The Vanguard Staff
PALO ALTO – A residents-only restriction for Palo Alto’s Foothills Park—alleged to be a “vestige of a well-documented history of racial discrimination”—is now open to the general public, ending Palo Alto’s “55-year history of keeping the public land exclusive to city residents.”
That statement was released Wednesday by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and co-counsel Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of San Jose/Silicon Valley (NAACP) and 10 residents of Palo Alto and neighboring communities.
Under the terms of the settlement to a civil rights lawsuit, the city agreed to remove the residents-only restriction and accept a permanent court order opening the park to all people, regardless of where they live, achieving “the original goal of the litigation, which sought a court order directing the city to repeal its exclusionary ordinance,” said plaintiffs.
The agreement was finalized after an attempt by opponents to challenge the city council’s Nov. 16 vote to open up the park to the general public failed to gather enough signatures—the deadline was Wednesday—to put a referendum on the ballot.
Plaintiff LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge and former member of the Palo Alto City Council, said, “I am heartened that five members of our city council did the right thing by courageously voting to accept the settlement agreement that will finally open Foothills Park.
“The fact that there weren’t 2,500 Palo Altans willing to sign a referendum petition is great news. 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,” she added.
“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,” said Rev. Jethroe Moore II, President of the NAACP of San Jose/Silicon Valley.
“I look 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. This is an example of what happens when people in a community move toward change for the betterment of all,” he said.
“We are delighted that we could arrive at a constructive settlement with the city that recognizes the fundamental rights of all persons—not just the most privileged—to freedom speech and enjoyment of public land,” said William Freeman, Senior Counsel at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.
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