New fees, capacity limits, and name change for newly public Palo Alto park

Photo Credit: Openspace.org
By Wesley Severson - Published on February 25, 2021.

There have been non-stop changes at Foothill Park in Palo Alto over the past few months. After decades of being strictly accessible to only people with a Palo Alto address, the 1,440-acre park is now open to the public. Since its opening in late December, the park’s popularity has soared among hikers and sightseers across the Bay Area.

The park has gotten so much traffic, in fact, that the Palo City Council approved a new, $6 entrance fee along with new capacity restrictions that only allow roughly 650 visitors or about 250 cars at a time. According to the Mercury News, the city council took emergency action to put the rules into effect immediately. It also finalized the renaming of the area from Foothills Park to Foothills Nature Preserve.

The Palo Alto Daily Post reports that city council members also approved a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Commission to sell yearly passes for $50 for Palo Alto residents and $65 for all others. Those are expected to go on sale on February 27th. A 25% discount for students, military, seniors, and the disabled was also approved, along with a varying discount between 25% and 50% for low-income residents that is determined by income.

According to the Mercury News, Councilwoman Alison Cormack says she is still concerned about the fee despite voting in favor of the plan during Monday night’s vote. She says she expects changes to the system in the future. “I’m not happy with it, I don’t think it’s the way to approach this. I still think it’s possible that we should consider this just for weekends. I am not happy with a fee to deter attendance,” said Cormack.

Palo Vice Mayor Pat Burt also anticipates changes to the fees but is overall happy that they passed. “If each of us were to individually sculpt the ordinance, we might tweak it a little bit here and a little bit there. But this is about moving forward with something that has more inclusive elements to it,” Burt said during the vote.

The changes were partly spurred, according to The Almanac, by Palo Alto council members and city workers who witnessed unsafe traffic conditions inside the park and on the roads near it. The city officials also saw several new, smaller trails near the larger trails apparently made by people walking off the official paths near some of the popular landmarks in the park including Boronda Lake and Vista Hill.

With the flood of new visitors now allowed into the park, the fees could play a vital role in the maintenance and improvements. Councilmembers pointed out during the meeting that the city of Palo Alto doesn’t have a parcel tax in place to pay for those types of things at the preserve. 

It’s now up to the Parks and Rec Commission to report back to the city later this year with details about the effectiveness of the new fees.

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