This story was originally published in the Nov. 19 edition of the Daily Post. If you want to stay current with all of the local news, pick up a copy of the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.
BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
A Palo Alto couple wants city residents to vote on whether to open Foothills Park to non-residents.
Irina and Boris Beylin plan to circulate a referendum petition to put the question to the voters in the 2022 election.
The move is in response to City Council’s decision on Nov. 2 to drop restrictions on the 1,400-acre park that has been restricted to residents only and their guests since the park opened in the early 1960s.
“I’ve talked to many people and I’ve talked to council members,” Irina Beylin told the Post yesterday. “It was done behind closed doors. We want a democratic process and we want to have an open discussion.”
The couple hope to get 2,600 signatures to put the question on the ballot. They purchased an ad in the Post announcing their plans to circulate the referendum petition. City law requires the publication of such a notice before such a petition drive can begin.
On Nov. 2, council voted 5-2 to open the park after the ACLU on behalf of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley and 10 residents filed a lawsuit alleging the city’s prohibition of non-residents was a violation of the rights to freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Opposing the opening were council members Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka.
The ACLU called the park’s residents-only restriction a “legacy of the city’s history of racial discrimination.”
City Attorney Molly Stump said the council’s action Nov. 2 will likely result in a settlement without the city being forced to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees.
Stump also advised council members on what would happen if residents decided to repeal the decision at the ballot box. Residents would have 30 days to collect signatures for a referendum but could put an initiative on the ballot at any time in the future. Both would require the same number of signatures.
Irina Beylin said the council approved the park’s opening “without any discussion, without any democratic process.”
“I’m for opening (the park) on fair conditions,” Irina Beylin said. “But I would like to have people’s input” and have a vote.
Council has debated opening the park several times over the years. But things changed after the filing of the lawsuit.
The current round of debate on non-resident access to Foothills Park began when the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission held a series of discussions on the issue in 2018 and 2019. The commission recommended that the city launch a pilot program in which non-Palo Altans in up to 50 vehicles could be admitted to the park a day, each paying a $6 entry fee.
In June, a group of “community leaders,” including former Palo Alto mayors, city commission members, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell, issued a letter that urged the city to open Foothills Park to everyone.
Palo Alto residents seem to be divided on whether to open the park to non-residents. Opponents say they enjoy the park’s serenity, lack of crowds, and opportunities to see wildlife — which increased access could disrupt.
Others say it’s only fair that residents of other cities be allowed to enjoy the park.
In two recent informal surveys — one conducted by Councilwoman Kou and the other by Friends of Palo Alto Parks founder Roger Smith — about 80% of residents said they wanted to keep the current residents-only policy for Foothills Park.