By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted on February 17, 2011
This photo shows the East Palo Alto City Council during its meeting on February 8, 2011 prior to its vote on the Richard May Athletic Field.
Click here to see more pictures
After an emotionally charged debate in
a packed city council chamber, the East Palo Alto City Council voted 3 to 2 to uphold a decision by the city’s Planning Commission to grant a conditional use permit for the construction of the Richard May Athletic Field.
Mayor Carlos Romero and council members Laura Martinez and Ruben Abrica cast the yes votes, while Council members David Woods and Peter Evans voted no.
The city council’s public hearing on the field was held because Sharifa Wilson, a former mayor and vice mayor of the City of East Palo Alto, filed to appeal the East Palo Alto Planning Commission’s decision to grant a conditional use permit to build the Richard May Athletic Field. Wilson, who is currently the president of the Board of Trustees for the Ravenswood City School District, was also challenging the categorical exemption that freed the builders of the project from having to do a study to assess the environmental impacts the project would have on the surrounding community.
The council meeting got off to a heated start when Council member Evans called the builders of the project outsiders and said that there were others in the community who should be so honored. He called Officer May a city employee who had no real connection to the community.
Evans asked, “How can we name memorials for people who have no allegiance here? We need to establish a procedure to memorialize people and recognize those who live here.”
Council member Woods said that he was offended by the comment. He said that he would never question Officer Mays allegiance to the city since he gave his life for it. East Palo Alto’s Police Chief Ron Davis also responded by saying that as an employee of the city, May’s life was not expendable. Davis said that there is a difference between dying in the city and dying for the city.
Mayor Romero got things back on track by saying that the meeting was not about honoring or dishonoring people but about how the city council should respond to Wilson’s appeal.
In listening to both supporters and opponents of the field, the council allowed Wilson and the May Foundation to make presentations before they heard remarks from community. The May Foundation was represented by Frank Merrill, Officer Richard May’s stepfather who is also the CEO of the Rich May Foundation and by Sam Sinnott, an architect.
In summarizing her opposition to the field, Wilson cited four areas in which she had grave concerns regarding the impact that the field would have: the increased level of noise, the effects that the proposed 60 ft. lights would have on the neighborhood at night, the increased volume of traffic on Bay Road in and around Palo Verde and Glen Way, and the increased demand for parking. She stated that the exemption that was given did not apply to the field project.
She argued that the city should have a traffic study before the field was built given the fact that the traffic on Bay Road is already heavy and there would be a decidedly marked increase in both pedestrian and auto traffic once the field was built and in use. She denied that the builders of the project had an agreement with the Ravenswood School District to use any school parking spaces in the area. Wilson requested that the city validate her appeal and said that it was offensive that the May Foundation consistently refused to have a traffic study.
Merrill, on the other hand, said that the builders of the project did have a signed agreement with the school district, the field would be used by city residents, not by outsiders, and the field would be used initially for local games not for tournaments. Merrill also said that the May Foundation was raising two and a half million dollars to build the field so it would not require city money, since it was a private project.
In responding to the technical questions Wilson raised about the project, Sinnott said that the information the foundation gave to the East Palo Alto Planning Commission addressed many of Wilson’s specific concerns. He said, for example, that there was a lighting study that had been submitted and reviewed by both the planning commission and by the proposed project’s neighbors and “they were happy about it.”
He gave statistics showing that parking would not be a problem and that traffic during the games would not be greatly increased. He supported the exemption the planning commission gave on the grounds that the study Wilson was advocating was required of new construction not for existing institutions that are only adding to what they are already doing. He ended his remarks by saying that Wilson’s appeal was misleading and should be denied.
The majority of the 37 speakers, who addressed the council during its public hearing on the issue, asked that the council approve the field. There were impassioned arguments presented on both sides, but when it was all over the majority of the council was swayed by the field’s supporters.
In the end, Abrica made a motion to uphold the Planning Commission’s decision. The motion was modified to require that a traffic study be prepared to show the pedestrian and auto volume after the field was in operation for a year.
The motion’s approval was met by applause and many smiles from those in audience.