City looks to open up newest Foothills Park site | News | Palo Alto Online |


City looks to open up newest Foothills Park site

Recently annexed parcel could be made available to the public later this fall

Three years after Palo Alto officials formally added a 7.7-acre parcel to Foothills Park, they are finally preparing to open it up to city residents.

Located a short walk from the Oak Grove Picnic area, the fenced-off area currently has little to offer a typical visitor, aside from a half-acre nursery that is run by the environmental nonprofit Acterra. The flat portion of the parcel, which includes the nursery, is about 2 acres. Much of the remainder consists of hills, an easement and Buckeye Creek, which flows through the site and into a culvert.

The City Council became aware of the obscure area in 2012, after developer John Arrillaga, who owns the neighboring property, offered to buy it. Rather than sell it, the council voted in 2014 to dedicate it as public parkland and added it to Foothills Park.

While some council members argued at the time that the new parkland should be immediately available to the public, the council ultimately agreed to fund a hydrology study for Buckeye Creek before deciding on the best way to use the land. Community Services Department staff is planning to bring the study -- and its recommendations -- to the City Council in November.

One recommendation of the new study will be to widen Buckeye Creek to create a 1.2-acre flood plain to address erosion, according to a report from Daren Anderson, manager of the Open Space, Parks and Golf Division. The goal is to address erosion; during rainy seasons, staff has to remove up to 600 yards of sediment from the creek.

While the creek-widening project is expected to take several years, staff plans to concurrently work with the community and the Parks and Recreation Commission to determine the optimal uses for the rest of the parkland.

But residents probably won't have to wait that long to experience the new park property for themselves. Community Services staff is recommending that the public be allowed in later this fall, when the council considers the hydrology study. The Parks and Recreation Commission briefly discussed this recommendation last week and will formally vote on it later this month, before it goes to the council.

Opening the land to the public will allow the city to solicit public feedback for improvements, Anderson said at the Sept. 26 meeting.

"It's so difficult on a 15- or 30-minute tour -- or just an aerial photo -- to envision how that land really can be used," Anderson said. "We also feel that the value of opening it up to the public is ... (they) can learn and provide valuable feedback when it comes time -- which will be soon -- to decide how the public and the commission and the council wants to use it."

Options will probably be severely limited. As parks Commissioner Jeff Greenfield observed at the meeting, the land is "really is not the most pristine area of Foothills Park." The hilly portions make it difficult to create looping trails or any paths beyond one that simply leads in and out of the site. Greenfield agreed that opening the parkland for a "simple walk-through" is an appropriate use.

"The best thing to happen to this area is to flood out the creek plain and add some more riparian environment there and add some plants supporting that as well," Greenfield said.

Given the parcel's topographical and hydrological challenges, Community Services staff has also been leaning toward not adding benches and trails. The site's proximity to the Oak Grove picnic area makes them less necessary, Anderson said.

"The more we looked at it, the more it seemed prudent not to (add amenities) -- to just leave it as an open property, much like when you walk in through an open area in front of the Interpretive Center -- a huge, lawn area where we can just let people go," Anderson said.

Commissioners didn't formally vote on the recommendation to open the site to the public, though they indicated that they will support it. Commissioner Ryan McCauley said his priority is to provide public access as soon as possible. Greenfield agreed.

"Keeping it simple and opening it up as is is the most appropriate use for the area; it's the most expedient and is in keeping with the council's direction," Greenfield said.

• Watch our 2015 interview with Anderson at the Foothills Park site here.


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2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2017 at 3:02 pm

There are signs about improvements and altering the creek from beside the meadow to the center of the meadow, as well as signs about trail closures from last year's rains. Rather than worrying about opening the new area which has little to attract the average park visitor, is there any update on the feedback from the park users on the improvements or any estimate when the trails will be reopened?

45 people like this
Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Here's the real story. Honestly folks, pay attention and better reporting!

(1) So, there's this chunk of land abutting Foothills Park that Palo Alto had forgotten it had. Something like 7 acres. The park is about 3,000 acres. Adding it would be something like a 00.5% increase to the park's size. [Yes, something like a HALF of a percent.]

