A public park that for decades restricted access to residents of Palo Alto is now free for everyone else to enjoy, too.
The Dec. 17 opening settles a lawsuit brought against the Silicon Valley city by the ACLU of Northern California on behalf of the San Jose-Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP and denizens of Palo Alto and neighboring communities, who called the residents-only rule a remnant of the city’s long history of racist housing discrimination.
We moved to #PaloAlto last year, but I was not willing to visit #FoothillsPark because of its exclusive policies. Welp, all that has changed and now it's open to anyone, so visit we did. Even more beautiful now that it's open and welcoming to our neighbors. #NoFilter pic.twitter.com/EhlCfX1i8W
— Bruce Reyes-Chow 🗽 (@breyeschow) December 19, 2020
While the Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959 outlawed housing discrimination from mortgage brokers and property managers, a 1971 survey by the Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing revealed that racial exclusion remained widespread for decades to follow.
At the time, 58 percent of the city’s large apartment complexes showed evidence of discrimination, as they would claim that no units were available to potential renters who were Black, but then would offer those same spaces to white tenants.
The legacy of redlining and subsequent forms of housing discrimination has kept the Black population in Palo Alto low. Even now, African-Americans make up just 2 percent of the city’s 67,000 residents.
When the city adopted the policy to limit park access to residents of the majority-white city, it enforced the rule by threatening jail time or up to $1,000 fines. The ACLU lawsuit filed this past year against Palo Alto claimed the policy infringed on people’s civil rights.
Last month, the City Council enshrined public access to the 1,400-acre park in an ordinance that critics tried but failed to stop by a referendum petition, which fell short of collecting the 2,600 signatures needed by Dec. 16.
Plaintiff and ex-Councilor LaDoris Cordell expressed relief that the petition had failed.
“The fact that there weren’t 2,500 Palo Altans willing to sign a referendum petition is great news,” she said in a press release. “It means that, as we come to the close of a very dark year, our community has chosen inclusion over exclusion. I am thrilled to know that the park’s entry restrictions are now a thing of the past.”
On Thursday, Mayor Adrian Fine celebrated the reopening, noting that he went for a picnic and walk in the nature preserve and that the residents-only sign was already gone.
“It’s 2020 and I’m really glad Palo Alto could make this move,” he tweeted. “I’m sorry it took us a lawsuit to get here.”
Went for a picnic and walk in Foothills Park today, now open to the general public. The “residents only” sign is gone. The deer were foraging. People out for a stroll. The ducks were still enjoying the lake. My dog was after the birds. Palo Alto is a little bit better today. pic.twitter.com/FivfOEdmCD
— fadrian (@adrianfine) December 18, 2020