A NATURAL DISAGREEMENT ... An effort to open up Palo Alto's pristine and exclusive Foothills Park to residents from other cities continued to pick up momentum this week, when members of the Parks and Recreation Commission generally supported a one-year pilot program. Under the proposal, non-residents would be able to purchase passes through an online reservation portal and staff would be able to adjust the number of permits to control the crowd. There would be a cap of 50 passes for any given day and a new policy for school field trips, with the goal of getting more students exposed to the 1,400-acre open space preserve. The existing cap of 1,000 visitors per day would remain in place. "We understand how unique and how special this place is," said Commissioner Jeff Lamere, a member of the ad hoc committee that formulated the new policy. "We also believe, based on looking at historical data and based on speaking to rangers and other people, that there's also an opportunity to share our amazing resource in a responsible manner with a few more people." The program would not change the fact that residents will be able to visit the park for free. It should, however, lower number of people that get turned away. Commissioner Ryan McCauley, a member of the ad hoc committee, noted that the number has gone up in recent years. In 2017, staff turned away more than 3,700 non-residents who tried to visit the park, McCauley said. Their colleagues concurred that it's time to make the park less exclusive. Commissioner Keith Reckdahl said he generally supports the program and Commissioner Anne Cribbs said it "doesn't feel right to me to live in a community that has a park that is closed in some sense." Before the discussion, the commission heard from both supporters and critics of the change. Resident Shani Kleinhaus recommended requiring visitors undergo a training program before they are let in. The park, she said, "should be looked at as a museum for our community. It should not be looked at as something that is a common good." Former Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell urged the commission to approve the policy as written. "Enough of the elitism and the exclusionism. Let's bring the park into the 21st century. Let's open the entry gates to those who desire to visit it," Cordell said.
TRYING AGAIN ... Despite political opposition and legal hurdles, the Chicago-based Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners is pressing ahead with its plan to convert the President Hotel building at 488 University Ave. from an apartment building to a hotel. The company announced this week that it has resubmitted its application. The company plans to invest $50 million in renovating and restoring the building, according to the announcement. Improvements would include the restoration of the building's roof garden, guestroom renovations and seismic upgrades. The conversion would, however, have to overcome several zoning obstacles, including a city ordinance that the council passed in April prohibiting the conversion of housing units to non-residential uses during renovations of "grandfathered" downtown buildings that don't comply with current development standards. By moving ahead, AJ Capital is banking on the city to give a waiver from the requirement. Alex Stanford, chief development officer of AJ Capital, said in a statement that the company is "dedicated to delivering a project that the City of Palo Alto's residents and local businesses will be proud of for generations."
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS ... Charity took on a whole new meaning when Palo Alto city and Board of Education representatives participated in the third annual Downtown Drop Down, a "Rappel-a-thon" fundraiser for the Downtown Streets Team. Human Relations Commissioner Steven D. Lee and Board of Education member Shounak Dharap were among the regional leaders who took part in the benefit event on Sunday, when they rappeled 16 stories — the equivalent of 236 feet — from the roof of Adobe headquarters in downtown San Jose. The two were part of the Millennial Team that as of Thursday raised $3,206 of its $10,000 goal for the nonprofit, which assists homeless people and those at-risk of becoming homeless with housing, work, stipends and community involvement through volunteer work.