Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto mulls sale of land near Foothills Park

Original post made on Sep 19, 2012

While Palo Alto negotiates with billionaire developer John Arrillaga over a proposal to construct a large office complex and theater next to the downtown Caltrain station, the city and Arrillaga are also engaging in behind-the-scenes talks about a separate deal that involves an undeveloped parcel next to Foothills Park.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012, 1:27 AM

Comments (52)

Posted by paloaltotreewatch, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Sep 19, 2012 at 6:49 am

CPA land should be left as open space for the citizens not auctioned off to those who can afford it. Is there anything this council and city government won't do for developers? My goodness, why are we even talking about this? What's next. Auctioning off Arastradero preserve because we need housing?


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 7:40 am

Is there a map to show where the parcel is?


Posted by park entrance, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

Can this parcel be used to create a safer entrance to the park? Driving your gas burning car to a park seems so hypocritical, but the Page Mill Road entrance to the park is so steep and narrow and you never see kids bicycling in to the park. Can a child-safe park entrance be built via this Los Trancos parcel. Looking at Google Maps, I see at least 2 service roads into the park from the Los Trancos area. These should be much safer entrances for kids and families.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2012 at 8:12 am

Land in Palo Alto routinely goes for 5M an acre. Molly Stump can not keep that fact from the public, no matter how hard she tries.

Palo Alto has about 4,000 acres of space/parks/etc. There is no reason that it should not be sold to pay for infrastructure upgrades. However, with the Council being able to hide behind closed doors--the public is not given much access to information about the negotiations, or what prices the City is asking for the land. 7.7 acres at $5M is $38.5M--which is just about what the massive police station is supposed to cost. It's a shame that the parcel number is not provided in this article, so we can see what the current appraised property value is.

There is no reason that the City should not sell off $100M worth of this land to pay for future infrastructure needs. At $5M an acre, the City has a land reserve with over 20 billion dollars.


Posted by Bob , a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2012 at 8:45 am

I sincerely doubt if Mr. Martin has frequented the park, if at all. Only about ninety acres of the park are developed for picnic areas, roads, parking lots, rest rooms, Towle Camp, the lake, etc.The rest of the 4,000 plus acres are 'forest' land and steep hills. But I can hear City Hall almost salivating at the prospect$. There is the specter of a land grab at the pristine park.----like already happened at the Baylands for a garbage burning factory.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2012 at 9:10 am

> The rest of the 4,000 plus acres are 'forest' land and steep hills

The 4,000 acres is the total park/open/dedicated property owned by the City. No single park in Palo Alto is 4,000 acres large. Someone who visited the park would know that.

The Arastradero Preserve is about 660 acres, and would be an excellent choice to sell off--given a chance. Very few Palo Altans use it. The cost of maintenance is not high for this bit of land, but its sale value is in the hundreds of millions.

> Emslie said the site is an undeveloped property adjacent
> to Foothills Park. The only vehicle access to the
> landlocked property is through a dirt road off Los Trancos Road.

This particular parcel is not in Foothills Park, it would seem.


Posted by Maria, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

The council shsould make sure any sales agreement includes keeping the buyer from building housing complexes on it - what little open land we still have must be kept from being covered with asphalt!


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

Sure, let's sell a parcel near Foothills Park and then have huge houses built right there... What a wonderful idea... NOT


Posted by FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:49 am

FrankF is a registered user.

Building homes in the hills is a bad idea - do we remember the fire station that costs way more to maintain?

It would be handy to see a map so we know what we're talking about - but basically I'd favor keeping it open space and add it to the park.


Posted by Hmmmm., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:53 am

Arillaga is not usually a housing developer. I'm betting he's interested in commercial development of some kind. Offices? Hotel?


Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

The Palo Alto I grew up with and loved is being utterly destroyed by the cost of housing and associated influx of wealthy #)&*%$&@'s.

