Town Square

Post a New Topic

Barron Park donkeys' landowner to charge rent

Original post made on Sep 17, 2013

For 15 years, the Barron Park donkeys, Perry and Miner 49er, have lived rent-free in a pasture adjacent to Palo Alto's Bol Park and the Matadero Creek Bridge. Now, James Witt, the property owner, said he will have to charge the donkeys rent.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, September 17, 2013, 9:59 AM

Comments (36)

Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:07 am

It seems a shame that anyone has to pay large taxes on this agricultural parcel being used for non-profit housing of Niner & Perry. Isn't there a CPA/lawyer out there who could figure a way out of this? Does everything always have to come down to money?

Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:14 am

Is there a 501 (c) (3) organization for tax-deductible charitable contributions?

Posted by Winter Dellenbach
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

This "agreement' was made and signed by the landowner and a non-profit with no knowledge or consultation by anyone in Barron Park but for a couple of people. Most Donkey Handlers were only told of it Sept. 15 after the fact. It is a bad deal for the donkeys and us, but not for Jim Witt. Here Jim has been given the right, in the name of the donkeys, to raise thousands of dollars for himself each year. I have never heard of such an arrangement and wonder if it is legal under CA charitable giving laws. It shouldn't be.

He parks big trucks and stores other stuff next to the donkeys in their pasture, and an attorney says we can't stop him from doing this since it is his property, though we are now paying him rent for it. That is crazy. Part of any agreement should have been that the pasture is only for the donkey's use. And the pasture size and features should have been described - who is to say Jim can't make it smaller in a year? The trucks drive in and out of donkey paddock gate now onto the public pedestrian and bike path (not a public or private road). This can't a be legal us of the bike/ped path.

And who is Acterra to negotiate and sign an agreement with Witt. They don't own the donkeys, nor does Witt. Show the bill of sale. There is nothing in the fiduciary agreement with Acterra that says they have a right to contract or own the donkeys.

The pasture has little value except to the donkeys. The land cannot be built on and can't be subdivided. Witt mentioned renting garden patches - where would the water come from? And not to board horses - too small and local boarding places provide daily care and feeding - what BP people do now for free. Fair market rent should be redetermined thru a non-biased process/person based on all relevant factors.

And we in BP shouldn't be simply informed after the fact that we are now responsible to raise over $50,000 over the next 8 years. That hardly engenders trust.

What happens to the donkeys if we don't make the rent? This question has only been met with silence.

The donkeys need to have a secure future here in BP [portion removed.]

There may be a trade-off giving him something of value in exchange, through land use alternatives or other possibilities.

Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

the reduced property tax angle has been worked to death over the years
" That Dog don't hunt"

Yes Acterra manages the tax deductible 501C for collecting donations to the donkey fund
we are looking for volunteer help with making donating easier i.e. web design qr coding and such

as of now donation should go to Acterra / donkey fund
Web Link

Posted by Yippee Kei Yea
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:58 am

Donkeys Rule! Only in Palo Alto could donkeys be considered a liability and their future decided by the almighty dollar! What a country!

Posted by Addendum
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

What a city! What a county!

Posted by Ronald L.
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:21 pm

from Wikipeida on Shrek: Donkey was modeled after Perry (born 1994), a real miniature donkey from Barron Park, Palo Alto, California.[2]

Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:46 pm

To address / correct some comments made above
the barron park association was aware of this process / agreement
the agreement includes several protections for the donkeys including pasture use etc.
the donkeys are far more protected with an agreement than without

its wrong for someone who has not read the agreement to slander the parties involved

cant we all keep a good thought and a kind word
for a tradition that goes back to the 1950's
when we used to feed the donkeys our grass clippings ?

Posted by anthonym
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online.]

Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 1:47 pm

if antonym knew witt they would know about the projects he has contributed to barron park school and terman and about his many years of volunteer work with the city of palo alto currently entering his third year on the DCAG committee
donating the the pasture would not be allowed as it would make the remaining parcel non conforming and i have no desire to have anything named after me
people that know witt know he has work hard over the last 15 years maintaining the pasture including building sheds providing water, building a new gate , fencing and on and on
the items stored in the pasture are not garbage they are materials that we recycle into the homes we build
i dont consider the homes i have built "ugly creations " i will let the neighborhood judge my homes over many years i will say i take pride in my reputation for being a quality builder who stayed true to his neighborhood and i'm proud to have planted hundreds of trees in barron park and disposed of tons of garbage left behind by others

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm

I agree with Winter that there should have been greater transparency about this before the fact rather than after. Maybe this was in the BPA news before yesterday but I just searched my email and I don't see any sign of it. I don't know whether or not this is a good deal or not. Winter seems to think it's not. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to have this aired at a BPA meeting so that people could participate in the decisions before the fact rather than trying to decipher it after?

Honestly I find it ironic after all the lengthy fulminating emails I have received about Maybell from BPA based on the city's lack of supposed transparency over the senior development and the behind the scenes relationship with the "developer" [a nonprofit PAHC] who benefitted that now we have a behind the scenes deal conducted by BPA that obligates us to raise a large amount of money and pay it to (wait for it) a developer.

Without reviewing the documents it is impossible to know whether this is the best deal that could have been obtained for the community or not. Maybe all is fine and in good order -- but it is a bit worrisome that the ED of the organization that made the agreement is not herself even sure that the org had the authority to make that deal.

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The Donkey Project is NOT part of the Barron Park Association (BPA). The BPA advertises various donkey-related activities and fund-raising, similar to what it does for other neighborhood activities. It was the leadership of the Donkey Project that decided when and how to inform the public of what was being done.

At the time the Bols sold the property, the BPA considered becoming the owner of the donkeys, but the problems with getting insurance were insurmountable.

Although some BPA Board members were also donkey handlers, it has always been explicit that those are separate activities.

Disclosure: I was a BPA Board member throughout this period. I am also one of the volunteers that feeds the donkeys (since 1996, Sunday at approx 5pm), but I had no role in the negotiations (other than providing recollections of what happened during the sale) or any of the preceding legalities.

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for clarifying Doug that BPA is not a party to the agreement and apologies that I misunderstood that. I think my confusion is probably symptomatic of the problem with the lack of information and involvement by the neighborhood.

I do have one questions though -- if BPA is not a party to the agreement then how is it that BPA ended up obligated to fundraise in the contract per this story: "Volunteers from the Barron Park Association who care for the donkeys will have to come up with at least $3,500 a year -- and up to as much as $7,000 -- to foot the bill, according to a contract between Witt and the donkeys' owner, the environmental nonprofit Acterra."

I presumed that BPA was consulted since it is obligated under the contract. Is that not the case? If not, how can the contract bind BPA? Ordinarily that is not how contracts work. Is it an error in the story?

Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.


Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

Michele, the statement that volunteers *from the Barron Park Association* would be responsible for the rent is in error. It falls to those caring for the donkeys, not necessarily the BPA. Thanks for pointing that out.

Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:46 pm

a slight inaccuracy in the article
there are some folks on both the barron park association and donkey volunteer project
the barron park association has no responsibility for the fundraising

we believe ( in the past ) people contributing to the donkey fund assumed a portion of those dollars went to providing the land
in the past they did not
now a portion does i think thats a good way to look at this

the entire neighborhood can be involved going forward by contributing to the donkey project through acterra
Web Link

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Thanks Jim and Jocelyn for clarifying. Can you clarify (anyone?) this provision:

"As of Sept. 1, a $3,500 first-year fee was initiated. In succeeding years, the fee will be $3,500 plus any Donkey Project income (after expenses) over $500 up to a total of $7,000, according to the agreement."

Does "expenses" include food, veterinary bills, and other upkeep of the livestock? Or is the community now required to give the first $7K to rent, and then raise an additional amount for food?

The article goes on to state: "Acterra and the Donkey Project will pay for care and feeding and other expenses and will pay Witt for reasonable upkeep, such as maintaining pasture fences and housing for the donkeys. Having a sliding scale for payments would protect the donkeys if donations don't reach $7,000."

Are the reasonable upkeep fees included in the rent or are these additional monies paid to Mr. Witt (on top of rent)?

