ACLU Sues Over Restricted Access to Foothills Park

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California is suing to get Palo Alto to remove its “unconstitutional residents-only restriction” at Foothills Park.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court argues that the non-resident ban at the 1,400-acre nature preserve traces back to “an era when racial discrimination in and around the city was open and notorious.”

The park is nestled between Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills, the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve and the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve. It was sold to the city by Palo Alto Medical Clinic Founder Dr. Russell Lee and his wife Dorothy Lee in 1958 on one condition: that the land was to be preserved as open space.

Since 1969, however, it’s been a crime punishable for up to six months in jail of a fine of up to $1,000 for non-residents to set foot in the park.

The lawsuit, which was brought on behalf of the San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP and 10 individuals who are residents in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, says that the law violates non-residents’ constitutional right to travel and right to assembly.

“I cannot in good conscience sit by while the city of Palo Alto uses my tax dollars to perpetuate the exclusion of people from public spaces in my community,” said plaintiff LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and former Palo Alto councilwoman. “The practice of blocking non-residents from Foothills Park perpetuates inequity, and it must end.”

Like many other cities in the mid-20th century, lending institutions and government agencies worked to prevent Black Americans from residing in or purchasing a home in Palo Alto. The plaintiffs argue that the exclusionary policies confined Black Americans to East Palo Alto and other neighboring cities.

“It bars non-residents from entering a public park that occupies nearly 10 percent of the land in Palo Alto,” the lawsuit read. “And it transforms this vast space into a preserve for the fortunate few: for people who were not systematically denied the right to reside in the City during the era of outright racial exclusion, and people who are wealthy enough to afford to move into the City today, as it has become one of the five most expensive places to live in the United States.”

San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Rev. Jethroe Moore said the city needs to create more inclusive spaces.

“We need public green spaces that truly reflect the meaning of the word ‘public’—‘for the people,’” he said. “This is even more important during this time of global pandemic when outdoor public areas are some of the few places where we can safely and responsibly enjoy time away from our homes. This experience should not be exclusive to those who hold the most racial and socioeconomic privilege.”

In August, the Palo Alto City Council voted 5-2 to approve a pilot program where the city would sell 50 permits per day to non-residents who want to access the park.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

9 Comments

  1. So typical of Palo Alto progressives, and you all look down on “low information” voters. This is so blatant, it is difficult to craft a comment. Once caught, the CC tries the sell 50 permits a day. What a joke.

    All you poor people that read this propaganda rag, these Palo Altans are your intellectual and economic leaders. They are your overlords, they run all of it. These are the people that define the policies across the state that keep you broke. They are the people that own the companies that control information. These are the people that tap your lifeblood and more importantly, your children’s lifeblood. Of course they don’t want you in their park, of course they pull this crap.

    But you still vote for them, work for them, believe in them and consume this propaganda. You understand that everything that is written in the SJI/SJS come straight from the pens of these intellectuals from Palo Alta, Pacific Heights, and the rich parts of Berkeley.

    You have been fooled, are being fooled, and will continue to be fooled until you wake up.

  2. I wonder about the fairness of it. I hear PA’s argument that other cities could have bought in on the land acquisition in the ’60s and decided not to do so. Does anyone know the terms that were offered? Was this just penurious shortsightedness, or was PA controlling the terms of the buy-in that made it unattractive or unpalatable?

    I was aware I couldn’t use the park when I was on the peninsula. However I didn’t really feel that put out about it as there were plenty others to use. For In fact, I’m sort of glad that ingress and egress was limited as I bicycled down Page Mill from Skyline hundreds of times and I would always watch that park entrance very carefully for cars exiting. Rarely had any problem, but that may not had been the case if the park had significantly increased traffic.

  3. It really comes down to why have restrictions on who can enter a park owned by the city?

    Doesn’t make sense.

  4. I haven’t read the ACLU’s case, but from what I understand, they claim that this City policy has its roots in racial redlining that was happening across the entire US back in the mid 20th century. Since non-white people were essentially disallowed to purchase homes in PA, they were disallowed to use this park. The policy is therefore a legacy of that era.

    There have been other arguments that this particular park is not a public park, but that can’t be true. If it’s owned by the city of PA, then by definition it’s a public park. If you take this to the next logical step, PA can say that PA paid for and maintains its streets, so if you’re not a resident, you can’t drive on them. And so on…

  5. OK, so if you want to visit the park just drive thru the open gate. Palo Alto doesn’t have any park rangers or enforcement anymore so just go in and enjoy the calmness. Don’t get all worked up in a frenzy. I worked as an employee of Palo Alto for 25 years and never once had to encounter park access issues at Foothill on my time off. Most times there was less than 10 people in the park as it’s pretty far up the road and half the folks complaining probably don’t even know where it’s at. Yep, other cities and county were offered to buy in, no secret deals, but they chose not too and now they want a free ride no charge to them or their residents. It’s kinda disgusting that ACLU lawyers are trying to make this a race issue because it ain’t. If you can find the park go up and enjoy but I’m betting you won’t / don’t and just sit at home and complain.

  6. How are they even enforcing this, is their a security guard asking to see your papers at the entrance?

  7. OH WELL

    What kind of nonsense is that. Not staffing a Ranger but still making it trespassing is worse. If you’re going to be racist idiots at least give people the dignity to enter and get kicked out. Instead you let people go in and let them know they are breaking the law but they are not worth the effort to do something about. Its like PysOps and its degrading.

    This whole thing is wrong, Palo Alto should be made to make a commercial and apologize and admit they are no good hypocrites and will take 10 tens off preaching or telling anyone to “be better”

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