Foothills Park controversy back to Council yet-again on Tuesday: Why, oh, why? | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

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Foothills Park controversy back to Council yet-again on Tuesday: Why, oh, why?

Uploaded: Jun 21, 2020
((Update 2020-06-23: This has been removed from the current agenda on a motion by Councilmember Lydia Kou supported by Vice Mayor Tom DuBois (article).
It is likely to return after Council's July break. The stated reason was an overloaded agenda -- see my blog "Never let a crisis go to waste: Overloading the City Council agenda".))

How many times has opening up Foothills Park to non-residents gone to City Council? I've lost track. Tuesday will see yet-another attempt. The arguments of the advocates are essentially the same, as is the absence of meaningful answers to the questions and concerns raised by others. After seven weeks of Council meetings on the budget crisis, including special sessions and 10-11 hour meetings, why does this deserve yet another special session? Especially since the flaws and omissions in the proposal deem it unready for a decision.

Budget and management -- A case of "Ready, Fire, Aim"
The Staff Report identifies neither the size of the budget for this project or the source of the funding, asking Council to trust the City Manager to decide where to make more cuts to support this new program. Seven weeks of Council struggling over budget cuts and they are supposed to authorize the City Manager to do whatever he wants???

In the business world, the strength of the management team is a big part of the decision of whether to fund a project. Here, the logical person to manage the project -- the Supervising Ranger -- is a position that is currently vacant and frozen in the new budget.(foot#1)

No budget. No manager. What could possibly go wrong??
What better time to ignore budgeting fundamentals than during a budget crisis?

What is the PURPOSE of opening Foothills Park to non-residents?
The proposal comes from the City's Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC). In their report, I didn't see a clear statement of the purpose, without which there can't be metrics to determine success or failure. Instead, what is presented is reporting of the core of some of the comments made by residents during the PRC hearings.

One category of cited public comments were about being a "good neighbor" and "concern about 'elitism' and being 'being embarrassed' ".(foot#2) Some of the neighboring cities that would be given access are Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, and Woodside. There is an apparent conflict here: Couldn't being a good neighbor to these cities increase the sense of "elitism"??
Obviously, we can't humiliate people by asking them to present last year's tax return to show that their income is low enough to qualify for increasing the economic diversity of the park's visitors.

Also from the comments was "desire for inclusiveness". (foot#2) The common interpretation of this is non-white racial and ethnic groups, often referred to as "people of color" (POC). While it is legitimate for amusement parks to have signs saying that you must be at least this tall to go on certain rides, we can't have a sign at the gate telling non-residents that their skin must be at least this dark to enter.(foot#3) Even if this wasn't illegal discrimination, it would be morally repugnant to me.

Question: Would a non-resident park visitor from the elite -- highly educated with a high income -- who is also a POC be regarded as fitting the apparent purpose of this proposed program?? For example, a partner at a major Venture Capital fund who is from India.

Calling it a "park" is part of the problem
Google Maps identifies ^Foothills Park^ as a "Nature preserve with trails". It is surrounded by other preserves.(foot#4) Yet many of the advocates for opening it to non-residents talk about it as if it is just another urban park, such as ^Rinconada Park^ or ^Mitchell Park^. All of ^Palo Alto's parks and open space preserves^ -- ^Pearson-Arastradero Preserve^ and ^Baylands Nature Preserve^, ^Esther Clark Preserve^ and some smaller spaces -- are open to the general public, with the lone exception of Foothills Park.
Aside: Palo Alto's park acreage is well below national guidelines for our population size.

What is the NEED for allowing more visitors
I have not gotten a satisfactory answer, not in the Staff Report, the Parks & Recreation Commission report, nor earlier discussions. With all those nearby open space preserves, why is there a need to include Foothills Park, and what would be its role? I have been told that much of those preserves are off-limits to protect fragile eco-systems. But doesn't Foothills Park have the same/similar eco-systems? The PRC report mentions that people at a hearing raised this concern(foot#5)

I have also been told that the crowds at several nearby preserves have ruined "the experience". The PRC report mentions people at a hearing being concerned about this, but no details, no analysis, no justification for what is being proposed.

