Guest opinion: Opening Foothills Park to non-residents will create problems

Carlin Otto



Dear Palo Alto residents, as you consider opening Foothills Park to the general public, think about the following points:

1. During the last 20 years, the average occupancy has been 416 people each day (calculated from the official count). More or less 0.7% of Palo Alto residents were at the park every day.

2. During these 20 years, Foothills Park never reached its maximum-allowed daily occupancy of 1,000 visitors. This is why the park is in such beautiful condition today.

3. Larger numbers of visitors will have negative impacts on the park.

4. If you open the park to the general public (the 7 million residents of the Bay Area), there will be many more visitors.

5. From just the nearest eight cities (total population of 490,000) you can expect at least 3,400 people (0.7% of 490,000) will want to use it each day.

6. Each additional visitor above the 20-year average will degrade your experience of Foothills Park and the park itself: fewer animal sightings, more noise, more crowding, more erosion of trails, more damage to vegetation, more off-trail use, more stress on the animals. How much degradation are you willing to allow in exchange for sharing?

7. The only ways to avoid degradation are: restrict the maximum occupancy to the 20-year average of 416 visitors each day, or keep the park as it is today (open only to Palo Alto residents).

Have you tried to hike at Rancho San Antonio and Pearson-Arastradero Preserve? These are examples of what is very likely to happen to Foothills Park.

Carlin Otto first moved to Palo Alto in 1956. She has owned her home in the Charleston-Meadows neighborhood for 37 years. She has been an avid hiker, camper, and nature observer all her life.


  1. It is just an opinion indeed. I personally am satisfied with how Rancho San Antonio operates. Parks (or beaches) should not be reserved to a small fraction of the population. How if you were denied the use of other parks located out of your city? Does that sound acceptable?

    • To be fair, I think the question you should ask is, “How would it be if you were denied the use of ONE park in each city outside of your own? Does that sound acceptable?”

      My answer would be yes, seems completely reasonable and acceptable to me. Every city should be able to designate one park that is only open to it’s residents. Actually, I would be more generous than that – I would say every city should be able to designate at least 3% of their parks to residents only. Heck – I’d be good with 10%.

  2. Carlin,
    I think that segregating parks to city residents only creates unintended-or intended (depending on how folks view it)-consequences along the peninsula. Limiting foot traffic seems to be a more appropriate response.

  3. “Some argue that allowing free access to the [this open space] would destroy it, as public visitors would not keep the [open space] clean.”

    Do you know where they made this argument? In Israel in segregating the Asi River.

    “These barriers were not explicitly aimed at people of color, but the effect was the same as Jim Crow laws in the South” This is a quote referring to efforts to keep local residents out of the beaches in the Long Island Sound.

  4. I am hardly a minority, nor am I poor by any stretch. I live in Los Altos Hills, am 1/2 mile from the park, and I cannot use it either. Generally, the residency is not enforced during the week. I am happy coming during the week when I can and understand that weekends are for the residents of the city that paid for it. It is not meant as a community center, as are many of our surrounding parks. No swimming pool. No tennis courts. No playground areas. It is small and focused on nature. Whatever solution is proposed, we must keep that foremost – preserving its unique environment of respect for nature which means limiting how many people can visit.

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