UPDATE: Read our story on Tuesday night's discussion here.
Seeking to provide deeper insight into opening Foothills Park to non-Palo Alto residents, the city's Parks and Recreation Commission will host an online panel discussion Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
Five panelists with a range of expertise in social justice, habitat and wildlife sustainability, park support foundations and park management will participate, including Lester Hendrie, a former Foothills Park supervising ranger; Stanford University Professor Nicole M. Ardoin, director of the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences; Alex Von Feldt, executive director of Grassroots Ecology; Roger Smith, co-founder and director of Friends of the Palo Alto Parks; and Taylor Peterson, director of biological analysis with MIG, an environmental consulting firm.
Hendrie brings decades of on-the-ground experience in the park's management and utilization; Von Feldt has worked with the city on restoration projects; Ardoin brings a scientific and analytical perspective and is a specialist in people-place relationships; Peterson specializes in technical analysis, preparation of biological studies and impact analysis; and Smith has been a longtime benefactor of the city's parks.
The panelists were selected by the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Jeff Greenfield and Vice Chair Anne Warner Cribbs and Palo Alto city staff to represent a balance of expertise related to Foothills Park ecology, operations and access, Greenfield said in an email.
The question of opening Foothills Park, a 1,400-acre wildlands open space preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains, to residents of communities other than Palo Alto has been divisive for decades. Some have said that access is an equity issue that is long overdue while others claim opening it to all would lead to overuse and negative impacts to its wildlife and natural resources.
Foothills Park is the only wildlands open space area within the city's boundaries that is not open to the general public. Arastradero Preserve and Palo Alto Baylands Preserve, the other two large open space areas, are both open to people from other cities.
Last November, the Parks and Recreation Commission supported a one-year pilot program that would have opened the park to nonresidents through the online purchase of passes with a cap of 50 per day to control crowds and a new policy for school field trips. An existing cap of 1,000 visitors per day would remain in place and residents would continue to visit the park for free.
On June 22, the City Council deferred discussion of the park's greater access to after its July summer break.
The panel speaking at Tuesday's Parks and Recreation Commission meeting could shed more empirical light on the benefits and pitfalls of opening the park.
"We are hopeful this discussion will result in greater depth of understanding and insight for our community regarding the varied perspectives and complexity of issues related to Foothills Park access," Greenfield said.
On Aug. 3, Parks and Rec commissioners and city staff will present the commission's Access Pilot Program Proposal to the City Council for consideration.
Public access to the meeting is through Zoom at zoom.us. The meeting ID is 979 3073 5263. To listen by phone, the public can call 1-669-900-6833. Instructions for submitting comments and questions during the meeting can be found here. The meeting will also be broadcast on midpenmedia.org.