Reports from various National Parks during the shutdown are that wildlife has been returning to areas that had had significant human activity. One of my joys of walking the trails in the Park is seeing deer bedded down a 100-feet away. Or hearing a covey (flock) of quail scuttling through under-brush and trying to spot them. Many years ago, I saw a video of a mountain lion bringing her cubs/kittens to feed night-after-night on a deer she had killed not that far from the Ranger Station.

The majority of those advocating for opening the Park to non-residents argue that it is morally "wrong" to exclude them. Why? "Because." What makes those individuals the infallible arbiters of morality for all of us? Or as they said when I was young: "Who died and made you Pope?" See "desire for inclusiveness" above.

A little financial analysis and questioning
The reports don't provide an estimated cost for additional visitors, beyond listing some areas of costs in footnote 2 in the PRC report. The proposal would allow up to 50 vehicles per day for non-residents, with an entry fee of $6, for a maximum revenue of $300/day. The PRC report states that current staffing costs $89K per year, which works out to $244/day.(foot#6)

The PRC report states that last year 3,700 "persons" -- the 5-year average is 2800 -- were turned away on weekends because they were non-residents. That is an average of 71 non-residents/weekend. Using an average of 2.7 people per vehicle (footnote 3 in the PRC report), that would have been 26 vehicles, with $158 in entry fees. If the count was mislabeled and should have been vehicles, the fees would have been an average of $427 per 2-day weekend.

What are the likely tasks needed to implement this program, and what will they cost. Nevermind. Without a defined purpose, this is unknowable.

Without a clearly stated purpose, how can meaningful metrics be established? And what are they going to cost? If you don't know what your metrics are, you don't know what data to collect, or the collection costs.

Assessment of Risks
The long-term weather/climate predictions I am hearing are that this area is entering another period of drought. If so, that will likely make the Park's eco-system even more fragile. Worse, more fire-prone. I don't see this having been addressed in the report.

In the section "Potential Risks" of the PRC report, it states "As noted previously, the principal risk is that additional visitation will negatively impact Foothills Park's natural resources and improvements, or otherwise tax park resources. This risk is viewed as a limited one in light of past experience with significantly higher visitation than is anticipated in connection with the pilot program and the effective controls on total visitation that are the core of this pilot."
I don't understand this. It seems to be saying that visitation by residents is expected to be lower so that even with additional non-resident visitors, the total will still be lower than before.

Assessing Success or Failure of the Pilot Program
Is the purpose of opening the Park to non-residents to open the Park to non-residents? If so, Council approval of the pilot program automatically makes it a success. I would hope that we have higher standards than that.

Is there a proposed deadline for deciding if the results of the pilot warrant implementing a follow-on? Are there waypoints to assess the status and whether modifications are needed or whether cancellation is warranted?

"Rules for thee, but not for me"
This proposal would seem to be a non-urgent, non-essential one, yet it is being accommodated in a special session of City Council. What influential interest got this special treatment, and why? What are they trying to put over on the residents?

"You're going to have to keep voting until you get it right"
That this controversial proposal keeps returning to Council combined with the timing of it being brought before a Council exhausted by the budget meetings suggests that its advocates hope to win by exhaustion, rather than on the merits.

The pilot program has
• no identified funding source,
• no non-trivial work plan,
• no identified management,
• no budget,
• no metrics to judge success or failure
• no deadlines
and yet Council is being asked to authorize the project!!

To me, this comes across as vacuous ^virtue signaling^ by some individuals at an undetermined cost to residents.

1. Budget and Management:
"Additional staff time will be required to implement the pilot program, which may result in reduced staff attention to other projects. Open Space staffing resources are further strained by the freeze of the vacant Foothills Park Supervising Ranger position, which is recommended as part of the FY 2021 Operating Budget, subject to City Council approval on June 22, 2020. Staff will redirect existing resources as needed to implement the pilot program while still maintaining Open Space services."
-- Staff Report, section "Resource Impact", pages 2-3, which are ^pages 54-55 of the PDF of the 154-page Council Packet^. Within the PDF, the "Packet Pg" numbering (lower right) is out-of-sync, but generally smaller by 2 than the PDF page number -- the covering two-page agenda was omitted from the count.

