On November 2, 2020, after almost sixty years of restriction, the City of Palo Alto opened the gates of its Foothills Park to nonresidents. Prior to the lifting of the residency restriction, it was a crime for nonresidents of Palo Alto to enter this 1,400-acre park, a crime that carried possible jail time. Although the reason for this rule was initially rooted in local financial squabbles, the rule itself had racist consequences that were felt for decades after its passage. Thus, the history of Foothills Park’s residency restriction serves as a useful example of the insidious ways that past racist policies and practices can persist to the present day, largely invisible and thus easily dismissed by policymakers and the public alike. Examining the evolution of Palo Alto’s Foothills Park through a historical lens, and within the context of the 1960s and ’70s environmentalist movement, reveals the clear imprint of environmental racism and white privilege. Given the widespread economic disparity that shaped residential patterns in the San Francisco Bay Area, the park’s residents-only rule effectively excluded people of color, the poor, and the working class. Though racially restrictive covenants may no longer be legally enforced today, relatively few people of color can afford to live in Palo Alto. Thus, despite the passage of many years, and despite repeal of Foothills Park’s residents-only restriction, the community’s historical residential patterns have perpetuated ongoing inequalities.
The Embattled Creation of a Residents-Only Park
Yuji Sugimoto graduated from Stanford University in 2019 with a BS in Electrical Engineering. He is currently employed at Astranis as an avionics engineer. This essay stems from a senior research project completed in spring 2019 at Stanford University, in Professor Carol McKibben’s class “Minority-Majority Cities in California.”
Yuji Sugimoto; The Embattled Creation of a Residents-Only Park. California History 1 November 2021; 98 (4): 87–105. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2021.98.4.87
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