As the Los Altos City Council crafts a tight budget amid great uncertainty this month, members are weighing how and where to find money for revitalizing Redwood Grove, the city’s neglected oasis adjacent to Shoup Park.
The amended master plan in the works for Redwood Grove includes partnership with regional agencies that could enhance the volunteer and educational opportunities in the natural setting. The Youth Science Institute, a Los Gatos-based non-profit offering nature-based science education, could serve younger school-aged children, while Palo Alto-based non-profit Acterra could provide nature restoration for older students and adults. Acterra volunteers have been working at Palo Alto’s Edith W. Pearson-Arastradero Open Space Preserve.
In a presentation densely packed with information, the council took the Redwood Grove Task Force's recommendations, but City Manager Doug Schmitz prefaced the presentation by recommending they defer intensive review of the projects until after deliberating on the budget for the new fiscal year.
"If there's money, if we can find money, it means we can go ahead and do those projects," City Councilman Lou Becker said.
The coming year's budget, approximately 5 percent smaller than this year's, includes a significant funding diversion into reserves and tightly constrained city spending. Supporting the non-profits' programming would require city investment that, in a flush year, seemed trivial but might prove hard to manage, Becker said.
"Acterra is a hugely responsible, committed organization," said Redwood Grove neighbor Gloria Gellen, who volunteered in the restoration project at Arastradero. "It would be great to have Acterra involved in Los Altos."
"We're using that restoration as a means to another end – involving the public," said Acterra representative Claire Elliott.
She said that restoration at Redwood Grove might include removing ivy and other invasive plants, protecting the redwood trees by replacing lost forest duff. Redwood Grove's remnants of native wildflowers (which include California buttercups) could be complemented with demonstration gardens.
Youth Science Institute Director Susan Mulcahy said the organization could start programs as soon as the fall, and has already been working with Los Altos schoolchildren in other locations. The programming is available to public and private schools. Mulcahy estimated startup costs would total approximately $8,000.
At its March 12 meeting, the council directed staff to review using the Manresa Road frontage to access the park via a pedestrian footpath, for which the property-owner, the Santa Clara Water District, has already granted an easement. The council is also in negotiations with a homeowner to purchase a strip of land, running along Adobe Creek, that could connect Redwood Grove and Shoup Park.
The council unanimously accepted the parks commission's recommendation that Redwood Grove does not require an on-site caretaker (the role previously filled by Keith Gutierrez), based on a report from the Los Altos Police Department noting limited safety concerns.
The council deferred the fate of Halsey House and the staff housing facility until the historic commission and staff report on the work and costs entailed in saving one or both facilities.
"I'm fine with tearing down the Halsey House. It's been added on(to) multiple times," said Councilman David Casas, who described it as a potential impediment to site development.
"I find the Halsey House charming," Councilwoman Val Carpenter said. "I think with adaptive reuse, it could be restored to be very effective as a nature center, as it has been used. It's the city who has let this property deteriorate over the last 30 years,"
Redwood Grove was originally a 6-acre home for the Halsey family, who built the house in the late 1920s. The staff house dates back to the 1940s or '50s. The city purchased 5.6 acres of the property in 1974 as an open space preserve and designated Halsey House a local landmark in 1981.