Settlement Agreement Between City of Palo Alto and Plaintiffs in Civil Rights Lawsuit Opens Foothills Park to All

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SAN FRANCISCO – A revised municipal ordinance opening Foothills Park to all people has become effective under law, ending Palo Alto’s 55-year history of keeping the public land exclusive to city residents. This completes a major step in the settlement of the lawsuit brought 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. Plaintiffs in the suit had alleged that the residents-only policy was a vestige of a well-documented history of racial discrimination.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city has agreed to remove the residents-only restriction and accept a permanent court order opening the park to all people, regardless of where they live. This achieves the original goal of the lawsuit, which sought a court order directing the city to repeal its exclusionary ordinance. The settlement agreement moves forward after a small group of city residents failed to collect enough signatures to force a referendum overturning the city council’s Nov. 16 vote to open the park to the general public.

As of Dec. 17, all are free to visit the park without restriction. 

“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,” said plaintiff LaDoris Cordell, a retired Superior Court judge and former member of the Palo Alto City Council. “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.”

“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 of speech and enjoyment of public land,” said William Freeman, Senior Counsel at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.

“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.”

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