We need to open more land up for development, and there flippin' plenty of it up in them thar hills. I say develop 5000-10000 acres up there and pronto!


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

Many people use the Arastradero Preserve. School groups, environmental education groups, the general public. It is in a easily accessible area. Please do not close it off. Spacious wilderness areas are needed to keep our society environmentally aware. Once gone, never reclaimed.


Posted by TimH, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:06 am

Every speck of nature does not need to be changed. With respect to nature, the sanitized and misleading term "develop" is akin to how "gaming" is spoken for Las Vegas. This is no game here, as "once developed" there is no nature.

If Palo Alto MUST sell off everything of value, then please sell this parcel to the Nature Conservancy. That way, at least it will remain "as is". At any rate, this public land deserves more than private council consideration.


Posted by Emily Renzel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:08 am

I believe that when the city bought that parcel from Russell V. Lee, it was at a special price because it was to be used for park and conservation uses. Alas, the City never actually dedicated the parcel as park. This proposal to sell it off to one of the richest men in America is precisely why this parcel should have been park dedicated. It's not too late, City Council.


Posted by senor blogger, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:25 am

Just what we need is ANOTHER theater venue in the neighborhood.

How many are there now in the immediate vicinity? Seven?


Posted by Unload Surplus Land, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

The land is very close to the boundary with Los Altos Hills. Has anyone thought of offering it for sale to the City of Los Altos Hills first before authorizing any kind of development on the site?

Also, Esther Clark Park is surrounded on three sides by large Los Altos Hills homes. That piece of park land should also be offered to the City of LAH for a price, because it's LAH residents who benefit from the open space.

It is just a plowed up piece of land with eucalyptus trees on it; a great nesting site for red tailed hawks and home to jack rabbits and squirrels, but Palo Alto must pay forever for it's upkeep. It's time we unloaded it to Los Altos Hills.


Posted by Jim H., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:46 am

Doing a quick search, Arrillaga reportedly lives here: Web Link

If you look at Google maps, you'll see his house right about where Arastradero and Foothills Park meet. I have seen the lake and tennis court many times while hiking at Arastradero (and yes Mr. Martin, I'm from Palo Alto!).

If you've been to Foothills Park, it looks to be at the end of the road past the Interpretive Center and the Oak Grove Picnic Area at the trailhead for Coyote Trail. It'd be nice if the city could at least let us know where the parcel is located.

Looks like a useful piece of open space for the city. But, could also be a nice chunk of money. Selling off land to fund your budget is not a good road to be on, however.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

This is sickening ... most of the ugly development I see up in the hills should never have been allowed. The ride up to Foothills Parks used to be very beautiful and natural. Now it is one big ugly ostentatious house after another. Raise the taxes on rich people manage the remaining resources of nature of Palo Alto intelligently.


Posted by Midtown resident, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm

The beginning of the article states that he is looking at developing close to the train station. I believe this is part of the project where they want to move the the great looking, but poorly marketed McArthur Park historic building to an unknown location in order to do this. I am not sure it is up for discussion -- I think things are moving along.... btw- for those of you that think we should develop all the hillside-- you will just get more of those mc-mansions and I am not sure that will be the solution you will need. How about look at something south of Oregon expressway? you might not have the over-rated status you are looking for but the price will be more than half the price with the same great schools AND friendly, educated, neighbors


Posted by Member, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm

As a general rule cities, counties, and government should not own large sections of land. When you own land your responsible for maintaining the land and the country doesn't get any property tax revenue. The governing bodies can set guidelines and rules regarding development. John Arrillaga has a great reputation. The football stadium at Stanford is a perfect example, he maintained a balance and removed as few trees as possible. We need more people like John Arrillaga. I don't care if he is rich, he earned his money by working hard.


