Council sets a $6 per car fee to enter Foothills Park with some exceptions

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

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.


  1. Palo Alto residents already pay taxes for the upkeep of the park. Will that change? So we will have to pay taxes AND the $6 fee? Shouldn’t our gate fee be waived?

  2. This new law is outrageous! In December, it went from free and private- only PA residents- to open to for all for social justice reasons.

    Just over 2 months later there is a fee for almost everyone. The exception for drivers with a student ID is insulting, why should college students get a pass but not families with kids or low-income folxs. Hello, social justice, anyone?!

    I just looked into the process for a low-income fee waiver…download a pdf, then email or taking it in-person for processing.

    Requires: 1) Proof of residency, 2) Tax Returns AND another form of documentation about income only then the person can get 25% or 50% discount to the fee. C’mon!

    This is the epitome of an institutional caste system being upheld. If you are low income, good luck accessing this beautiful park. Considering what that fee waiver process means in practice- you will likely just not go- which sounds like the goal of this new fee system. Come on City of Palo Alto! We are in the middle of a pandemic.

    Why not post a suggested park fee and cap the capacity? Those who can pay, will, those who can’t will still have access. That is what social justice and access looks like- if institutions can clear unnecessary barriers instead of creating a maze of biased rules and then having them enforced less than a week after voting without posting signs at the park.

    I know this might be hard for the people who passed this law to imagine but try imagining being a family who went to the park on Saturday and was surprised to hear about the fee. What if you don’t have $6 for the entry or didn’t budget for that and imagine the shame you might feel not being able to pay in front of your kids and being turned away?

    And then if you looked online for more info- you as a low-income person could see that an exception is there for those with a student ID and driving the car. If only you currently attended Stanford…then you could go to the park with your friends and enjoy the beauty. But, nope, you have a low income so, sucks to be you. Go to a free park somewhere else or don’t be low income and come to Palo Alto. But at least the discrimination law suit was settled! Yay!

  3. None of this was a problem when it was residents-only. The city should have polled residents, and if they wanted to keep the park resident-only, then fought the lawsuit. The only reason it appears they caved was because they didn’t want to be called racist. But here’s the truth, when somebody calls you “racist,” that’s their last argument. They can’t defend their position, so they play the race card to get you to cave. That’s what happened to the council. Now we’ll have a park packed with people and overflowing trash cans.

  4. Our taxes pay for this park. Why is it open to everyone when all they pay is an entry fee. Could we please have the old Palo Alto back? I abhor the new council people and their short-sighted, gouging decisions. The Residential Parking Permit system is another one of their disasters.

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