Memorial Park: Field of Dreams?

On April 3rd, 2024, the Cupertino City Council approved a plan to renovate Memorial Park. The plan promises a plethora of amenities for the community to enjoy, from an all-inclusive playground to eight new pickleball courts. The only catch? An $84M price tag, which remains entirely unfunded and does not have a timeline.

Potential Tax Increases to Pay for Park

Currently, Cupertino does not have any funds available for the $84M Memorial Park Plan. To address this, staff proposes splitting the construction costs into six phases, over an indefinite time frame. While building the park in phases might make the costs more digestible for a city in a budget deficit, it actually increases the overall cost of the project. According to the Memorial Park Specific Plan, “Though the possibility exists that the cost of construction could come down, it is expected that costs will increase based on inflation rates and other market conditions.”

In order to fund the project, staff is exploring:

  • Community Facilities District (CFD) special tax district: This would be an additional tax on property owners in a defined area. “The tax continues until bonds are paid off and then reduced to maintain investment.”
  • Parcel taxes, Special Assessment taxes, leveraging local sales tax measures, and other special tax initiatives
  • Grant funding
  • Partnering with local companies, sports leagues, and organizations to obtain sponsorships and naming rights

Background

Memorial Park was built in the mid-1970s, and at 22 acres, is the largest park in Cupertino. In 2020, Cupertino first presented its Parks & Recreation Master Plan to better serve the community. The plan included the goal of making Memorial Park more of a “community hub.” 

Memorial Park Gazebo

In July 2022, City staff hired Gates and Associates to create a renovation plan for Memorial Park. They gathered community feedback, and found that the most-liked features of Memorial Park were its walking paths, natural areas with trees, and festival and event space. The most-desired features were:

  • Better park and facility access: This includes bike lane connectivity, pedestrian paths, more parking, inclusiveness, and mobility
  • More nature experiences: Survey results revealed more tree shade is the #1 most-desired feature in the category of nature. Results showed that participants view “Memorial Park as a Natural Site and Park, and want this scenario further emphasized in the future.”
  • More opportunities for extraordinary play: Survey results showed a strong desire for playgrounds to be renovated and expanded, with water play as the highest-rated play amenity

Gates then presented design concepts that entirely reimagined Memorial Park (save for a few key features like the historic Veterans Memorial and gazebo). These plans were brought to Council in June 2023 (read our prior article for background)

Conflicting Interests

Throughout the years of Memorial Park discussions, one thing has become clear: satisfying all stakeholders is a very difficult task. The June 2023 meeting was dominated by dozens of Softball and Dog Off Leash Area (DOLA) supporters protesting the elimination of the softball field. With the softball field secured in the latest plans, this group is now largely silent. 

Meanwhile, a new group has emerged: pickleball players. Pickleball supporters filled the meeting hall on April 3rd, serving snacks and passing out supporter pins in the lobby. Via public comment, about half of the local Pickleball Whatsapp group lives outside of Cupertino. The diverse crowd came from far and wide to attend the Cupertino City Council Meeting, ranging from Marin and the North Bay to Union City in the East Bay. Many of the comments expressed passion for the health benefits of pickleball. Several also lobbied to ask for the pickleball courts to be expedited into an earlier phase of construction. 

Part of the allure of Cupertino’s pickleball courts is that they are free. Many neighboring cities, including Sunnyvale, Saratoga, Santa Clara, and Mountain View, charge for reservation of their courts. Residents receive lower rates, while non-residents receive higher rates.

Cupertino residents questioned why noisy pickleball courts would be located next to homes. One major concern was noise from the pickleball courts. Staff measured the noise level of pickleball at about 50 decibels, which is the same noise level as the street. However, pickleball noise is sharper than traffic noise, occurring when the ball hits the paddle.

Residents also expressed concern about the loss of open space at Memorial Park. Some proposed converting existing tennis courts to pickleball courts to preserve the existing green space.

Moving Forward

Councilmember Liang Chao proposed a friendly amendment for staff to explore reducing the cost of the Memorial Park plan. However, Mayor Sheila Mohan rejected the amendment, stating, “We’re talking about big numbers here. And we have not identified… the funding sources for this entire conceptual plan. So I don’t think the time for talking money [is now].”

Staff also agreed to explore alternate locations for the pickleball courts. “I’m very concerned about the individuals who are going to be living near where these courts are going to be,” stated Councilmember Moore. Considering that nearby De Anza College has a large number of tennis courts that can potentially be re-striped to pickleball courts, as well as parking space, Memorial Park is not the only feasible location for pickleball courts.

Given that the city cannot even afford to maintain pavement quality, sidewalk quality, or street trees for its residents, it is unclear how the $84M Memorial Park plan will ever receive sufficient funding to reach fruition. 

2 thoughts on “Memorial Park: Field of Dreams?

  1. Any plan for changing Memorial Park MUST include planting native plants, shrubs, flowers and trees, to safeguard and protect native birds and insects. instead of decreasing native habitats, the city must increase protected areas so native species can survive and thrive.

  2. An $84M price tag, which remains entirely unfunded and does not have a timeline??? This should be taken up only when there’s funding and without ‘taxing’ the Cupertino residents. The city is already wasting a ton of money !!

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