Foothills Park, soon to be Foothills Nature Preserve, will be open to all non-residents on Dec. 17 for the first time since its purchase in 1965.
Palo Alto City Council voted, 5–2, on Monday to overturn the residents-only policy following a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of San Jose/Silicon Valley and 10 individual plaintiffs, including residents and non-residents.
The new policy includes opening the park to all non-residents, maintaining a 750-person limit for the first 90 days, providing preferential access to residents for park facilities — including camping grounds and picnic areas — and renaming Foothills Park to Foothills Nature Preserve.
“It is about the number of visitors, it is not about the type of visitors or their geography,” Mayor Adrian Fine said. “What we cannot do is discriminate based on residency.”
Councilmembers Greg Tanaka and Lydia Kou dissented on the motion, citing issues with potential conflicts of interest and an injunction, a legal process which would prevent any future council from placing restrictions on non-resident access to Foothills Park.
“It is about the number of visitors, it is not about the type of visitors or their geography. What we cannot do is discriminate based on residency.”
Adrian Fine, city of Palo Alto mayor
In response to the Sept. 15 lawsuit, City Attorney Molly Stump and City Manager Ed Shikada recommended the Council to open the park to all residents while maintaining the current 1,000-person limit, rename the park Foothills Nature Preserve, and have preferential access to the Oak Grove Group Picnic Area and Towle Campgrounds.
“This lawsuit is a bully maneuver, and I feel that it’s unfortunate that the NAACP… is actually using their name to do this kind of a lawsuit, which is rather frivolous to me,” Kou said. “And it is also discrediting themselves and jeopardizing their reputation.”
The City Council was presented with the recommendation in a closed meeting on Oct. 19, although they did not officially vote on the matter until Monday.
Around 20 participants voiced their opinions in the public comment section of the meeting, including City Council candidates Rebecca Eisenberg and Raven Malone, who both declared their support for the motion.
Jeff Greenfield, chair of the Parks and Recreation Commission, condemned the lack of transparency from the City Council — noting the closed City Council meeting in which City staff and Council discussed the lawsuit — and gave a set of recommendations on how to proceed with the opening of the park. Greenfield worked on the commission to create a pilot program that would open the park to a maximum of 50 non-residents through a daily permit system.
“This [creation of the pilot program] was a transparent process, we debated this issue in public meetings and allowed the community to participate,” Greenfield said. “We, like many in the community, are now frustrated by the way this lawsuit has changed the process.”
In 2018, the Parks and Recreation Commission began discussing the possibility of expanding Foothills access to non-residents. By November 2019, the commission had created a pilot program that was ready for review by the City Council, which eventually voted on the program in August following delays due to the pandemic.
“I think we will end up being delighted that we have a park that we can share with our neighbors, wherever our neighbors come from.”
— Liz Kniss, Palo Alto City Council member
The City Council voted 5–2 on Aug. 2 to place the residents-only ordinance on the 2022 ballot. The decision included the Parks and Recreation pilot program, which would have allowed a maximum of 50 non-residents to purchase daily permits to enter the park. The one-year program would have provided background and statistics for voters.
The August decision is now overruled and Foothills will be open to the general public.
“I think we will end up being delighted that we have a park that we can share with our neighbors, wherever our neighbors come from,” council member Liz Kniss said.