent of those responding voted for walking trails, while 77 and 75 percent opposed tennis and basketball courts, respectively. More than 68 percent were against a dog park.
Senior planner Schonborn said that as the Recreation and Parks staff works on the scaled-down plan, the consultant will finish the environmental report, which will then be posted for public comment for 30 days before being presented to the city council for review.
If the council were to approve the environmental report and the design plan, it would then have to identify funding for the park and prioritize it on the city’s list of unfunded projects.