ACLU sues Palo Alto over access to Foothills Park

The entrance to Foohills Park in Palo Alto. File photo.

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.


  1. Since only Palo Altans paid for the park, it’s only fair that they are the only ones who can use it. If Sunnyvale or Milpitas residents want to use it, they should pay up. It’s not about race. The only time people bring up race is when they’ve run out of arguments and are about to lose.

  2. Of course Palo Altans are out to racially discriminate against the people in Mountain View, Los Altos Hills or Atherton!
    You do realize there are people in this world who face real racial discrimination and abusing the concept this way trivializes their actual difficulties?

  3. Palo Alto is a very diverse city in which people of ALL races, ethnic, religious, and other backgrounds, live. There is not racial bias at Foothill Park. It is available to ALL Palo Altans, otf ALL backgrounds, and their guests. If you own a business in Palo Alto, surely some of your employees live in Palo Alto. Offer to treat them to a picnic in Foothill Park. Surely you know someone who lives there. I pose a question. If you owned a private members only gym, you wouldn’t want anyone to come in without becoming a paying member, would you? That would be bad business. Members are allowed, in most gyms, to bring in a guest with them. Nothing different. Please keep Foothill Park for its residents and their guests.

  4. Ironically, this is the sort of progressive lawsuit that liberal Palo Alto would enthusiastically support if it didn’t involve THEIR park.

  5. As a former Palo Alto resident who moved to Los Altos, I would happily pay the $6 fee to re-gain occasional access the park.

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