By the Daily Post staff
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the city of Palo Alto to remove the residents-0nly restriction at Foothills Park, which the group calls a “legacy of the city’s history of racial discrimination.”
Here’s a link to the lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
On Aug. 3, City Council voted 5-2 to open the park to all on a trial basis this fall or winter with a $6 fee for non-residents. Council members said they favored putting the question of opening the park on the November 2022 ballot. But the ballot measure isn’t certain, since one council can’t bind the next council to a decision like that.
As of Thursday, the city hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and doesn’t comment on litigation, said city spokeswoman Meghan Horrigan Taylor.
The suit was brought by the ACLU and a prominent California law firm, Munger, Tolles & Olson, on behalf of the San Jose/Silicon Valley branch of the NAACP and 10 individual plaintiffs who are residents of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other neighboring communities.
“As a black woman who grew up in the segregated South, I find this ordinance particularly offensive,” said plaintiff Gwen Gasque, who owns a business in downtown Palo Alto but lives in Menlo Park. “Even though I own a business in Palo Alto and have for many years paid taxes that fund the park, I cannot enter it.”
Foothills Park is a 1,400-acre public park that the city has kept exclusive to Palo Alto residents under an ordinance that threatens non-residents who enter the park with jail time and a fine unless they enter as guests of a Palo Alto resident.
The city hasn’t cited anyone for violating the ordinance since at least 2017, city records show.
The plaintiffs claim this ordinance is a vestige of a well-documented history of racial discrimination. A statement from the ACLU accompanying the lawsuit said, “Well into the middle of the 20th century, government agencies, lending institutions, realtors’ associations, and private individuals combined to prevent black Americans from residing or purchasing homes in Palo Alto — as well as in many other communities across the country. As a consequence of this discrimination, just 1.6% of residents in Palo Alto today are black, a far lower proportion than in neighboring communities.”
The city’s basis for keeping the 1,400-acre park closed is that when Palo Alto purchased the land in 1959, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills were asked to contribute, but they refused. The policy has been debated for decades but has kept it closed.
A letter signed in June by local politicians and religious leaders including Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Assemblyman Marc Berman says closing off the park sends a bad message to neighboring cities, especially those that are poor.