2. Public comments cited:
^Page 2 of the Parks & Recreation Commission Report, PDF page 57, Packet page # 55^,paragraph 4, lines 9-10.

3. Skin color for people-of-color (POC):
Additional problem for this non-starter:Caucasians (sometimes "people of pallor" or POP) with a significant tan can be darker than is common among some ethnic groups commonly classified as POCs.

4. Preserves surrounding Foothills Park:
• Pearson-Arastradero Preserve: directly abutting
• Foothills Preserve (Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space): directly abutting
• Windy Hill Open Space Preserve (OSP) - 1.2 miles as the crow flies
• Russian Ridge Preserve
• Coal Creek Preserve
• Los Trancos OSP
• Black Mountain
• Rancho San Antonio Preserve
• Skyline Ridge Preserve
• Monte Bello Preserve

5. Fragile eco-systems, damage from overuse:
"The comments from persons speaking against expanding access expressed a general concern about overuse of the Park and potential impacts to the Park’s ecology, and changes to the existing Park experience, ..."
-- ^Page 2 of the Parks & Recreation Commission Report, PDF page 57, Packet page # 55^,paragraph 4, lines 5-7.

6. Staffing costs: ^Page 2 of the Parks & Recreation Commission Report, PDF page 57, Packet page # 55^,paragraph 3, next-to-last line.

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The ^Guidelines^ for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.
A slur is not an argument. Neither are other forms of vilification of other participants.

If you behave like a ^Troll^, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 21, 2020 at 7:27 am

What must be taken into account are the other rules and stipulations that Foothills Preserve has that differentiate it from other parks, such as no ball games, no amplified music, nothing that needs a generator to power it (bouncy houses), etc.

These things are not allowed for good reason. It is a place where nature is being preserved, not a place for entertainment of the masses in a loud or thoughtless manner.

Page Mill Road can get very dangerous with bikes, motor cycles, cars, continuously flowing in both directions. Adding extra cars would add more possible accident likelihood in normal times and be a nightmare in an emergency situation.

Posted by James, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jun 21, 2020 at 9:13 am

People opposing the opening seem to intentionally overlook the reasoning for doing so, stating that no one can provide it. Here it is: no other community criminalizes your entry into their parks, and you should reciprocate by not criminalizing entry to Foothills park for others. Those other communities have to pay to upkeep their parks just like you have to pay to upkeep yours. If this is too complicated for you to understand then I'm not sure what to tell you.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 21, 2020 at 1:50 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "no other community criminalizes your entry into their parks, and you should reciprocate by not criminalizing entry to Foothills park for others."

Cities create enforceable rules by ordinances, just as Palo Alto has done with Foothills Park. For example, many cities prohibit fires, such as BBQ, in parks except in designated areas.
Your complaint isn't that Foothills Park is closed to non-residents, only in how Palo Alto enforces that rule.

> "Those other communities have to pay to upkeep their parks just like you have to pay to upkeep yours."

Palo Alto parks are heavily used by non-residents to an extent that it has caused complaints from residents about the bigger parks being too crowded. You appear to be an absolutist: You object to the very idea that any portion of Palo Alto's extensive collections of parks could be restricted. I expect that you would object to even a square inch of a remote section of a Palo Alto park being restricted.

> "If this is too complicated for you to understand then I'm not sure what to tell you."

This indicates that you lecture people with other perspectives, but refuse to listen. How am I not surprised that you don't understand?

BTW, the restriction on entry of non-residents to Foothills Park is only for those coming in vehicles, including bikes. Entry for hikers is explicitly allowed.

