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LAH officials seek access, safety improvements at exclusive park

Foothills Park
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Palo Alto residents Allison Macbain, left, and Mehdi Panahi enjoy the serenity of Boronda Lake in Foothills Park June 27.

A single hour on a single afternoon at Foothills Park last week hosted a flock of birdwatchers, hikers, picnickers, fishermen, a film crew and children practicing swordplay with sticks. Despite the activity, the scene remained serene, the twittering of songbirds and waterfowl unmuted in an oasis far removed from Silicon Valley’s relentless hum.

Located on Page Mill Road between Interstate 280 and Skyline Boulevard, Foothills Park has long proved a tantalizing beauty to Los Altos Hills; the 1,400-acre site is owned by the city of Palo Alto, whose residents have exclusive access to the trails, vistas and placid Boronda Lake within. Some nonresidents gain access on weekdays when the park’s guard booth is unmanned, but Los Altos Hills Mayor Gary Waldeck recently renewed efforts for official access.

“I think that certain councilmembers on the Palo Alto council are receptive to the discussion,” Waldeck said at the May 18 Los Altos Hills City Council meeting. “I don’t know that they’re receptive to actually doing it.”

As it turns out, they’re probably not; in an interview with the Town Crier last week, Waldeck said he reached out to Palo Alto City Councilwoman Liz Kniss after the June 27 Los Altos Hills council meeting, and though she expressed a willingness to discuss the matter with Palo Alto Mayor Gregory Scharff, Waldeck has not heard anything more.

“At this point, I don’t think there’s really any interest,” Waldeck said. “If the city that owns it doesn’t want to participate, then there’s very little we can do.”

Safety concerns

The discussion has since morphed into an effort to make that stretch of Page Mill Road safer; blind curves, view-obstructing trees and winding turns shared by pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists alike combine for a dangerous cocktail. In April 2015, Los Altos Hills resident Kathryn Green, 61, died from injuries she sustained when a bicyclist traveling at approximately 25 mph struck her as she walked along Page Mill Road toward the park entrance.

“Nothing has been done in the two years since my wife lost her life there,” said Richard Partridge, Los Altos Hills Planning Commission vice chairman, at the council meeting. “Something should be done. People do access that park right now. It’s more important that we have safety for the people accessing it right now than trying to open it up to even further use.”

A Los Altos Hills footpath runs along Page Mill Road between Altamont Road and Central Drive, and it terminates across Page Mill from a paved Palo Alto path leading straight to the Foothills Park entrance. Public Works Director Allen Chen has surveyed the scene and is proposing the installation of a wood fence featuring signage warning pedestrians against crossing Page Mill at that convenient but dangerous site. He also plans to connect with Palo Alto city officials and urge them to conduct their own safety evaluations.

“It was never designed for a pedestrian to cross at that location,” Chen said last week.

For now, Chen said, it’s safer for visitors – sanctioned or not – to access Foothills Park by vehicle.

‘Share, share, that’s fair’

Those who do sneak in are unlikely to experience resistance from Palo Alto officials during the week and from Palo Alto residents most of the time. During their own trip to Foothills last week, Palo Alto residents Allison Macbain and Mehdi Panahi said it seems only fair that natural resources are shared with everyone.

At least Los Altos Hills’ 8,500 residents wouldn’t make much of a difference, the pair said while basking atop a rock on Lake Boronda’s shore.

“As long as they maintain the integrity, I don’t see why not,” Panahi said. “But at the same time, both arguments are true –”

“Because things can be loved to death,” Macbain said. “The population is exploding in this area …‘Share, share, that’s fair’ – that’s the motto. Respect it, though.”

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