December 17, 2020

Munger Tolles & Olson & ACLU Help Open Foothills Park in Palo Alto to Non-Residents

Munger, Tolles & Olson and co-counsel ACLU of Northern California (ACLU) have succeeded in opening up Foothills Park in Palo Alto to non-residents through a lawsuit brought on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of San Jose/Silicon Valley (NAACP) and 10 residents of different Bay Area communities. As part of the settlement of this lawsuit, the City of Palo Alto reversed its longstanding ban on non-resident access to Foothills Park on Dec. 17, 2020.

Foothills Park is a 1,400-acre public park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Since 1969, it had been a crime under the Palo Alto municipal code, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, for non-residents to enter and use all of Foothills Park unless they entered as the guest of a Palo Alto resident. Although the non-resident ban had been the subject of frequent debate within Palo Alto over the decades, it had not been successfully challenged in court. 

In September 2020, Munger Tolles and the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the City of Palo Alto, asserting that the residents-only restriction to Foothills Park violated the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and right to travel under the Federal and California Constitutions. Within two months, the City agreed to a settlement under which it would amend the ordinance and submit to a court order requiring that the park be open to all people, regardless of their place of residence.

On Nov. 16, 2020, consistent with the terms of the settlement, the Palo Alto City Council voted to amend the City’s municipal code and remove the non-resident ban. An attempt by a few Palo Alto residents to mount a referendum petition that would have delayed the amendment to the municipal code and placed the issue on the ballot in the next municipal election failed to garner enough signatures.

On Dec. 17, 2020, the amendment to the Palo Alto municipal code became effective, and Foothills Park is now open to all. 

The Munger, Tolles & Olson pro bono team was led by Achyut J. Phadke and included Bryan H. Heckenlively, Andrew R. Lewis, Gina F. Elliot and Lloyd S. Marshall.

Further reading:

Palo Alto Foothills Park Opens to the Public After Longtime Restrictions for Residents-Only” published by NBC on Dec. 19, 2020

Palo Alto’s Foothills Park Opening To All For 1st Time In Decades After Referendum Campaign Fails” published by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area on Dec. 16, 2020

Settlement Agreement Between City of Palo Alto and Plaintiffs in Civil Rights Lawsuit Opens Foothills Park to All” published by the ACLU on Dec. 16, 2020