Palo Alto's nature lovers should not be charged a fee to park and frolic at three prominent parklands, the City Council Finance Committee decided Tuesday night.
The proposal to charge "vehicle access fees" at Foothills Park, the Baylands Preserve and Pearson/Arastradero Preserve was one of dozens of new fees and fee increases that City Manager James Keene proposed to help close a $7.3 million budget gap.
The $5 fee ($40 for an annual permit) would have raised about $100,000.
The committee Tuesday night closed the gap by accepting most of the fee increases, but agreed to scrap a proposal to charge visitors $5 for park visits.
The committee's recommendations now go to the full council, which has scheduled a public hearing for Monday night (7 p.m., June 21, City Hall).
Over the past month, the committee recommended dozens of close-the-gap measures, including layoffs and frozen salaries, new fees for rental of city facilities, and shorter hours for libraries. With the gap accounted for, the committee decided to drop the controversial park fee idea.
Councilman Greg Scharff, who sits on the committee, said he had received a large volume of e-mails from residents who oppose the park access fees. Based on the community input, and the fact that the budget gap would already be closed through other measures, the committee voted 3-1, with Councilman Sid Espinosa dissenting, not to impose the park fees.
"The important thing is to listen to the community and to make cuts that have the least impact for quality of life for people," Scharff told the Weekly. "Clearly, this was something people were concerned about."
Tuesday's meeting concluded the committee's month-long process of reviewing the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011. The full council is scheduled to discuss the budget Monday night (June 21) and to adopt the full budget on June 28. Two spillover meetings have been scheduled if needed for June 29 and 30.