Foothills Park to open to non-residents on trial basis; residents to vote in 2022

The entrance to Foohills Park in Palo Alto. File photo.


On a substitute motion by Liz Kniss to open Foothills Park to non-residents on a trial basis and then have a ballot measure on whether to open it permanently in 2022, the vote was:

Liz Kniss
Lydia Kou
Greg Tanaka
Tom DuBois
Eric Filseth

Adrian Fine
Alison Cormack

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto’s Foothills Park will open to non-residents on a trial basis starting this fall or winter, and may remain open permanently depending on how a citywide election turns out in 2022.

City Council last night, in a 5-2 vote, decided to open the 1,440-acre park on a trial basis, with a $6 fee for non-residents, to gather information for a 2022 ballot measure. But the ballot measure isn’t certain, since one council can’t bind the next council to a decision like that.

The park will also be renamed “Foothills Nature Preserve.”

Most of the speakers at last night’s meeting, which was held on the Zoom platform because of the coronavirus, called for opening the park, saying its closure is racist and exclusionary, while those who wanted to continue to bar nonresidents said opening it will lead to overcrowding that would ruin the park’s natural beauty and fragile environment.

Separate polls by Councilwoman Lydia Kou and Roger Smith, founder of Friends of the Palo Alto Parks, found residents strongly opposed opening the park to non-Palo Altans. Kou’s internet survey of 1,129 residents found 81% were against the idea. Smith’s NextDoor survey of 251 people found 78% opened the proposal.

Still, Councilwoman Alison Cormack said opening the park is the right thing to do.

“We turn away thousands of people a year and the body of evidence shows there is room for them in the park,” she said.

Mayor Adrian Fine also supported opening it, saying it is odd that his brothers who grew up in Palo Alto but live elsewhere now can’t enter the park without being escorted by Fine or his wife or parents.

Kou said opening the park might mean the city would have to take it away from future generations if the environment is degraded. She proposed letting voters decide the issue instead of the council.

Fine said voters probably won’t support opening the park, but that doesn’t matter because it is the ethical thing to do.

“You don’t put civil rights to a vote,” he said.

Councilman Greg Tanaka supported a ballot measure but questioned where the city would find the money to implement the pilot program after the council had just made millions in budget cuts.

Daren Anderson, the city’s manager for open space, parks and golf, said the park now attracts 152,000 people a year, and opening it to non-residents will likely increase that number by 19%.

Under the pilot program, non-residents would have to buy permits online for $6. The city would limit the number of non-resident permits to 50 a day.

He said managing the increase will be difficult unless the city fills a fourth ranger position, a management position that would cost $150,000 a year. Currently the position has been left unfilled to save money.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss managed to strike a compromise by proposing to open the park on a trial basis this fall or winter, and putting the question to voters in the November 2022 election. The compromise bridged the two sides — Fine and Cormack, who wanted to approve the trial opening, and Kou, who wanted the voters to decide whether to open the park.

Kniss said her approach will allow the city to collect data on the environmental and fiscal impact of opening the park that can be considered by voters before the 2022 election.

Tanaka agreed to the changes but asked that the pilot program not cost any additional money. That means it would be paid for by the fees from visitors.

Cormack did not support the compromise. She pointed out that any future council doesn’t have to follow through with the ballot measure. She also said the ballot measure will cost money — at least $50,000 by City Clerk Beth Minor’s estimate.

Cormack said she thinks the city will save money if it doesn’t keep track of non-residents at all. The city estimates that it spends about $90,000 a year keeping non-residents out. She said the extra money for the pilot program should come from the $744,000 council put in a COVID-19 “uncertainty reserve” fund primarily for the Community Services Department.

Fine objected to renaming the park as a nature preserve, something Councilman Tom DuBois suggested, without first sending the proposal to the city’s commissions.

Before council’s vote, the public comments were heated.

For example, Stephanie McDonald said that people who say the park should stay closed to non-residents to protect its environment are like President Trump, who said Mexico is sending America rapists and drug dealers. She said both use scare tactics to support racist policies.

