BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The petition drive to force a referendum challenging Palo Alto City Council’s decision to open Foothills Park to nonresidents is dead after the sponsors were unable to get enough signatures by yesterday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
As a result, the council’s decision to open the park to all will stand and the park opens today at 8 a.m. for everyone.
Irina and Boris Beylin were circulating petitions to put the question of opening Foothills Park to nonresidents on the ballot in 2022. They needed 2,581 signatures. But City Clerk Beth Minor told the Post the couple did not get enough signatures and didn’t show up to submit their petitions by yesterday’s deadline.
An hour and five minutes after the deadline, the ACLU announced the city had settled a lawsuit it filed seeking to allow anyone to go to the park, regardless of whether they live in Palo Alto.
Irina Beylin told the Post in an email that Covid restrictions limited her ability to gather signatures. She said that she asked the city for a deadline extension and to allow for electronic signatures, neither of which happened.
“We would have enough signatures if the request was granted,” Beylin said.
The council had previously planned to put the matter to voters before the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Palo Alto on behalf of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley and 10 residents alleging the city’s ban of nonresidents was a violation of the rights to freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Council then voted 5-2 to drop the Palo Alto residents-only restriction on Foothills Park last month. Opposing the opening were council members Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka.
Then the Beylins began circulating their petition.
Mayor Adrian Fine said he was concerned the petition would succeed in getting enough signatures because “this is an issue that generates a lot of conversation in Palo Alto.”
“Palo Alto has had many opportunities to do the right thing and open our park to the community,” Fine said. “I still know in my heart that the right thing to do is open this park to everybody. That is the right and just thing to do.”
The ACLU called the park’s residents-only restriction a “legacy of the city’s history of racial discrimination.”
LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge and former member of the Palo Alto City Council and a plaintiff in the ACLU’s lawsuit, called the petition’s failure “great news.”
“It means that, as we come to the close of a very dark year, our community has chosen inclusion over exclusion,” Cordell said. “I am thrilled to know that the park’s entry restrictions are now a thing of the past.”
“The people of Santa Clara County can breathe more freely now, knowing that the public land of Foothills Park is at last open to all,” Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley, said in a statement.
He added he looks forward to “seeing youth groups from East Palo Alto and the surrounding communities freely enjoying the beauty of the park — youth groups that have not had an equal opportunity to experience nature preserves and to understand what they are.”
Previous stories about Foothills Park
Nov. 2, 2020 — Council votes 5-2 to open Foothills Park to non-Palo Altans
Sept. 15, 2020 — ACLU sues Palo Alto over access to Foothills Park
Sept. 3, 2020 — Guest opinion: Opening Foothills Park will create problems
Aug. 2, 2020 — Opinion: Nobody’s been jailed for entering Foothills Park
June 19, 2020 — $6 fee for non-residents proposed for Foothills Park
June 8, 2020 — Letter: Community leaders push to open Foothills Park to all