The future of Palo Alto’s treasured Foothills Park has become a critical issue that will have a significant long-term impact on our quality of life. Historically closed to non-residents — unlike all of our 37 other parks and open spaces which are widely used by residents and non-residents alike — there has been increasing pressure, much of which is from outside our community to open the Park to non-residents. As the maker of the motion to put this issue before the voters of Palo Alto on the 2022 ballot, I would like outline my approach and, in the process, correct some misinformation presented by the media coverage. For more details, please watch the video of the meeting .
As a Councilmember, I have emphasized throughout my term a dedication to being a true representative of and voice for the people of our community. Accordingly, in anticipation of the Council deliberation of this issue, I conducted an extensive on-line poll of the community. The results of this poll were strongly in favor of NOT opening the Park to non-residents.
At the Council meeting, a motion was made to implement a staff recommendation for a one year pilot program to open the Park to non-residents with a limit on total access and for staff to return with other alternatives to open without limits. Rather than responding directly to the immediate political pressures of the moment, and in the continued spirit of my belief in reaching out to the community on the big issues, I made a substitute motion to place the issue on the ballot in the 2022 election. Subsequent Council action amended my motion by adding back the pilot program ... which I accepted in order to assure that my basic motion to take the issue to the voters would succeed.
Included in my motion was to change the name to ‘Foothills Nature Preserve’ ... which I believe is important because this Park is a true nature preserve and that the real underlying reason for restricting occupancy is to keep the Park from overuse (consider Yosemite, for example) that would destroy it as a preserve. Those who have claimed that the current use restrictions are ‘racist’ could not be more wrong. Another amendment to the motion was that any wider use of the Park should be ‘revenue-neutral’, an important consideration in these fiscally difficult times with pandemic-driven cutbacks on important community services.
Consideration of opening of the Park raises many issues ... limitations on the number of visitors per day, the possible need for a reservation system, fees to be charged, and more. The pilot program may help us understand and answer these questions. I look forward to the continued input of the community as we address this issue in the months ahead.