Parks Commission recommends strategic plan, more volunteerism in city parks

Many of the volunteers from the Bushy Dell Creek volunteer day in March 2024. From left to right: Tom Kelly, Jane Kelly, Park Commission Vice-Chair Kimberly Moses, Park Commissioner Arden Hall, Sara Gaucher, Parks & Project Manager Nancy Kent, Park Commissioner Dave Johnson, Tom Gandesbery

In what it said was the first report of its kind, the Parks Commission shared a readout of its activities last year and recommendations for the future at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Commission Chair Tom Smegal told councilmembers that focusing on longer-term strategic objectives that included stewardship, climate adaptation, meeting community needs for park space, and encouraging community involvement in the parks were key goals for the Commission. A subcommittee of three park commissioners that included Smegal, Arden Hall, and Barbara Giuffre drafted the report.

Smegal said the Commission was particularly interested in boosting volunteerism as it “presents an opportunity for the community to connect with our outdoor spaces.” He said the Commission was interested in working with staff to streamline the volunteer procedures (including creating liability release forms common with other groups) so it’s easier than ever for community groups such as the Piedmont Community Service Crew or Scouts to help.

Mayor Jen Cavenaugh said she wanted to highlight how the city has managed to eliminate harmful herbicides and pesticides in its park management practices and also noted that focusing on erosion management was important given that Piedmont’s popular parks get a lot of wear from dogs and foot traffic.

From the Commission’s report:

Stewardship Initiative
In response to Commissioners’ comments, at our March 2024 meeting, Staff presented a draft outline of what could become a strong Sustainability and Stewardship Program for Piedmont’s parks. Staff’s outline was modeled on the ReScape program of the Alameda County StopWaste, the framework focuses on water and energy conservation, habitat renewal, erosion control, and other factors. Other potential strategy components of interest to the current Commission include physical infrastructure master plans and reviews of current desired uses in the parks.

Commissioners believe that by adopting a longer-term framework, City Staff, in conjunction with the Commission, can focus on longer-term climate-adaptive improvements to parks.

Infrastructure replacement
While long-term infrastructure maintenance, development, and rehabilitation should be part of any strategy the City develops, in the coming year the Commission is interested to see the previously budgeted project to replace the irrigation system at Piedmont Park move forward.

Our understanding is that Director Gonzales has also requested budget authorization in the 2024-2025 budget year for this project. While our community has benefitted from two consecutive above-average years of rainfall, drought and water scarcity are a regular feature of California’s climate. We expect that the City will move forward with the design of a new system in 2024-2025. The Commission is excited to review the irrigation system design, as there have been many technological improvements in this area since the last full irrigation overhaul.

Extending the street tree inventory to develop new options

While the recent street tree inventory and database was received with interest, the Commission is excited to use the database in future years to diversify tree species, experiment with new types and varieties of street trees to meet aesthetic, durability, and sustainability goals. We also learned that there are many vacant street tree spaces throughout town. The Commission will be looking to add trees to those locations in coming years.

Facilitating volunteer efforts
In late March, the Commissioner and other volunteers took advantage of a donation of native seedlings and planted around 40 natives near the base of Bushy Dell Creek in Piedmont Park. We were assisted and supervised by City Staff. However, the success of the event highlighted the tremendous opportunities and interest in Piedmont in park cleanup and development efforts.

Community volunteers hope to be able to clear non-native and nuisance vegetation, plant natives and climate-adapted species, tend to and propagate seedling plants and clean litter around our parks.

Unfortunately, due to constraints on City Staff time and a lack of historical volunteer initiatives, Piedmont has not been the easiest place to volunteer. The Commission is interested in assisting and advising Staff on development of more streamlined volunteer coordination, including release forms. We expect possibly to coordinate this effort with the Recreation Commission and staff of the Recreation Department.

Publicizing Public Work’s best practices landscape management

The Commission has noted that Public Works has adopted best practices in herbicide and pesticide use and other activities maintaining our parks. We are interested in finding opportunities to publicize Public Works’ best practices to encourage Piedmont homeowners to adopt them where feasible.

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