Foothills Park, one of Palo Alto’s most beloved spots, opened its gates in late Dec. 2020 for the general public, changing its previous rule that only Palo Alto residents could enter. Upon reopening, there were 33,000 visitors within the first month, a dramatic increase from 5,000 visitors the year before, according to Palo Alto Online. In response to the surge of visitors, the Palo Alto City Council decided to implement an entrance fee of $6 per vehicle on the weekend, or $60 for a year-round pass.
The park is an incredibly popular, monumental place that people from all over the Bay Area visit. Making park access free for everyone is instrumental to keeping it an inclusive, open space. Thus, a daily entrance fee should not be required.
Granted, the entry fee has its uses. It decreases the number of visitors during the weekend; during the week, there normally aren’t as many visitors due to daily activities like school or work. This helps because when more visitors come, the risks of littering or damage to the park are much higher, and the entrance fee could go to helping the park stay clean. Because other cities aren’t paying taxes for park maintenance like Palo Alto residents are, this could be a way for visitors to contribute to the park. On the other hand, placing a fee on everyday entrance is insensitive and unfair to surrounding low-income neighborhoods. It costs $6 to enjoy the outdoors. For some families, that money doesn’t seem like a lot; for families that are struggling with money, it is an unwarranted expense. Although there is an option for low-income families to apply for a fee reduction, not all families have the access to technology to apply for it.
Since when did parks become a luxury? They are open public spaces to be enjoyed by everyone. While Palo Alto opened the park with the intention of including residents from different areas, the fee discriminates against many low-income families. Placing an everyday fee is gatekeeping the park from citizens who deserve the right to enter the park just as much as anyone else. The spread of COVID-19 is another concern. Visitors come from different cities, potentially spreading the virus. Placing a fee for everyday entry would certainly help lower the risk of virus transmission. However, now that the vaccine is available to all California residents over the age of 12, infection rates have decreased to just 60 cases weekly in Santa Clara County and 1,592 cases in all of California, according to the New York Times COVID-19 case statistics. Because the infection rate has decreased, it is now safer to make the park open for more people to interact again. Nonetheless, park visitors should still take precautions. While the Palo Alto City Council changed their rule to include non-Palo Alto residents, they then proceeded to exclude disadvantaged families with an entrance fee. Though COVID-19 is a big concern, the park is huge; there is a lot of space for families to enter and still remain at a safe distance from others. Implementing a fee isn’t fair and only benefits those who have high incomes and can afford to enter the park.