Posted by Enid Pearson, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm

If I remember, the city Charter says that property acquired as parkland must be dedicated. Why wasn't this done? These 7.7 acres are part of Foothill Park and ought to be available to the public. This was the original intent and should be honored.
Here is another example of how vulnerable parkland or open space is. Today, nowhere in Palo Alto are parks or open space safe from development. And all development is always promoted as "improving" Palo Alto or "saving us and the world".
Palo Alto is NOT so poor and desperate that it needs to start selling off or giving away parks. So, the answer to Arillaga is easy - NO.
Dedicate these 7.7 acres ASAP.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm

If the City had a solid reputation for transparency and fair dealing there would be much less suspicion and speculation about issues such as this. Such a reputation would also go a long way towards shortening the much-maligned(deservedly so)"Palo Alto Process" because there would be a higher level of confidence that our decision makers would make sound and fair decisions.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm

> Palo Alto is NOT so poor and desperate that it needs to start
> selling off or giving away parks

Palo Altans are not so rich that they can afford not expect the City to sell off some of this land.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Palo Altans are not so rich that they can afford not to expect the City to sell off some of this land.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Editor ..

Please delete this and the previous posting.


Posted by longtime resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Enid Pearson says it well: "Palo Alto is NOT so poor and desperate that it needs to start selling off or giving away parks. So, the answer to Arillaga is easy - NO. Dedicate these 7.7 acres ASAP."

Must Palo Alto completely lose its soul?

Also, a theater near the Caltrain station is not a practical idea.


Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm

How is it appropriate for this discussion of public lands to be taking place behind closed doors??!!....the residents of palo alto own the land, not the staff ,council or city manager.

the people of palo alto need to get involved in a discussion about the huge changes that are
being contemplated in PA before its to late!!!!


Posted by Wendy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Perhaps the City of Palo Alto could ask Mr. Philanthropist to give up his 2 parcels that adjoin the Foothill parcel in question and then the 3 parcels could become part of the park in perpetuity. Thus preventing any possibility of Mr. Arillaga building anything on his land - especially if PA sold him the 3rd middle parcel.....just a thought....


Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm

from the article:

"City officials said the sale is not related to the much more ambitious proposal that Arrillaga pitched last year, which would add a major office building at 27 University Ave., along with a new theater that would potentially house TheatreWorks. That project also includes relocating the historic MacArthur Park restaurant, which currently occupies the University Avenue site."

Then why is it being discussed now??? hard to believe there is no relation to the very controversial project that is being discussed on university ave.....Which is, in addition to two theatres, ( the smaller one would hold 300 or so people) 100,000 square feet of office space for Stanford University to occupy,
and the relocation of the historic building currently the Home of Mcarthur park restaurant.


Posted by Jg, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2012 at 3:13 pm

What the City ought to contemplate in this area is selling Foothills Park to Santa Clara County Parks. It would help solve a lot of issues:

1. We here in north Santa Clara County are under-served with County Parks, yet pay our fair share for all the parks in south County, a long drive away.
2. Management: Even with our fine City parks staff, the City is not truly equipped to maintain and manage a property the size of Foothills.
3. Budget: the City is struggling financially, and this park costs money to maintain; park fees do not come even close to paying for it. The City could sell with an arranged payment schedule, allowing County Parks to acquire a stunning regionally significant property w/o paying a huge amount all at once, and the City could plan these $'s into its budget (and yes, the County is struggling financially also, but County Parks spends a certain amount on acquisitions from its Park Charter funds)
4. The "We bought it, you can't use it" issue. Currently, the park is only open to Palo Alto residents, so residents from other nearby towns either have to drive further to experience open space, or trespass. If the County bought the park, Palo Alto would be compensated for money spent saving the property 50+ years ago. If the County ran the park, other residents could legally use it AND would be paying their share of the cost.


Posted by Marcie, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

If this parcel is for sale then it should be open to everyone to bid on. This meeting is suspicious if the land is being offered to only one person. The city seems to be for sale to the highest bidder for anything they want!


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Back in the past century, when Palo Alto and its government had vision, we built up our parks for present and future generations. Now we have a quite different crowd in City Hall. The election is November 6.


