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Palo Alto agrees to add land to Foothills Park

City agrees to dedicate as parkland a 7.7-acre parcel few had previously known about

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After three decades of languishing in obscurity, a parcel of land next to Foothills Park is about to become the newest addition to Palo Alto's expanse of parkland and, quite possibly, a scenic entryway into the hilly preserve.

The City Council on Monday voted 8-0, with Greg Scharff absent, to support dedicating a 7.7-acre parcel of land that just two years ago, most council members didn't even know existed. The land was granted to the city by the family of R. Hewlett Lee in 1981 and has remained mostly dormant ever since, functioning only as a nursery for Acterra and a storage area for John Arrillaga, the billionaire philanthropist who owns property on either side of the flat site.

The parcel first made headlines in 2012, when Arrillaga offered to buy the land from the city for $175,000, an offer that was based on an appraisal that the city had conducted, City Manager James Keene said Monday. The city informed Arrillaga that "there was no way the City would entertain consideration of selling the property at that appraised price and that additional/offsetting parkland may need to be a factor, in addition to a higher sale price," as part of any consideration by the city of selling the site. Arrillaga then offered to build playing fields for the city near the Baylands golf course, though that proposal ultimately fizzled.

On Monday, the council took a strong stance toward keeping the site as parkland in perpetuity when it directed staff to draft a park-dedication ordinance for the parcel. Once the ordinance is approved, it would take a vote of the people to allow any alternate use of the site. The dedication, council members agreed, would be consistent with the Lee family's gift, which included a deed specifying that the land would be used for "conservation, including park and recreation purposes."

Councilwoman Karen Holman, who proposed dedicating the site in a memo co-signed by Councilmen Pat Burt and Greg Schmid, said the dedication is appropriate at this time, as it would have been many years ago. Most officials, she said, didn't even know about the property before the Arrillaga offer.

"It was quite a revelation to learn of this and a happy revelation," Holman said Monday.

The rest of the council shared her view, though members expressed a variety of opinions about where to go from here. Some, including the three memo authors, advocated asking staff to explore different options for the best uses of this land and bring the alternatives to the Parks and Recreation Commission for vetting. Others, including Larry Klein and Gail Price, favored analyzing the 7.7-acre site as part of broad master plan focusing on local parks, trails and recreational opportunities. The master plan, which the council discussed earlier in the meeting, is now in its early stages and is expected to be completed in 2016.

Ultimately, the proposal to study options for the site in the broader context of the master plan failed by a 4-4 vote, with Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Vice Mayor Liz Kniss joining Klein and Price. Burt, who argued in favor of analyzing the site separately, said lumping it in with the rest of the parks "really pushes this back off the table to some indefinite action at some point in the future rather than really moving it forward to finally bringing it in as part of Foothills Park."

This split notwithstanding, the council was united on the issue of dedicating the parkland. Though the site is now fenced off and features as its only amenities two signs ("No Trespassing" and "Beware of the Dog") council members and local environmentalists waxed enthusiastically about the prospect of transforming it into a scenic extension into the Las Trampas Valley, along Buckey Creek.

"It's like the uncovering of a gem," Schmid said. "In a city where we added 8,000 people over the last decade, to have the opportunity to add a gem of a park to that city is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Geoffrey Paulsen, grandson of Russell Lee, spoke in favor of dedicating the parkland, saying it would provide a wonderful opportunity to enhance the trail network in Foothills Park.

"This provides you with an opportunity to create a creekside stroll down a valley that would be a magnificent opportunity for decades and centuries to come," Paulsen said. "It's a flat area so it's amenable to access by elderly and disabled (visitors) and you pass a variety of habitats."

The dedication of the site as parkland would offer a second layer of protection for the land from potential development. As Klein pointed out, the land deed already restricts it for conservation purposes. Even if a developer somehow gets around this restriction, the dedication ordinance would make sure the people would have a say in changing how the site is used.

"This property now becomes the most protected property we can possibly have," Klein said.

The council's decision to dedicate the site drew big smiles from local conservationists, who turned out for the meeting to support the proposal in the memo. Enid Pearson and Emily Renzel, former council members and leading conservationists, both lauded the planned dedication. So did Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach, who called the site "precious" and noted that "once it's gone, it's gone."

"This gift wasn't given for playing fields in the golf course," Dellenbach told the council. "It was given for open space and parkland."

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


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Posted by Civic Microscope
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 6:26 am

Keep all eyes on this Arrillaga guy. They tried to sneak this one by us almost selling off 7.7 acres of OUR land to the developer for under 175!!!
Any land purchase in PA by Arrillaga should be, scrutinized to make sure he doesn't "sweetheart" his way into another theft, er, I mean land deal with the city like this one that almost happened

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Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 6:44 am

"a storage area for John Arrillaga"
How much was Ol' Mr. Potter paying the City for this Storage Area???
If the answer is Zero, The Council has some explaining to do..
Like the guy doesnt have enough property to store his own pile of stuff?