Richard Mehliger said Palo Alto is segregated from East Palo Alto as the result of racist policies. He said keeping the ban with the excuse of protecting nature is an example of “eco-facism.”

Randy Mont-Reynaud said Palo Altans should learn to share its park like most people learn in kindergarten.

Former Mayor Leland Levy sang a satirical version of “This Land is Your Land” in support of opening the park.

“This park is my park, it is not your park … this park was made for only me,” he sang a cappella to council and the audience on Zoom.

David Gobuty, on the other hand, said the issue should be placed on the ballot. He said the city’s residents are ethnically diverse and will likely want the park to stay how it is.

Mark Nadim said the park’s parking lot is already nearly full on the weekends without the park being opened to more people. He said increased visitors will threaten the park’s delicate ecosystem.

One reason Palo Alto prohibits non-residents from using the park is to keep Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents out because those cities refused Palo Alto’s invitation to help pay for the park in 1959.

Rebecca Eisenberg, an attorney who is running for council this fall, said the park should be opened to non-residents, citing racial discrimination.

“I urge you to take this opportunity to open Foothills Park permanently, freely and fully. Foothills Park is an example of enforced segregation based on a history of segregation. Yes, Palo Alto paid for it while our less white, less wealthy neighbors did not,” said Eisneberg. “Palo Alto engaged in more than a century of official racial redlining including mandatory restrictive covenants on titles making it a crime to sell property to a person of color. … Although our mostly white residents and governance of Palo Alto may have not have caused this segregation, we must acknowledge that we, including me as a white person, benefit from this segregation. It is time for us to create a fair Palo Alto.”

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include a longer quote from Eisenberg to provide more context to her remarks.


  1. This quote is quite telling: “Fine said voters probably won’t support opening the park, but that doesn’t matter because it is the ethical thing to do.”

    So Adrian Fine thinks he is on higher morale ground than the majority of the people he was elected to represent, and therefore justifies ignoring his constituents.

    What will his next “ethical” decision be that Palo Altans disagree with?

  2. We Palo Altans have paid high cost through the expensive property tax for the city facility like the beautiful Park years. Others who refused to be a part of the park ownership in the past and now want to take advantage now. Racial stuff has nothing to do with the matter. It is the city of Palo Alto and should be decided by the poeple of Palo Alto. People outside just want to take advantage over the great place at no cost on their side under the name of Racial OR Black lives matter. NO. It has nothing to do with these. It is to me that people want to take advantages of with the excuses with no cost on their side. We Palo Altans will pay the price if any going wrong in future. We need to stop it now and prevent it. It is worth to keep it as it is!

  3. This issue should go to the voters of Palo Alto immediately. We paid for it, and it is a nice and valuable perk for those who live in our city. The pilot program is the camel’s nose under the tent … to throw it wide open. These boutique projects are never ending, no matter the financial situation of our city (Greg Tanaka is the only one who pays serious attention to the budget).

  4. Residents are paying for the park through our property taxes.

    If they’re going to open it up to anyone, they should at least charge $10 per car or something to offset costs for what they voted to approve: an increase in graffiti, litter, trail maintenance from people walking off trail or shortcutting switchbacks, patrols to catch people smoking weed at Vista Hill, etc.

    Can’t wait to go for a hike and try to socially distance in a pandemic when Los Trancos looks like the Disneyland that is Rancho San Antonio.

    Also, this has nothing to do with civil rights, racism, etc. Let’s cool it with the politically opportunistic hyperbole that minimizes those actual issues.