Posted by JM, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Was there a legally binding agreement to dedicate this parcel as part of the park? If there was, then any discussion by the city council should not be behind closed doors.

If there was no legally binding agreement to add this parcel of land to the park, then the land should be sold on the open market. Or offer this parcel to POST or MPOSD.

Does look as if Mr. Arrillaga is trying not too subtly to bribe the council into accepting his massive development of the McArthur Park site.


Posted by Julian, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

@ Chris Zaharias
If the hills get developed to death, this DEFINITELY won't be the Palo Alto you grew up with.

Think SF Sunset District.

Think Balboa High in SF because the schools are already overcrowded and the city won't build any more to support the large amount of new population they're approving development for.

Time to stop and fix what's here, instead of breaking it more.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Emily Renzel stated:

> I believe that when the city bought that parcel from Russell V. Lee,
> it was at a special price because it was to be used for park and
> conservation uses. Alas, the City never actually dedicated the parcel
> as park. This proposal to sell it off to one of the richest men in
> America is precisely why this parcel should have been park dedicated.
> It's not too late, City Council.

Then the city should make it parkland.

Where exactly is the parcel? Is there a map?


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 19, 2012 at 10:47 pm

The current view from Foothills Park Vista Hill is dominated by a recently built mega-mansion less than 1/4 mile down the hill. Another dozen mansions in the Pearson Preserve and it will just blend in.

The Arrillaga property is less obtrusive, primarily the site of an old quarry I believe, at the end of the road past the Interpretive Center as Jim H pointed out above. The 7.7 acre parcel in question I'll surmise is APN-182-46-006 (County Assessor's Parcel Number), which could be very useful as an alternative public entrance to the park in the future. Was this Russel Lee's original gateway? I wonder whether an access easement exists there, for fire or emergency use if Page Mill is ever blocked by earthquake damage or whatever.

I am more dismayed by residential development further up Los Trancos Road, across the creek along the park's Los Trancos Trail. Traffic noise, chainsaws, barking dogs and occasional screaming children are encroaching upon what used to be a blissfully peaceful hike.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Sep 20, 2012 at 6:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Palo Alto has long had a process for dedicating parkland and this parcel has never been so designated. It is an asset that should be utilized for its best value and sitting empty and unused is a waste of an asset.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 20, 2012 at 6:35 am

Why don't we just let John Arrillaga run the city and get rid of the city council since he gets his way all the time anyway? He'll get to develop everywhere. Why don't we just sell him the entire Foot Hill Park land and every other pristine land we have left and complete the process of turning Palo Alto into a cement and asphalt jungle?


Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2012 at 7:00 am

The sign of Arrillaga at Stanford - a mound with a tree planted at the highest point. Beautiful. Just great.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 20, 2012 at 7:25 am

> the residents of palo alto own the land [parks, etc.]

No, they don't. All of the assests are owned by the Municipal Corporation [MC] that is Palo Alto. The residents do not own the MC, as it is an entity which (effectively) a part of "the State".

Residents, through the political process can control the use of these assets, but they can not claim direct ownership. (Note--someone in the City Attorney's Office once told me that the City could sell an asset, and distribute the proceeds to the residents, however.)


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2012 at 8:22 am

Can someone please post a link to a map showing where this parcel is? Pretty please with milk and sugar on top?


Posted by Don't sell, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:36 am

You can see Arriaga's house when hiking the Los Trancos trail, and it affects the tranquility of the Park's main valley. Sight lines are important, and more houses in the vicinity of the park will destroy its' unique feel.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2012 at 9:46 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by concerned, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

Do sell, if we can get a killer good deal for the public.
Please don't just give this away. Once it's gone, it's gone.


Posted by Geoff Paulsen, a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2012 at 11:54 am

I feel strongly that this is an important potential bike and hiking trail connection from Foothills Park to Portola Valley.