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2014 at 9:04 am

During the discussion of this site Vice Mayor Kniss repeatedly commented with concern on a parking lot in Foothill Park. Note that the parking lot in question is in support of the Oak Gove large barbecue grove site that can be reserved for large parties. Since a lot of food and people are part of the festivities it makes sense that there is a parking lot in support of the Oak Grove site. The Oak Grove site is reserved through the park system and is very popular during the summer and fall. This is described in the Foothill Park Hiking Guide as the Oak Grove reserved group picnic area - west end of Las Tampas Valley - Available by reservation only. Parking within the park in total is designated on the Foothill Park map and guide available at the guard station at the entrance to the park.

As to parking for the newly added 7.7 acre site the area which has hard pan and gravel could be used as an additional parking area for people entering from that side of the park. This is consistent with Arastadero Preserve which has a parking area so this falls into the set of amenities required for the site.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

Car parking is a huge problem in Foothill Park on weekends. I hope the city can develop a family-friendly bicycle route into the park through this new parcel, from Alpine Road, which is more bicycle-friendly than Page Mill Road.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 10:47 am

Mr Arrillaga - your star seems to have lost its shine in Palo Alto. Unfortunately, your reputation has changed such that residents are skeptical of your motives and see you more as a businessman rather than a philanthropist. I imagine this is very sad for you. Its the price you pay for success. Men who have done as well as you have, at some point, no longer have the privilege to conduct themselves as businessmen.

Your vision for Palo Alto isn't in line with its residents anymore. Its not personal. Its just a simple truth. Potentially anything you do in Palo Alto will be an uphill battle. Possible but painful. Maybe it makes more sense for you to focus on East Palo Alto where their need is greater and you can do more good. There is plenty of good work you can do there to improve the area for its residents and businesses. Maybe take a break from Palo Alto for awhile.

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Posted by John A.
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 25, 2014 at 10:54 am

Crescent Park Mom, I'll get right on it.

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Posted by Resident Watching
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:14 am

Thanks John. To be sure, we'll make sure to help you with that.

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Posted by lindaloo
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:32 am

Glad Geoffrey Paulsen was there and spoke up. I am old enough to remember Russell Lee, as well as several of his grandchildren -- and also when the gift was made and Foothills Park first opened. Of course the area s/b conserved as part of the park; it's a no-brainer. Consider the intention of the original gift.

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Posted by Council rightwingers
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:46 am

It was most instructive to watch the developer-devotees Klein, Price, Kniss and Shepherd try to delay and gut the plan. Their buddy Scharff was absent so they lost on a tie vote.
Imagine how far they will go to obstruct dedication of park land that we own.
Berman struggled to figure out how he could support his right wing mentor, Klein, but this was too much for him. I hope he crawls out from under that burden and uses his best judgement in the future.

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Posted by another resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Mr. Arrillaga,

EPA is the future!

Except, you will have to cut down on the airplane noise. SFO has routed all traffic to EPA, EMP, actually via Palo Alto High School, so your friends in Atherton can rest easy and calm. Check out their maps.

Or, make sure you have SOUND PROOF structures, and forget terraces, unless you want to feel like you're working under an SFO runway.

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Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm

First thing the City Council did that I agree with. More parks, NO MORE APARTMENTS, CONDOS, or HOUSES in Palo Alto. The idiotic new development that will be going up on 101 at the Airport should shut down all 101 south traffic completely and I see that Pete's Harbor has been granted a permit to build 411 apartments there, just next to 101 north, which should screw traffic up in that location too.
[Portion removed.]

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 25, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Gus L.: My understanding from previous articles is that Mr. Arrillaga was paying $1,250 per year. That doesn't seem very philanthropic. Who wrote that lease? Also, I understand Mr. Arrillaga dumped a lot of material there, like shards of marble. Perhaps Mr. Arrillaga should fund the clean-up of this tract as a demonstration of his philanthropic nature, as partial compensation for the years he rented the land cheaply, and because he trashed it.

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Posted by watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 4:19 pm

> “Keep all eyes on this Arrillaga guy.”

It’s not Arrillaga we have to watch, it’s the city staff. If, as Keene claims, the "there was no way the City would entertain consideration of selling the property at that appraised price and that additional/offsetting parkland may need to be a factor, in addition to a higher sale price," why did one of his deputies draw up a REAL ESTATE CONTRACT AND RECEIPT FOR DEPOSIT – for a price of $175,000 -- on September 14, 2012? And then have a closed session meeting on September 18 with the city attorney to discuss the sale?

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Posted by The price of liberty
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying that the price of liberty was eternal vigilance. Some governments, like PA's, seem to require more watching than others. Especially when John Arrillaga has strings attached to his development " gifts".

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Posted by badornato
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I am sad that most people dont read the newspaper anymore. or anything else about local news. the average citizen walking down the street with their iPhone doesn't know what is going on in their community.

I am also sad that Mr. Arrillaga tried to pull a fast one on all of us. Shame on him and sorry to see him sully his extraordinary record of philanthropy by low balling 175,000 for 7.7 acres of property. The deal stinks and so does the Palo Alto City Council for even considering this in closed doors at a time they were attempting a sweetheart deal on the property at Mc Arthur Park.

