Paly council affirms opening Foothills Park

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Benny Villarreal Photography/Special to the Town Crier
Protestors against Foothills Park’s former residents-only policy temporarily modified a sign located at the park’s Page Mill Road entrance in July.

Following a Palo Alto City Council decision Monday night (Nov. 16), Foothills Park will open to the general public starting Dec. 17.

The council had voted 5-2 on Nov. 2 to approve an ordinance allowing nonresidents access to the park, and its 5-2 vote Monday – cast as part of a second reading of the ordinance – essentially affirmed the decision. Councilwoman Lydia Kou and Councilman Greg Tanaka comprised the dissenting votes on both occasions.

The council’s decision comes after the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of San Jose-Silicon Valley in September. The plaintiffs alleged the city’s policy of restricting park admission to Palo Alto residents and their guests violated nonresidents’ First Amendment rights of travel, speech and assembly, and perpetuated a history of racist, exclusionary tactics.

The lawsuit sought an injunction preventing Palo Alto from enacting laws or regulations in the future that would prohibit, restrict or punish nonresidents from visiting the park. At the Nov. 2 council meeting, Kou, Tanaka and Vice Mayor Tom DuBois lobbied to reject any agreement to an injunction. They failed to garner the necessary votes from their colleagues, however. Both Kou and Tanaka have also stated they would like their constituents to be able to weigh in on park visitation via ballot.

“To remedy Palo Alto’s exclusion of the impoverished masses of Los Altos Hills, the plaintiffs seek a court injunction to suppress the rights of Palo Alto voters,” Kou said at Monday’s meeting. “Isn’t it supposed to be the other way – courts protecting voters’ rights?”

When the Town Crier subsequently asked Kou about the remark, she stated she directed her sarcasm at the plaintiffs and their claim that the beneficiaries of opening the park to all would be “marginalized people.” She said she singled out Los Altos Hills because its residents live closest to the park (the park entrance is technically located in the Hills, on Page Mill Road) and because a Hills resident has been prominently featured among protestors of the park’s former restrictions. She did not name the protestor.

Los Altos Hills numbered among the local towns that declined to financially contribute toward the 1,400-acre preserve’s $1.3 million price tag when Palo Alto bought it from the Lee family in the late 1950s.

Come Dec. 17, visitation to Foothills Park will be limited to 750 people at a time for the first 90 days, followed by a 1,000-person limit. Visitation will be free, but entrance and/or parking fees might be levied in the future. Renaming the park to Foothills Nature Preserve, an attempt to distinguish the rural asset from its urban counterparts, is also a possibility. 

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