"The report is true," confirmed Dave Muela, community services director.
Santa Clara resident Debbie Allard told the Voice that she had read about Cuesta Park's squirrel problem but was unaware just how quick and quiet the squirrels could be.
"I didn't realize the chips would be a problem," she said. "You are not supposed to bring any food into the park, which is kind of ridiculous that you can't bring food into a park — or be attacked."
While her daughter played on the Cuesta Park playground last Thursday, Allard opened her purse to remove something. Then, while her back was turned, the squirrel took the bag of chips and ran off to eat them under the cover of the children's play structure.
A nearby park ranger saw what happened and confronted Allard. As the two spoke and watched the squirrel eat the chips, Allard's daughter, Hayley, ran towards to squirrel, possibly thinking it would run away as squirrels do in other parks.
But that doesn't always happen at Cuesta. As the ranger and Allard looked on, the squirrel jumped on Hayley's face and jumped away, leaving scratches to both cheeks and her forehead. Allard said Hayley's eye was barely missed.
The attack brings to 13 the number of reported squirrel attacks on people, mostly children, at Cuesta Park since May 2006.
"We didn't expect Hayley to jump in there," Allard said, adding, "I'm not going to try to take food from a squirrel."
After months of consulting with a local wildlife biologist and the Department of Fish and Game, the city has announced plans to capture a small group of squirrels — about five or six — that it believes have become unusually aggressive. Earlier last week, the city's exterminators trapped the first one using a baby stroller as a decoy. The squirrel will be euthanized off-site with chloroform gas by Clarke Pest Control.
"In my mind it [the latest incident] reinforces the actions taken thus far," Muela said. "Park visitor safety continues to be our No. 1 priority. We continue to need the public's help in not feeding the squirrels."
The city has posted signs in several languages to create a no-food zone in the children's play area and has installed squirrel-proof trash cans. All the attacks have happened near the children's play area.
When the decision was announced in September to trap the squirrels, it was widely reported — and hotly contested by animal rights groups like People for Ethical Treatment for Animals, who threatened a lawsuit.
No new attacks or squirrel captures were reported by press time.