Posted by Sunshine, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jun 21, 2020 at 4:01 pm

I see no valid reason for Foothills Park to be open to nonresidents of Palo Alto.
1. Palo Alto paid for the park and pays for all the upkeep and staffing. You pay to play.
2. Right now there is no ranger. Until there is a proper ranger hired to manage FP. Until a proper Ranger is hired to watch over FP it cannot be opened to more people. It would be unsafe to do so.
3. There are plenty of other parks that are open; use one of those. The BBQ areas are small and there is very limited area for people. If what you want is to hike, there are many other areas in which to hike. After you have extensive knowledge of all the others, then might be the time to try FP again.
4. What is it about NO that you do not understand? It is only 2 letters. It has a very clear answer: NO means NO. Perhaps your parents did not raise you properly to understand that that some things are not open to you.
5. In the current situation there is no Ranger and the Council is overburdened by other issues. Sometime after a ranger has been hired and had had time to settle into the job and when the Council is not already overburdened perhaps your issue can be considered if you wait politely.

Posted by No PA at the dish, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jun 21, 2020 at 5:12 pm

Sunshine- how do you address dougs last point above- that hikers from other cities can enter foothills park any time they wish?
Also, if there is no ranger, and therefore yiu do not know how many people have entered the park, isn't there an inherent safety issue?

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 21, 2020 at 6:05 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> Sunshine: "2. Right now there is no ranger."

> No PA at the dish: "if there is no ranger, ..."

It is the position of "Supervising Ranger" that is vacant. I don't know who has been assigned to supervise the current Rangers.

Posted by Dan, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 1:17 am

I think there are serious issues here that advocates are trying to railroad through
Would there be extra city costs incurred ? How to justify ANY extra costs at a time when city services for residents are being cut?
Liability concerns? Increased fire danger from potential higher day use?
Maintenance concerns?
Conservation concerns? (this is supposed to be a nature preserve, not really a normal city "park")
Do a majority of residents support opening the park, or just a small number of advocates with a different agenda?

Promotors of opening the park are probably expecting that this time in the current climate , anyone opposed to opening the park to non-residents will be afraid to voice their opposition for fear of being called racist. The whole racism argument never has made any sense /wrt opening (or not) Foothills Park.

If they start this pilot program, at least they should in tandem rename it to "Foothills Nature Preserve" or "Foothills Open Preserve" so that people making the drive up the long winding road have proper expectations for a quiet nature experience.

Posted by Terry Terraceter, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 6:23 am

Stanford makes the Dish open to the Public for free. Maybe Palo Alto is simply more elitist and exclusionary?

Posted by nothing more needs to be said, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 8:23 am

"no other community criminalizes your entry into their parks, and you should reciprocate by not criminalizing entry to Foothills park for others."

Everything else is just trying to justify your need for exclusiveness.

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 12:38 pm

So people stop claiming that no other city has a "private park":

San Francisco has Camp Mather which you can only get into via lottery, considerable cash outlay, and being a City resident.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 3:29 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Normally I would remove the comments by Terry Terraceter and "nothing more needs to be said" as violations of the guidelines that comments should contribute to the discussion.

Except those comments are representative of the "arguments" of the advocates for opening: a belief (ideology, dogma, ...) that they are right and others are wrong/evil/...

In "Guest Opinion: Please open Foothills Park to all" (Palo Alto Online, 2020-06-09), the author makes the statement "When the citizens of Palo Alto voted to buy Foothills Park in 1959, lynching was still a frequent practice in the United States." (first sentence in the final section "The time for change is now"). I find the author's linkage of the two to be morally wrong and intellectually fallacious.

Let's examine that claim anyway.
Between 1950 and 1968, there were 13 lynchings: 9 blacks and 4 whites. Between 1959 and 1963, there were 3. 1964 saw the last lynching, that of 3 civil rights workers - Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner (1 black, 2 whites).
How is this "a frequent practice"???

BTW: The last lynching in this region was in 1933 in San Jose of two (white) suspects in the kidnap-murder of Brooke Hart.

Posted by mjc, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 5:53 pm

"Stanford makes the Dish open to the Public for free. Maybe Palo Alto is simply more elitist and exclusionary"

Yes, and what's the budget for fully staffing both gates from dawn to dusk?

Posted by PV Res, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 7:50 pm

[[Blogger: yet another example of an advocate spewing hate at those who don't agree with him. I expect that he hypocritically lectures others on the importance of tolerance and diversity.]]