My family (the Lees) sold Foothills Park to the City, and then about 285 acres to Arrillaga, and the City negotiated the condition that this 7.7 acres revert to the City after 15 years, which it has. It is located "downstream" of the Foothill Park corporation yard toward Los Trancos Road. Los Trancos Road is in Palo Alto at that point. This used to be one long meadow, all the way to Los Trancos Rd.

With our aging boomers' ever-increasing interest in hiking and bicycling, it would be a shame to lose this opportunity to provide a loop that would, I believe, prove to be quite popular. If the City sells the land, it should keep a recreation easement, and develop it. I understand Mr. Arrillaga's desire for privacy, but an English-style "hedge' could provide a visual and a physical barrier on each side.


Posted by PA-quality, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm

This proposal is certainly linked to the downtown/caltrain station proposal. A favor here, a favor there. Enid Pearson has this right: the land was intended to be parkland, and it should become parkland. Lest we forget, in the early 70's the pro-development city council of the day was ousted by the voters over the high rise development at 525 University and other high and bulky projects. This community thinks green.


Posted by daniel, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Selling public land to developers is always a very bad idea. If the city council approves this foolishness we should have a ballot initiative so the vresidents can have their say.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm

@Anon asking for a map... Here's a link to a useful mapping utility at iTouchMap.

Web Link

There's a box lower right "Show Point from Latitude and Longitude". Enter 37.365 in Decimal Deg. Latitude, enter -122.194 in Decimal Deg. Longitude. Click "Show Point". It should zoom right in on this parcel. Good luck.




Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Here is a link to the COMPOUND in the Hills..Jeez look at this place.. Beverly Hillbillies and the Ceement Pond come to mind..
Web Link


Posted by Dave, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm

This topic has so much anger and a huge amount of assumptions. The parcel boarders the 1,400 acre Foothills Park (435 feet worth per the accessor's map) The balance of the parcel is surrounded by Arrillaga's approximate 200 acres. There is no other access to this 7.7 acre parcel. Due to it's land locked status, it's assessed value will not fetch the $5 million per acre as other properties can.


Posted by Herb Borock, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm

The City Council Closed Session on September 18, 2012, for real estate negotiations regarding the 7.7 acre parcel next to the Oak Grove Group Picnic Area in Foothills Park was the second Closed Session the Council held for real estate negotions regarding this parcel.

On June 4, 2012, the Council also met in Closed Session on the same subject.

The newspaper's reporting of the upcoming discussions in Closed Session said the negotiations were with Arrillaga, but did not identify the property under discussion, because the Council's agenda description identified the parcel by its Assessor's Parcel Number, rather than by a text description that would have made the parcel's location next to Foothills Park obvious.

The September 14, 2012, newspaper report said, "The council plans to meet in a closed session for a property negotiation with John Arrillaga, who has proposed building a new office development and theater at 27 University Ave."

That description of the September 18, 2012, meeting identified who Arrillaga is, but it was vague about whether the property being discussed was at 27 University Avenue or some other place.

The June 1, 2012, newspaper report said, "The council will also meet with property negotiators to discuss the city's negotiations with John Arillaga."

That description of the June 4, 2012, meeting did not identify the property that was the subject of the negotiations.

The Minutes of the June 4, 2012, City Council meeting are at: Web Link


Posted by BetterOption, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm

A better option is to lease the land to Mr Arrillaga for 30-50 yrs. This likely exceeds his timeline of interest, and leaves the city a future option to add this to the park.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Services, Dining and Shopping Downtown in Palo Alto
By Steve Levy | 16 comments | 2,063 views

Handmade truffle shop now open in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 2 comments | 1,710 views

It's the End of the World as We Know It: "Snowpiercer"
By Anita Felicelli | 1 comment | 1,388 views

What is the new couple's paradigm these days?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,039 views

Why is doing nothing so difficult?
By Sally Torbey | 7 comments | 920 views