  5. For me, the issue is preserving Foothills Nature Preserve in no worse condition than it is today. Any change that increases the number of visitors above what those numbers have been in the past will DEGRADE the Preserve. Opening it to a larger pool of potential visitors (millions instead of the 60,000 residents of Palo Alto) will have a huge impact by increasing the number of daily visitors. All current proposals, including the pilot study, are planning to increase the number of visitors. The Preserve cannot sustainably tolerate the current maximum, which is 1000 visitors a day. Since Palo Alto seems incapable of protecting their preserves (case in point Pearson-Arastradero Preserve which has been completely trashed as a preserve), and since the public is pounding on the door for access, maybe Palo Alto should sell Foothills Preserve to a professional organization that really knows HOW TO PRESERVE natural environments, for example, Peninsula Open Space Trust or Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The land would be saved from overuse and abuse by the visitors and saved from neglect by the owner (City of Palo Alto). The land would be well managed by a professional organization for the purpose of keeping it a Nature Preserve, and if any public access were allowed by the new owner/manager then that access would be equally available to all. Palo Alto residents would be free from the cost burden and everyone could stop arguing and fighting. I have to admit that I am flabbergasted by this discussion; is private property dead in America? Can anyone who wants to use my front yard (which I purchased, pay taxes for, and maintain exactly like Foothills Preserve !) demand to have their kids play on it? Can a neighbor use my bicycle whenever they “need” it? Can anyone take the fruit from my trees and feel that they are justified in doing so? The writing was on the wall with the Stanford University and Dish Trail issue years ago. This does not bode well for anyone who thinks they own something: a bicycle, a tent, a house, a rowboat, a piece of land.

  6. [Online name deleted — please don’t use rude, obscene or inappropriate names if you’re trying to mask your identity.]

    I pay for this benefit as a resident with my taxes and I say open up the park. The pilot program is entirely reasonable and all these doom and gloom naysayers are living in a fantasy. The park isn’t going to get rundown and thrashed because “outsiders” get to come in. I’m not going to let things that happened 50+ years ago continue to segregate us from our neighbors.

    No the current policy isn’t directly racist like it keeps all minorities out as a rule, but if you have any knowledge of our history you know exactly how our racism has cultivated the exact situation we are in now.

    • It is NOT the “outsiders” that are the problem. It is the increased NUMBERS of humans that will overuse and degrade the Preserve. If we limit the maximum occupancy to something reasonable (1000 is NOT reasonable), we could then open the Preserve to everyone, first arrive first in.

  7. This one-year pilot project is going to turn into a permanent opening for non-residents. It will be impossible to take away this gift to non-residents, especially since they’re saying it’s a race issue.

  8. I often get the impression that the council members don’t actually live in Palo Alto and don’t see what we, the residents, see every day. They should look at our other parks, where people from out of town litter, drink alcohol, have large parties and damage the flora and fauna. Will their behavior be any better in Foothills Park?

  9. My friend who lives in Los Altos emailed me after the vote saying how she is so excited to go to the park. Let’s get real with the issues and who will benefit. If tables were reversed, I would want access to nice park too. Although annoying, I don’t fault outsiders who want to access to the park but I do fault our city council for not allowing residents to vote on this before starting a pilot program. We voted for you, so let us have a voice and vote too, not 2 yrs from now but now.

  10. The current maximum daily visitor limit for Foothills Preserve is 1000 people. This number is not sustainable. If that many people were to be in the Preserve day after day, enormous amounts of damage would be inflicted that would take years to heal. The only reason this number has worked for the last 61 years is that with a very limited number of possible occupants (approx. 60,000 Palo Alto residents), the maximum occupancy has been reached only a half dozen times. Once the pool of potential occupants is expanded to include everyone (millions of Bay Ara residents), we can expect the Preserve’s occupancy to consistently be greater than the historical numbers. Let’s not destroy another environmental habitat !

  11. It’s funny how crusaders change history to fit their narrative. Rebecca Eisenberg says, “Palo Alto engaged in more than a century of official racial redlining including mandatory restrictive covenants on titles making it a crime to sell property to a person of color.”

    Making it a crime? I’ve seen CC&Rs that restrict the sale of a property to people who aren’t white, but that’s a civil matter, not criminal.

    What law was on Palo Alto’s books, or in the state penal code, that made such a transaction illegal?

    Since Eisenberg is an attorney, I’m sure she can cite the statute that made this a crime. I’m sure it’s been repealed, but if it were a crime punishable with prison time, it had to have been law at some point.

    What law was that, Rebecca? Or were you exaggerating to get somebody to pay attention to you?