Posted by Asswipe, a resident of Portola Valley,
on Jun 22, 2020 at 9:22 pm

Delete my comments all you want, won't change the facts.

[[Blogger: the only deleted comments have been commercial SPAM and the one from "PV Rev" which was an obscenity-based ad hominem attack.
The removed portion here is similar to the latter.

Posted by Independent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:43 am

Independent is a registered user.

I agree with Douglas Moran. There is no free lunch. You want access? Pay to offset the cost and liabilities, whether you are a resident of Los Altos Hill next door, or from EPA. Residents of Palo Alto are already paying and have already paid the purchase price for the land.

Posted by What Will They Do Next, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 10:48 am

[Portion removed.] Put it on the ballot and let all tax paying residents have a say. City Council should not make this decision on their own.

[[Blogger: the "Portion removed" was not done by me, but by the PA Online admins.]]

Posted by Green Gables, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 12:33 pm

Green Gables is a registered user.

Palo Alto citizens already voted at least once to not allow residents of other towns use Foothills Park. Residents of Palo Alto are not necessarily elitists when it comes to the park. If you really, really want to use the park, volunteer on Sunday mornings. Okay, after the Coronavirus has gone. Sneak in if it's that important to you. Good grief, get a grip.

Posted by Midtown Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 12:49 pm

Foothills Park is surrounded by similar natural areas, paid for by the general public, and open to all. While potentially a small number of non residents can be accommodated as visitors to Foothills Park, under no circumstances should the gates to this carefully preserved wild area be thrown wide open as a result of political pressure. A large number of CA wild areas have been overrun and severely and irreversibly damaged over the past few decades. Additionally, inviting further people into Foothills Park and Preserve while leaving the supervisory ranger position open, is absolutely irresponsible.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 12:55 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Postponed until after the Council's summer break, which is July.
Councilmember Lydia Kou, supported by Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, made the motion.

"Despite calls for action, Palo Alto is in no rush to expand Foothills Park access" - PA Online, 2020-06-03

Posted by Dan , a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Dan is a registered user.

HAs anyone tried to get a picnic table at Rinconada Park on a summer weekend? Or Mitchell Park. These are Palo Alto parks that are open to anyone and are overrun by members of other cities nearby. That's OK, I guess. I can live with that. But here's a preserve (FP) that was bought by the City of Palo Alto and maintained for decades by the city (not the county). The citizens of PA have paid for the maintenance of the park and so should be the people who use it. I love going to the park and not seeing it overrun by humans like other parks in the city. Just to be able to watch nature is special in this area. I would be willing to agree with the will of the citizens of Palo Alto who vote on this issue, not on a Council vote which very well may be influenced by the loudest voice at the time. Put it on the ballot.

Posted by DickD, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jun 23, 2020 at 6:44 pm

Suppose the town's residents bought a Rolls Royce for very special occasions. And the town paid for fuel, annual maintenance, storage and such ... The town decided this vehicle was only for town use. All would agree this vehicle is quite different than Fords and Chevys that other towns have and they're used in different ways than the the town's RR, in fact ways that would be detrimental to the RR.

Should we share it with "out of towners"? The answer seems as easy as could be even if I left it up to my nine year old grandson.


Is this any different than considering giving other towns' residents use of our Foothill Park AND PRESERVE ?

Posted by Vigil for Democracy, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 8:55 am

Foothills Park is stolen land, and whatever trivial amount changed hands for this priceless asset doesn't allow Palo Alto to deny access to non-residents.

Even by the laws made up by those who stole this land, Palo Alto's ordinances are unconstitutional, and there's a lawsuit coming. Cheers. Web Link

Posted by Vigil for Democracy, a resident of Palo Alto Hills,
on Jul 3, 2020 at 8:59 am

To DickD above: The analogy isn't that Palo Alto bought a Rolls Royce. It's that they bought a slave and fed and clothed her. It's now unconstitutional, but the town refuses to give up what they “bought".

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 8, 2020 at 4:12 pm

It's a perennially welcome distraction from the real issues

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