Learn more about the City Council’s decision and what it means for Palo Alto and surrounding neighbors
A majority of the Palo Alto City Council voted this evening to open Foothills Park to the general public. The Council also voted to continue the maximum capacity of 1,000 persons at one time (approximately 370 vehicles) and to ensure that Palo Alto residents have first access to reservations for Towle Campground, Oak Grove Picnic Area and the Interpretive Center Meeting Room. The Council voted to temporarily reduce the maximum capacity to 750 visitors at one time (approximately 250 vehicles) for the first 90 days of opening Foothills Park to the general public. They also directed staff to return to the City Council and Parks and Recreation Commission with proposals on entry fees, capacity, and park management/environmental integrity studies and follow the City’s renaming process to consider renaming Foothills Park. This blog provides more about the City Council decision and next steps including details on opening plans for Foothills Park to the general public.
FOOTHILLS PARK SET TO OPEN TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC ON DECEMBER 17
A majority of the City Council (five of seven members) voted to open Foothills Park to the general public, noting this approach was the best way forward for Palo Alto and surrounding neighbors. The Council’s actions ensure management of the park for the public benefit through maintaining a capacity limit and ensuring residents have first priority for the reservable picnic area, camp sites and Interpretive Center meeting room within the park.
There are several benefits to opening Foothills Park for all to enjoy. As experts testified to the Parks and Recreation Commission, access to nature-rich experiences establish deeper connections to the natural environment than urban parks, engender a sense of belonging, offer opportunities for environmental education, and teach people to be stewards of natural places. Opening to the general public will also support health and wellness benefits for youth and adults alike. Access to Foothills Park will also encourage outside partnerships in environmental projects, including, for example, partnering with universities or nonprofit organizations for environmental studies or monitoring. And finally, opening Foothills Park reduces impacts on neighboring open space preserves demonstrating that Palo Alto is a good neighbor, and eliminates the interactions at the front gate that require people to show their proof of residency.
The Council action puts in motion an opening plan for December 17 that continues a maximum level of users at one time to maintain Foothills Park’s natural environment. The visitor cap is based on the amount of available parking spaces in the park and is set at 1,000 visitors at one time (approximately 370 vehicles at one time). The Council also voted to temporarily reduce the visitor cap to 750 visitors at one time (approximately 250 vehicles at one time) for the first 90 days of opening to the general public. Currently access to the park will be free. After studying entry fees, capacity limits and park management/environmental integrity, staff will return to the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission for consideration on these items.
A monitoring plan will be implemented including such approaches as installing a real-time vehicle counter, increasing waste collection services, making parking improvements and furthering other related changes to ensure that staff can track the number of the visitors at various times. Other important changes include minimizing impacts to the park’s natural environment, including partnering with Grassroots Ecology to help monitor trails, manage habitat species and observe other issues.
BACKGROUND ON THE RECENT COUNCIL ACTION
Palo Alto purchased the land that has become Foothills Park from the Lee family in the late 1950’s and opened it to Palo Alto residents in 1965. From its inception, access to Foothills Park has been restricted to residents, City employees, and their guests, with a limited exception subsequently adopted for entrance by foot from Pearson-Arastradero Preserve or Los Trancos Open Space Preserve on the Bay-to-Ridge Trail. This type of regulation is extremely rare.
In 2018 the Palo Alto Parks Recreation Commission (PRC) began discussing opening Foothills Park to non-residents. Further in November 2019, the PRC voted to recommend that City Council adopt a pilot program to open Foothills Park to the general public. On August 3, 2020, the City Council directed a series of actions including bringing back details for a pilot program to increase access to the general public and renaming the park. On September 15, the NAACP and several Palo Alto residents and non-residents sued the City seeking to open Foothills Park to non-residents. Plaintiffs claim that the Park’s residency requirement violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly under the federal and California constitutions, as well as their constitutional right to travel. The City worked with plaintiffs to confirm that opening Foothills Park to the general public would enable a settlement and avoid protracted litigation.
FOOTHILLS PARK OPENING TIMING & NEXT STEPS
Based on Council action, a second reading of the ordinance will be heard on November 16 and become effective on December 17, the same day that the park will open to the general public. Staff will return to the City Council in the Spring to provide an update on Foothills Park and potential changes to operating the park in preparation for high visitation months in the spring and summer. City staff will also return with a plan for studies focused on fees and park management/environmental integrity items.
For the City Council meeting report on this issue, go here,
For the November 2, 2020 meeting agenda, go here.
For the staff meeting presentation on this topic, go here.
For the City’s website on Palo Alto open space preserves and parks, go here.
To learn about the Parks and Recreation Commission, go here.
For a panel discussion hosted by the Parks and Recreation Commission about Foothills Park access, go here.