One of the bigger projects I have been involved with over the last few months is the new Parks and Recreation Master Plan (draft final version as of this writing). The last Belmont Parks master plan was updated in 2003 (!) and obviously quite a bit has changed since then. The consultant we hired conducted a lot of community meetings, surveys, staff interviews, etc. to get an idea of what we have, where we want to go, and how we can get there.
One of the most valuable aspects of the new master plan is where it benchmarks Belmont parks against a set of standards for peer cities and then projects our anticipated parks/recreation needs based on current growth projections (while also accounting for current deficiencies). So, for example, right now the greatest need for new park facilities is in North Belmont and South Point and, the plan calls for the addition of two Neighborhood Parks by 2029. Now that we know what we as a community need (as far as parks go), we can start planning around those needs, and if an opportunity for some new parkland presents itself we can take advantage of that. It sets expectations for residents as far as what the city will look like in 10 years while also setting some benchmarks to evaluate our city leaders against. So, in 10 years, if we don’t find a way to get those two parks – we can hold our city council members accountable.
I think this approach to governing is something that would benefit other areas of the city, not just Parks. Believe it or not, there is actually a Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Belmont that was just updated in 2018 and contains a plan for land use and growth for the city for the next 20 years. There are actually a lot of good ideas in the Land Use Plan. Unfortunately, those ideas aren’t worth very much if they aren’t effectively implemented. This, I believe, is part of where we’ve started to stray. Increasingly, we are reinterpreting the Land Use Plan to fit development projects when we should be reshaping these projects (and/or saying “No Thanks”) to fit the Land Use Plan.
What we need on city council are more people willing to stick up for what we, as a community, have collectively decided we want the city to look like. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by showy PowerPoint presentations and pie-in-the-sky economic projections from people who don’t even live here. We have to be willing to fight for what makes Belmont special.