Councilwoman says colleagues blew it when they passed fee schedule for Foothills Park

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

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto Councilwoman Alison Cormack said tonight that City Council “overreacted and over-corrected” while rushing to pass an emergency ordinance that implemented $6 entrance fees at Foothills Park.

Cormack said the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which proposed the fees to council, needed more time to figure out how to implement the park’s fees to include an annual pass and accommodations for seniors and low-income patrons. Instead, she was the lone vote against council’s plan to go ahead with the fees.

“I don’t often vote no, but this one is important,” Cormack told the council. “No annual pass, no discounts, no free options for those who need it.”

She said the parks commission had other plans that it needed to explore.

Cormack said that the city will have issues moving forward with trying to align the schedules of the commission, the city and exact dates of more ordinances to come.

More people flocked to the park after the council agreed to open it to non-residents. The council made that move 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 former ban of nonresidents was a violation of their rights and racist.

Council then decided to try and curb overcrowding at the park by proposing entrance fees at the park as high as $10 per vehicle and $3 per pedestrian or bicyclist. That plan was later cut back to $6 per vehicle and eliminated the pedestrian fee.

“I wish we had let the parks and recreation commission do their good work. They had some really thoughtful plans,” Cormack said.

Council on Jan. 19, when entrance fees to the park were proposed, could have given the commission more time to refine its plans for Foothills Park. Instead they voted to go ahead with the fees.

“I was dismayed then and I remain dismayed that this council overreacted and over-corrected without any data and we short circuited our process, which appears to be working pretty well. And unfortunately, we created a situation that harms Palo Alto residents who use Foothills Park often,” Cormack said.

Anne Cribbs, chairwoman of the parks commission, told the council she originally was against entrance fees at the park, and is now “resigned” to the entrance fees. But she said she would have liked the chance to also implement an annual pass with price differences for residents and non-residents, as well as a 25% discount for seniors and low-income patrons. She mentioned she was planning around an $80 annual pass for non-residents, a $60 pass for residents and a capacity limit of 600-650 people.

Instead, the council passed a maximum of 500 people at the park and no annual pass.

Cribbs said the commission wants to revisit the need for entrance fees after the Covid pandemic. And the commission will revisit the council’s emergency ordinance from Monday in 10 days on Feb. 15.

1 Comment

  1. I agree. The council reacted prematurely and should have waited to vote on a plan. In addition to not considering other rate schedules and annual passes, they failed to see whether the crowds would die down after the reopening. The park opened to non-residents at a horrible time for crowds – Christmas break with everyone off school and many off work plus unusual sunny/warm weather. Combine that with the newness of the park to many and it resulted in huge crowds. Yes it was a horrible experience but I believe that if they had waited to implement fees, the council would have had based their vote on a more realistic experience.

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