PALO ALTO (CBS SF) – Foothills Park in Palo Alto is set to open to people who live outside the city for the first time in decades, after a referendum campaign challenging the City Council’s decision to open up access failed.

Mayor Adrian Fine announced in a tweet Wednesday that the park would open to non-residents after the referendum campaign failed to gather enough signatures ahead of a deadline this week. Last month, the council voted 5-2 to end the residents-only policy to settle a lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union and the San Jose / Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP.

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Starting Thursday, up to 750 people at a time would be allowed in the park, with capacity raised to 1,000 after 90 days.

“What a great way to close out the year!” Fine said.

According to the mayor, the campaign received less than half of the 2,580 signatures needed.

The referendum campaign’s failure caps a long battle over access to the park, which has been restricted to Palo Alto residents and their guests since the 1960s.

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“It’s inequitable,” Fine told KPIX 5 in August. “Effectively we’re saying, you can only enter Foothills Park if you’re wealthy enough to live Palo Alto.”

In September, the ACLU and NAACP, along with 10 plaintiffs, filed their lawsuit, claiming the residents-only restriction was unconstitutional and racist.

Judge LaDoris Cordell, one of the plaintiffs, told KPIX 5 earlier this year that she brought up opening the park when she served on the City Council more than a decade ago, but was met with disapproval.

Cordell said in a statement from the ACLU on Wednesday, “The fact that there weren’t 2,500 Palo Altans willing to sign a referendum petition is great news. It means that, as we come to the close of a very dark year, our community has chosen inclusion over exclusion. I am thrilled to know that the park’s entry restrictions are now a thing of the past.”

After the council’s decision last month, a group of residents sought a referendum to put the issue before voters, which would have opened the door for the ACLU to resume legal action against the city.

“The democratic process should be followed. The current changes to Foothills Park Ordinance were approved by City Council behind closed doors without input from the public,” said the petition.

City officials disputed claims that there was no public input, saying the public had a chance to weigh in at multiple meetings and had sent the City Council several hundred emails on the matter.

The Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the local NAACP chapter, celebrated the opening of Foothills Park to all. “I look forward to seeing youth groups from East Palo Alto and the surrounding communities freely enjoying the beauty of the park—youth groups that have not had an equal opportunity to experience nature preserves and to understand what they are,” Moore said.

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