ACLU sues Palo Alto over longtime policy of banning non-residents from city park

The ACLU of Northern California is suing Palo Alto over its policy banning non-residents from using Foothills Park. 

The suit, filed in Tuesday, calls the policy, which is more than 50 years old,  “a legacy of the city’s history of racial discrimination.”

A spokeswoman for Palo Alto did not respond to phone and email requests from the Chronicle for comment.

ACLU lawyers say the ban is unconstitutional and anyone who wants to should be able to enjoy the sprawling city park.

The civil rights lawyers argue that the ban only perpetuates Palo Alto’s history of housing discrimination and racial exclusion that lasted into the 1950s, and the park is allowed for only the "fortunate few,” who can afford to live in the affluent city today.

The suit was brought on behalf of the NAACP of San Jose-Silicon Valley and several Palo Alto residents, as well as residents from neighboring cities who say they have been banned from using the trails, picnic areas, lake and campgrounds.  

Only 1.6% of Palo Alto’s population is Black, a stark contrast with adjacent East Palo Alto, which has a Black population of 16.7%. The Bay Area’s Black population is 7.5%, according to census data, the San Francisco Chronicle noted.

Attempts to overturn the ban have failed over the years, reported the Chronicle.

In August, the city council voted 5-2 to try opening the park to a limited number of non-residents for a year before putting the ban to a public vote in 2022.