BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council decided tonight that the city will charge $6 per car to enter Foothills Park, with some exceptions, as the number of people using the park soars after council dropped a residency restriction.
Council also voted to change the name of the 1,440-acre park to the Foothills Nature Preserve.
In addition to the $6-per-car fee, council approved the Parks and Recreation Commission’s recommendation to offer a $65 annual pass for non-Palo Alto residents and $50 for residents and city employees. In addition the council agreed to give a 25% discount for students, seniors, disabled, active military and veterans, and a 25% to 50% discount for low-income visitors, varying on income.
To deal with crowding, council also decided to only allow 650 visitors at a time or 250 cars.
Use of the nature preserve has jumped after the city dropped a residency requirement in November to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley and 10 residents alleging the city’s ban was racist.
Councilwoman Alison Cormack had spoken out against the entry fee at previous meetings.
“I remained very concerned about the fee,” Cormack told the council tonight. “I still think it’s possible that we should consider this just for weekends. I am not happy with a fee to deter attendance, I’m going to say that again. I don’t think that’s the right way to approach that.”
Cormack told council on Feb. 1 that the city “overreacted and over-corrected” by voting to move ahead with the fees.
Vice Mayor Pat Burt asked that fees be waived for veterans, low-income visitors and students. Cormack asked that fee waivers also include disabled visitors, to which Burt agreed. And then the council voted unanimously to implement the fees with the Parks and Rec commission returning to update the council with a progress report on how the fees are working out.
Cormack said she expects the council will have to make changes to the fees later, and Burt said that “no law is going to be perfect.”
“We’re not going to be able to make it perfect for every circumstance,” Burt said, adding that the waiver for students is meant mostly to accommodate college students with a valid driver’s license who take their car with their friends to the park.
Burt’s motion was seconded by Councilman Greer Stone.
Councilman Greg Tanaka pointed out the exception for students gives older students who can drive an advantage over families with younger students, whose parents would have to pay the per-car fee without getting a break.
Tanaka added that “people could say it’s a little bit unfair to young families,” but voted in favor of the fees.
Additionally, disabled resident Jill Onan told council she wanted council to exclude disabled visitors from the 650-person or 260-car capacity.
The Parks and Rec Commission is expected to report back to the council on the fees’ effectiveness throughout the year.