It looks like from this story as if the community, which currently raises a total of around $3700 annually is now obliged to pay for (1) all food; (2) reasonable upkeep to the property (unspecified amount); (3) a minimum of $3500 in rent, and all fundraising over $3500 up to a total of $7000. The organization can retain $500 if less than $7500K is raised.

How much is currently spent annually on food/maintenance of the $3700 that is being raised?

Assuming all $3700 is expended annually on upkeep, this means [I think, who really knows without seeing the contract] that some unspecified organization [not clear who --Donkey Project, DBA, Acterra which acts as the fiscal sponsor for the Donkey Project -- a tax and accounting formality that probably didn't somehow create a full agency relationship] will have to raise more than $10K per year (first ~$7K goes to Mr. Witt, +$3K for food, + whatever Witt charges for upkeep). Is this right?

Without commenting on whether this is a fair price or not, I could be mistaken but that seems like a lot of money for Barron Park on a year-in-year-out basis. Right now the Donkey project raises about a third of that amount annually.

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Ok, guys. Just as I was reading your post I received an email from BPA saying that there is a new addition to the agenda for this week's meeting " Donkey Agreement; Art & Gwen will answer questions; Proposal from Gwen for BPA contribution to Donkey Project (10 minutes)"

So, come on. Obviously some of you (Doug?) know more about how this is all going to play out than the rest of us.

BPA is going to end up paying for this. I'm not expressing an opinion on the substance of this -- maybe this is the best possible use of $7K in BPA money every year that we can get. But BPA does do other things too. BPA is obviously going to end up footing this bill and it is reasonable for members to ask why there wasn't greater transparency as the deal with Witt was being inked if we have to pay this much money every year.

Posted by anthonym
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online.]

Posted by anthonym
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm


I can't tell whether you are Witt or just trying to defend him. In some places you refer to Witt in the third person and in others talk about having no desire to have anything names after "me" and that you don't consider the homes "you" have built to be ugly creations.

I'm sorry that you're so defensive. Talk to your neighbors. Most wish that you would keep the neighborhood character the way it is and leave some of the fixer-uppers for entry level buyers. I respect your right to make money but if that's your choice you should shouldn't be so sensitive to criticism.

Posted by Alex DeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:01 pm

If anybody is unhappy with the Witt/Acterra agreement, then perhaps they could host the donkeys? No takers? Yeah, I thought so. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Michele Dauber "Obviously some of you (Doug?) know more about how this is all going to play out than the rest of us."

Just to let people know that I don't know any more and that the people I suspect might know more are unlikely to be participants here on TSF (and are unlike to become such).

I was surprised to see this issue on the BPA Board agenda for tonight. I have resigned from the Board (officially as of tonight, but effectively Labor Day weekend).

As a member of the donkey handlers, I don't think I have seen or heard anything significant that isn't already public (except personal comments of other individuals who are donkey handlers).

Posted by Knowitt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm

I know Mr Witt, and he has not built any ugly buildings. The overwhelming majority have been very traditionalist. I know of only two that were "modernist", and one of them was built in the eighties!

Anger is being taken out on the wrong person. All you can do is blame the value of the land and the Santa Clara County Tax Asessor.

If you and you children enjoy the donkeys, donate to Acterra. Just google it!

Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Acterra is currently working with the Donkey Project to set up an online donation page for the donkeys. In the meantime, if you would like to donate in support of Perry and Niner, please mail a check to:

The Palo Alto Donkey Project
c/o Acterra
3921 E. Bayshore Rd.
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm

[Portion removed.]

The Barron Park Association web site has a Q&A everybody can read for themselves: Web Link There's a link to a copy of the agreement between Acterra and Mr. Witt. Unsurprisingly, the Barron Park Association isn't part of the agreement because Acterra has been handling donations and liability insurance for our Barron Park donkeys for years. Read the archive of Barron Park Association newsletters on the web site and you'll see that none of this news.

Mr Witt wants to be reimbursed for his property taxes on the donkey pasture. Acterra came to agreement to make that happen. Mr Witt deserves a lot a thanks for his work in allowing free use of and caring for the pasture and its infrastructure at his own expense over several decades.

Oh, Mr Witt is not a developer. He is a general contractor and builder of houses in the neighborhood. [Portion removed.]

Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:12 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by exbarronpark
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 6:13 am

Not surprised to hear it's fact I can't stop laughing. My father, a man of actual strength and character, one who will stand for what's right, unlike the vast majority of Shallow Altons, and Barren Parkers. When he decided to sell, he admirably decided to forego the million dollars + Witt would've paid him for our tear-down on a large lot. Instead he searched for another developer, anyone BUT Witt. And he did, a young developer, tryng to get started. And made him a deal, he took a financial hit to a) give someone a chance b) preserve some of the character of the neighorhood he'd spent his childhood in, and so had his 2 children. Witts homes had taken over, and total gentrification of Barron Park seemed eminent even way back in 2000, when we escaped. [Portion removed.]

Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:06 am

i dont find most palo altans shallow , sorry you did. i remeber 2000 i was building my 28th home not exactly total gentrification. also of note that was dot com melt down i was busy loosing tons of money when people realized was not making any profit
above all i'm a dad trying to insure my son does not have to sell and move out because he cant afford to keep the place
i dont think i ever met your dad
but i'm guessing we had things in common as i have lived here over fifty years
, i have worked hard to be true to my neighborhood
i tear down old obsolete homes , pay a lot for the best architect, and build homes i'm proud of, for young families who are smart enough to want to raise their kids here ,
i see prosperity as part of the character of barron park

Posted by anon
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:07 am

Since this one acre parcel can never be developed but the owner still needs to pay prperty tax and becuase it is surrounded by the park ( formerly more of the Bols pasture ) it would bebetter to donate it to the park and let the Donkey group manage and care for the health of the animals with the City's helpif neccessary.
We are not talking about a tremendous amount of money to maintain donkeys, and Mr. Witt probably would not be deprived of future income since the one acre Donkey pasture cannot be built on........

Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:45 am

we have looked at splitting the land off
this would have an unintended consequence tax wise
and the city wont allow it b/c of how it would impact the remaining parcel
also who would provide the , water , electric, and endless upkeep?
i have planted / watered dozens of trees to hide the ugly VA fence, built a shelter, two sheds a new gate done fence repairs, cut the weeds yearly
and helped when the smaller donkey was attacked three times and nearly killed by a vicious dog

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 12:23 pm

It may be unreasonable, but when someone uses a term like "shallow Altans" which does not stick to the point and is meant to insult or cast negativity on a whole group of people ... what value is that post? Can't they just post again without all that stuff and say what they have to say? Can these posts be deleted with an explanation .... most people really do know better, they just think they can get away with it, but it sets a negative tone for the whole rest of the conversation. Please?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Yeah, and I don't know whether her spelling of Barren (sic) Parkers was intentionally meant to convey the synonyms bleak and lifeless. I'm too late to see the portion removed. Can only imagine the spiral into bitterness.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Winter and all others - please investigate find a property, and provide us with the cost of renting such a property for boarding the two donkeys, and still have the donkeys accessible to the neighborhood.

I think you will find that the agreement Mr. Witt is offering is quite attractive, and beneficial to the community, compared to the alternatives.

And I'm appalled at the tone of what some are posting, especially the comments about what Mr. Witt does for a living. He provides a product, and it's evidently in demand, otherwise the homes he built would not have sold.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Who gets sued when the donkey kills or injures someone?

Posted by Easy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 8:08 pm

"Who gets sued when the donkey kills or injures someone?"

That's easy - everyone who has either money or and insurance policy!

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Liability to Palo Alto could be many,many $ millions if the donkey kills or injures someone

epa is irrelevant in this

Posted by Easy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm

In case you think Sharon is being frivilous (!), take a look at this news report - Donkey attacks: Hungarian man brutally killed by two donkeys

Web Link

Could Palo Alto be next on this angry donkey killing spree?

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

New sushi restaurant and steakhouse coming to Palo Alto in 2023
By The Peninsula Foodist | 5 comments | 2,668 views

Is Palo Alto Utilities ready for our increasing demand for more electricity?
By Diana Diamond | 9 comments | 2,412 views

Local Flavor– Highland Noodles and Aurum
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 2,041 views

What Do You Get Out of Being Stubborn?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,026 views