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Battle Over Non-Resident Access To Palo Alto's Foothills Nature Preserve

PALO ALTO (KPIX) - A Palo Alto gem that's been closed to outsiders for decades won't be rolling out the welcome mat anytime soon.

"I believe it is illegal, is unconstitutional, for them to close the park," said retired judge LaDoris Cordell. "If they don't do the right thing by voting to open it then we will see them in court."

The threat comes after the majority of city councilmembers voted Monday night against a year-long pilot program that would have opened Foothills Nature Preserve to non-residents for the first time since the sixties. Five councilmembers voted to move forward with the program, but with a list of conditions. The 5-2 vote essentially delayed any decision to open up Foothills Park.

"They proposed a whole bunch of things, such as it's got to be revenue neutral, it should go to the voters in 2022," said Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine.

Fine and City Councilmember Alison Cormack were the only two to vote against the five others, and were in favor of trying out the pilot program without conditions.

"It's inequitable," Fine said. "Effectively we're saying, you can only enter Foothills Park if you're wealthy enough to live Palo Alto."

But Carlin Otto, who is a long-time resident of Palo Alto, said opening up Foothills without restrictions would ruin the 1,400 acre city-owned park.

"I would love this to be available to other people," Otto said. "But if you just open up the park, it'll turn out like Arastadero, overcrowded, overrun, abused and ruined."

Cordell believes, however, that the decision to close the park to non-residents in the sixties was based on racism. She also said the decision to keep it closed since then is because of systemic racism. Cordell said she brought up opening the park when she served as a Palo Alto city council member more than a decade ago, but was met with disapproval.

The retired judge has garnered the support to open the park to everyone from faith, local and state leaders. They have created a web site

Otto, however, doesn't believe it has anything to do with discrimination, but rather preservation.

"You buy a car, you don't let the neighborhood use it, you use it," said Otto.

"The data, and I've looked at all of the data from the seventies on up, this park will never be overrun by people; it's been underused," said Cordell. "We have no right to be exclusive, we should be inclusive. This is what we should be about here, not just in Palo Alto, but in this country."

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