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Palo Alto will soon require a $6 vehicle entrance fee and limit visitor attendance at Foothills Park, a city park which opened to the public in December after being residents-only for decades.

Under an ordinance tentatively approved by the City Council earlier this month, the $6 daily vehicle entrance fee will apply to both residents and non-residents. Entry for pedestrians, bikes and park volunteers would be free.

Introducing entry fees is expected to provide revenue to help offset park maintenance costs and could keep visitation manageable.

The city also plans to allow fewer people — 400 maximum — into the park at one time to ensure safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on the park roads, and outside the park where there are many parked vehicles nearby.

When the park first opened to the public, there were no entry fees and attendance was limited at 750 people for the first 90 days of opening. After that, the attendance limit would have increased to 1,000 people with residents getting first access to facility reservations.

Since its Dec. 17 opening to the public, however, the park has seen many visitors, reaching its 750-people capacity on several days, most recently on the Martin Luther King Day holiday when admission was cut off shortly before 10 a.m. and the gates remained closed until mid-afternoon.

There were 4,081 visitors on the weekend before Christmas, almost six times higher than the same weekend in 2019, according to a staff report.

Council members favored more restrictive limits than the 500-person capacity city staff proposed, after expressing concerns about damage to the environment caused by the larger crowds. The ordinance would allow park staff to increase the attendance limit later if conditions can be properly managed.

Foothills would not be the first park to introduce entry fees. Both Santa Clara County Parks and San Mateo County Parks charge a $6 vehicle entry fee, while California State Parks sometimes charge up to $15 for vehicle parking.

City staff are expected to return with more specifics of the new admission policies this week.