At its Jan. 15 meeting, a divided Atherton City Council voted to award a contract to Catering By Dana to coordinate events in the park. The company will have an office in the park and do the booking and event set-up and clean-up, but will not have exclusive catering rights.
In return, the company will get between 40 and 50 percent of the revenues from the event bookings, which Community Services Director Michael Kashiwagi reported had averaged $276,000 a year between 2007 and 2011.
With a similar income from bookings, the town would earn at least $120,000 a year from the use of the park, he wrote in a report to the council.
Catering by Dana, said Public Works Superintendent Steve Tyler, has a lot of experience catering events of all types in the park. The company was the only bidder for the contract.
The vote on awarding the contract was 3-2, with council members Rick DeGolia, Cary Wiest and Elizabeth Lewis voting yes and council members Jim Dobbie and Bill Widmer voting no.
Councilman Dobbie, who has been a major proponent of the ban on large events in the park, said the town could bring in just as much money by renting out the town-owned home in the park, traditionally occupied by the city manager. Current City Manager George Rodericks has chosen not to live in the house.
"We're basically going ahead to destroy the use of the park," Mr. Dobbie said.
Councilman Bill Widmer went even farther. "The first and foremost users of the park should be those who pay for it," the taxpayers of Atherton, he said. The park, he said, is not meant to raise revenue. "If it's going to be that way, we should just sell it," he said.
Councilwoman Lewis said the rules the event coordinators will be asked to follow should protect residents' use of the park while allowing the larger events.
"We cannot close the park to non-residents," she said. "It's foolish for us to turn revenue away."
The council authorized the city manager and city attorney to make refinements in the contract with Catering by Dana to make sure safeguards, such as requirements for valet parking for events on certain days or over certain sizes, are in place. The town will have priority for annual events, such as Art in the Park, the Easter egg hunt, the jazz festival and the holiday tea.