Time for a new City Council and manager.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2014 at 7:01 pm

During the discussion of the 7.7 acre site it was brought up that Acterra has 2 years remaining on their lease for a tree nursery. It was concluded that their presence on the site is approximately 1/4 acre. Mayor Sheppard in comments of the Acterra lease noted that their lease could be expanded for the full 7.7 acres. This is inconsistent with all of the discussion that was in process for this effort, including the comments provided by the residents.
That should not be considered as an option given the strong desire for the residents for this add-on which is the intention of the designation as open space preserve.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2014 at 7:20 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by another resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2014 at 11:23 pm

The price of liberty,

"Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying that the price of liberty was eternal vigilance. Some governments, like PA's, seem to require more watching than others. Especially when John Arrillaga has strings attached to his development " gifts"."

Eternal vigilance "plus" for Palo Alto for sure.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 26, 2014 at 8:14 am

There are a number of outstanding issues related to the Open Space Preserve:
1. Incorporation of the 7.7 acres for best use. The hard pan can be used for parking - a necessity to keep people off of the roads. Note the Rancho San Antonio Preserve is a good example of Open Space usage, as well as Pearson-Arastradero Preserve. Both are heavily used by the population. The parking area can be a staging area for group events - foothill runs, or disaster issues such as fires.
2. Mayor Shepherd noted deterioration on Buckeye Creek. Also note that Los Trancos Creek is a border of Foothill Park. Both Creeks need to be evaluated end to end to guarantee best conservation usage to support the general area. Diversion of creek water? Note what is happening here and correct it.
3. As part of the creek evaluations that should include the San Francisquito Creek going from the Searsville Dam downward through the border between Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and Palo Alto Golf Course and Baylands exit to the bay. There is a deterioration in the baylands due to lack of water coming down the creek. This is going to lead to flooding of homes and businesses in the lower PA area. Note that interested parties have business locations in a vulnerable area - think El Nino which is projected for the coming year. We all need to manage risk from top to bottom. The SCVDW identifies the creek as a flood control project requiring special government attention - FEMA, etc.
4. Funding for the soccer fields and golf course upgrade needs to be identified and budgeted. Delay in schedule will promote general deterioration of the site. Removing all of the trees on the PA golf course is counter productive, needless, and a waste of funding and resources. There should be community agreement on the projections being reviewed.

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Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2014 at 8:33 am

Crescent Park Mom and the other clueless posters,

Please know the facts before you convict a true philanthropist in an open forum that allows anonymity (hide your true identity behind a digital mask). Your true intentions shine through clearly, and for me I see nothing but bitterness and hate. So many assumptions and blind accusations fill this board on this land parcel subject it is embarrassing.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 27, 2014 at 11:05 am

David - you are as elusive as anyone else on this blog - you are hiding under a digital blog. I think people's intentions are very clear in that they want the land available and incorporated into the total Foothill Park environment.

I am also embarrassed by the kind of comments displayed here but they are typical of what you see in general in this forum. No one would put their name on or end up with their tires slashed.

People want their city council to follow logical and legal conclusions as to what the issues are -I heard nonsense up there. I think nonsense has been part of this whole situation going back to incompetence on the part of the CC - no forward planning and lack of awareness of the legal responsibilities and complications regarding the management of land dedicated to conservation requirements. That was a CYA action in process.

I have no hard feelings concerning the principal in this situation - in fact I admire that on different blogs people complain about the 1 million people who will descend on us - John's company is helping to build north San Jose to have a place for the projected 1 million people to work. I am very familiar with the overall location in general and this is a really great addition to the Silicon Valley business projections. I sit in on the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board Meetings so am aware of the challenges we have on the peninsula in general.

I went over to the Arastadero Preserve yesterday and took a look just inside the fence line and saw mounds of wood chips - someone is a chipper enthusiast but I see potential fire issue here. What I saw was not good.

Let's get on with the next big challenge which is the crude oil train shipments that will follow the Amtrak capital corridor route down the east bay to Santa Clara, San Jose and onward to Santa Maria - see the SJM 03/25/14 - Phillips 66 Plan Crude Oil Route Crosses Bay Area. That is traveling the route were the largest amount of building growth is taking place. This situation makes the whole lower bay vulnerable.
That train goes right through Alviso on its way south.

We need a lot of thought on how to confront that issue. All of you Open Space people put your collective hats on so that a clear, logical path is carved out as to how to handle this challenge. And a lot of risk management needs to be added to the overall building in process in that general area.
Possibly a legal challenge by the collective cities who are vulnerable.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

" My understanding from previous articles is that Mr. Arrillaga was paying $1,250 per year. That doesn't seem very philanthropic."

It is when you realize the residents of Palo Alto were being unwitting philanthropists.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 27, 2014 at 11:32 am

Comment on above - in El Segundo the oil was transported by ship - this was the Chevron facility. There was always a ship off Manhattan Beach. The oil in question should be transported by ship to Santa Maria from the state of Washington port and bypass the northern California cities.

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