(2) It backs up to Arrillaga's proprety. He likes giving money to cities (see Menlo Park). So he offers to give the city something like 20 MILLION for it (maybe it was 10 MILLION, but WAY over the property's value)... even though you couldn't sell it for a half million. It's steep, crumbling, un-buildable. But, billionaires like their privacy, and he likes giving money, and it's so useless we forgot we had it... so he offers to overpay to guarantee his privacy and build some ball fields for kids.

(3) Instead, we said NO and commissioned an expensive study. The Parks and Rec Commission (this is public... reporting?!?!) recently said that the results of the expensive hydrology study would be another COST of about 10 MILLION to rehab the area and add it to Foothills Park as usable space.

(4) I can't believe I'm still writing. If democracy and public attention is so broken in Palo Alto, there's no hope for the world.

25 people like this
Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:37 pm

PS -- "Resident's" comment is dead on. It points out that Foothills Park currently has its biggest trail CLOSED due to insufficient maintenance. Rained out... trail gone until repaired. Who the heck is the Division Manger that doesn't have the fiscal prudence to keep a rainy day fund (no pun intended) to keep the CURRENT park in good operating condition but wants us to pay 10 million to add a small chunk?

7 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 3, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Mattie, why should Palo Alto give up their park land to a private citizen?

Also, have you ever hiked on the trails in Foothills Park? I used to hike the Los Trancos trail all the time and I can easily see how it would be very difficult to repair after this years above average rainfall.

Years ago there was a fee collected for Foothills Park visitors. For some odd reason that practice was discontinued. Maybe a fee should be collected again and used for park maintenance.

Sadly I am no longer a Palo Alto resident so I can no longer drive through the park entrance. When I visit the park I enter via the Pearson Arastradaro Park. I don't mind though - it's a nice walk.

18 people like this
Posted by Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2017 at 7:10 pm

Here's a idea. Let Mr. Arrillaga have the land and in exchange, have him build the city 2 new fire stations at the current sites of #3 and #4. We know he will do it right and on time. His track record around the university shows this.
The city couldn't build a library on time and on budget. Do we want to go thru this again?

19 people like this
Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 3, 2017 at 7:21 pm

@Judy. Yes, I love Foothills Park! I'm sorry if in my frustration I seemed to denigrate the park. My frustration is that we had a great offer on the table (a ton of money for a slice so "special" we forgot we had it).

It's about trade-offs. We could have used that money from Arrillaga to do a lot for parks and citizens around the city. Instead, we're SPENDING money without the management or wherewithal to keep even the beautiful baseline up and running.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 3, 2017 at 7:53 pm

I am glad that this addition to the park is moving forward. However, I am also really disappointed that not only is the upper Los Trancos Trail closed due to rail damage, the Costanoan Loop is also closed. This means about half of the park is no longer accessible to the public. There are no signs that inform us about a plan to re open them and the rangers had no idea last time I checked. This is similar to the low priority the city staff placed on repairing the Baylands Nature Center and boardwalk. Can city staff use this thread to respond to the public or can the city manager give an update?

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 3, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Evidently there has been a culvert (6 foot corrugated tube) put in place where the creek goes. The entrance for the upstream part of the tube starts at Arriagas property. My guess is that this was installed, by Arriaga, to make his property flat and more usable. According to Mr. Anderson ,we have to remove 600 cubic yards of soil every year, so we do not flood Arriagas property down stream. Removing that much dirt is big $$$. That damn thing is a huge liability for the city.

As much as I hate to say this, sell the damn wasteland to him... But charge him $100,000,000 and make that S.O.B sign a clause to free us from indemnity.

While your at it fire Mr. Anderson, he was definitely in cahoots with Arriaga and the city for the initial sale of the property.

Like this comment
Posted by Se (a) Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2017 at 7:51 am



3 people like this
Posted by I've enjoyed FH park for decades
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2017 at 9:27 am

Only open to city residents? <snicker>. Uh-huh. ;)

3 people like this
Posted by Kya
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 4, 2017 at 10:32 am

All this money........1/2 the park trails clsed currently. No fiscal oversight!! This park is for the citizens of Palo Alto who paid for it. In terms of enforcement (which City is now beefing up in some areas), have an attendant at the gate to collect 2 - 3 dollars per Palo Alto resident. Even if it is a small amount, residents will welcome the oversight and know that our ASSETS, along with the rules and regulations actually are enforced.