    • Hi LRT, I am Rebecca Eisenberg. You can read about my campaign here: . You can read about the legal prohibitions to which I refer here:

      (Dear Post: I recognize that I have linked to a competitor media site. I am happy to replace with a Post URL if you provide. I used that article simply because it is the one I found the most relevant to these questions, not to make a statement against your publication.)

      Here is another article, not as focussed on Palo Alto specifically, as the problem was not limited to Palo Alto (nor did I say it was):,of%20explicit%20government%20policies%20at

      As to the comment about the vast difference between civil and criminal law, I stand by my word choice. Just a couple months ago, hundreds of millions of people witnessed mostly-white police officers kill a black man over the course of 7 long minutes, with actual awareness that they were being filmed murdering a human being. As a reminder, that black man, George Floyd, was being detained for bouncing a check. Although some states consider bouncing a check to be a minor criminal matter, most – if not all – states punish check bouncers with civil, rather than criminal, penalties. Yet there was Mr. Floyd, arrested and murdered.

      Additionally, decades before we had the benefit of cell phone cameras to document our country’s pandemic of race-based police brutality, our country has been well aware of the common use of the police force to arrest black and brown people for civil offenses, or even behaviors that are not illegal, harmful, or inappropriate in any possible way, such as talking to a white person, or walking in a white neighborhood, or shopping in a store that seeks a white clientelle.

      I recognize that in general, in the US and more specifically, here in Palo Alto, white people generally have not had the experience of being arrested because their race made others believe that they – we – were committing a crime. But I think it is inaccurate to generalize the experience of white people, and the stated intentions of the law, to the lived reality that millions of black people have, and still are, prevented by force from engaging in an activity that they have full legal authority to do.

      Unfortunately, in the case of racial covenants on property titles, the police would not be overstepping by arresting a black person for trying to buy property in Palo Alto. Rather, it was official policy for our government to prevent property to fall into the hands of people of color. The difference you cite in the case of property titles was specifically designed to give police and other govt authorities the power to arrest black people who tried to ignore these restrictions, and sadly we cannot deny that such use of force did occur.

      I hope that helps explain. Please feel free to contact me directly at any time.

      • With a long speech like that, where she doesn’t answer the question but goes on and on, imagine how long council meetings will be if she’s elected?

        • Exactly! Rather than being “happy to replace with a Post URL if you provide” why does Rebecca Eisenberg not simply post her opinion directly? Afraid of posting inconsistent opinions/beliefs from one post to another? Why not simply copy/paste from one post to another? That would put the burden on her to state her opinion rather than on the readers. I interpret these behaviors as indicative of someone whom sees herself “above” the masses. She cannot be bothered to make the effort, even to get herself elected! What will she be like if she actually gets on the City Council?

          • She’s posting to something that’s been carefully written and edited, because if she gives an extemporaneous response she’ll sound like a raving lunatic, like she does when she speaks at council meetings.

  12. Palo Alto really has no choice but to open up the park if they wish to maintain their social justice warrior stance, and lecture the rest of the country on “inclusion”.

  13. It is NOT the “outsiders” that are the problem. It is the increased NUMBERS of humans that will overuse and degrade the Preserve. If we limit the maximum occupancy to something reasonable (1000 is NOT reasonable), we could then open the Preserve to everyone, first arrive first in. …. but only after the residents vote and approve such a change.

  14. Hey, opening Foothills Park to people in other cities is a great idea. So let’s expand this great idea to the PAUSD and let every kid in the Bay Area attend our schools if they want. It’s a matter of racial justice, don’t you know!

    And let’s take this a step further. You know all of those “ghost houses” in town that were bought by Chinese investors but are never occupied? Let’s seize those houses and let anybody stay in them.

    Let’s get this Social Justice ball rolling!

    • Like the Tinsley Program? That allows some students into PAUSD because of racial discrimination. The pilot program would be a similar concession.

  15. What’s the expiration date of the Tinsley Program? I mean when have we paid our debt as a community to East Palo Alto? Is there a measurement or benchmark that can be used to determine when the program should expire?

    • I believe there are explicit benchmarks and measurements in the Tinsley settlement. I believe Redwood City has hit some of those marks and is no longer required to participate but I think they still do.

Comments are closed.