15 people like this
Posted by Foothills Park user
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 4, 2017 at 10:50 am

Foothills Park user is a registered user.

According to the PA Weekly, Arrillaga only offered $175,000 for the 7.7 acres.

That's just $22,727 per acre, or about $3,130 per 6,000 square feet (the typical PA parcel size). While zoned as parkland there is Arrillaga's caretakers' home immediately adjacent to this parcel.

source: Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 4, 2017 at 11:25 am

> Only open to city residents?

Non-residents have Foothills Park access from Pearson-Arastradero Preserve (via the Arastradero Creek Trail).

3 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2017 at 11:28 am

Waste, abuse, corruption, cronyism.

All options are bad, when you consider the bind we've put ourselves in with over regulation. Take the money, which is essentially a bribe as well as a benefit to John so he can grease the wheels and avoid the traps of over regulation? or funnel millions to a 'hydration study' (code for taxpayer rip off scheme)?

Welcome to beautiful Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Croc Dundee
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2017 at 12:22 pm

From the Palo Alto Website:
Residency Requirement

Foothills Park is open to Palo Alto residents and their accompanied guests only. Proof of residency is required. Guests must be accompanied by a Palo Alto resident. Limit of 15 guests per resident in two additional cars. Please call the Foothills Park rangers for clarification or for additional questions at 650-329-2423.

There may be physical access by walking, but it is still trespassing if you are not a Palo Alto resident. I learned this lesson years ago. I walked in and was kicked out.

4 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2017 at 1:21 pm

So much misinformation. Where does one separate fiction from the truth? It is not worth it...

8 people like this
Posted by jean struthers
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 4, 2017 at 2:20 pm

the one user of this part of the park is Acterra, or Grassroots Ecology. they are doing great work with school kids at many of their restoration sites. These kids are learning about invasive weeds and native plants. I think this is a very unique program which is helping our Town and Los altos improve their open spaces and parks.

Also the SC Valley Water district and the Midpen Open Space district are using Acterra's plants for restoring Mt. Uhm and other public places. It is important to keep this valuable organization where it is. they have put into effect many ways of keeping the plants free from diseases so they wont infect other open spaces. They are non profit but they profit all of us with their work.Most of this work is done by volunteers. Using this new open space is never going to be as valuable as is this little nursery. Let's save it.

8 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 4, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Thank you jean struthers!

If it hasn't been a problem in the past, and it's being used for the good of the community in it's current state, leave it well enough alone. Stop throwing money at unnecessary 'problems' and projects.

Pure small government graft, if you ask me.

Like this comment
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 5, 2017 at 7:25 am

Kya, no need for a gate keeper. An Iron Ranger will suffice. Random enforcement, as many of our state and county parks do.

I think the city missed an opportunity with Mr. Arrillaga's offer.

6 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2017 at 12:38 pm

The blatant ignorance on display here is rather impressive. Most of the posters’ claims are completely false while the rest are distortions of facts taken out of context. But anything to support their false narrative that the city is being run by a bunch of bungling bureaucrats.

Oh, if only these posters were running the city, then all of our problems would magically disappear!

Like this comment
Posted by C
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Sorry, if I offended any one by giving that impression. I never meant to imply that "the city is being run by a bunch of bungling bureaucrats" I meant to imply it is run by shady, quasi-criminal geniuses.

2 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 5, 2017 at 1:27 pm

David and Wow (are they the same person?) are so enlightened! They like to point out the "misinformation" of posters but fail to present any facts to support their claims of the "blatant ignorance" of the comments. Is this another trolling technique? Please enlighten us with your superior knowledge. It will benefit those of us making false claims.

16 people like this
Posted by Layers Upon Layers
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 5, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Re: Bloated Bureaucracy, Bumbling Bureaucrats

Look at the Layers upon Layers of management in the Community Services Department (or division, whatever it's called). Last I checked, we have a director, then a few assistant directors, then a budget director, then come a bunch of program directors, the Open Space and Golf Course Division Director, then under him the Foothills Park director (among others).

With that many six figure salaries in the mix, it's no wonder we forgot what land we actually own.

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