A member of the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission who has led the effort to open Foothills Park to non-residents announced his resignation Tuesday, a day after the City Council decided not to take up the politically charged topic until after its summer break.
Ryan McCauley, who led an ad hoc committee that proposed a pilot program to allow a limited number of non-residents to Foothills Park, announced his resignation in a letter to Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine. McCauley criticized the council for ignoring the recommendations of both its Parks and Recreation Commission and its Human Relations Commission, which had both recommended that the council repeal a law that makes it illegal for residents outside of Palo Alto to enter the nature preserve unless they are accompanied by a resident.
The latest bid to repeal the policy appeared to have been gaining momentum, with the Human Relations Commission making its recommendation to abolish its restriction as part of a broader effort to promote social justice and inclusiveness. McCauley also pointed in his resignation to a letter from more than 130 faith, civic and environmental leader and organizations, including the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union.
The restriction on Foothills Park has been in effect since the 1960s. In recent years, several council members had proposed opening up access, though the council has not formally considered the proposal. Opponents of the restrictions have argued that the law is overly restrictive and discriminatory against those who have been historically kept out of Palo Alto by policies such as redlining and blockbusting. Supporters have argued that allowing more visitors would degrade the park's pristine natural setting, diminishing the very qualities that make the park special. Other opponents of expanding access have argued that because other cities did not help Palo Alto purchase the park in 1959, their residents should not be allowed to visit it.
The Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission issued its recommendation to allow non-residents to visit Foothills Park in November. The council was scheduled to consider it on Tuesday but voted on Monday to postpone its discussion until after its summer break, citing a heavy workload on its June 22 and June 23 agendas. Council members voted 5-2 on Monday night, with Fine and Councilwoman Alison Cormack dissenting, to take the item off its agenda. It did not set a new date for the discussion.
The decision to postpone the item drew instant rebukes from residents, including retired Judge LaDoris Cordell, a former city councilwoman who submitted a letter threatening a lawsuit if the council doesn't immediately agree to stop enforcing its ban on non-residents.
In his resignation letter, McCauley cited the resolution that the Palo Alto City Council passed earlier this month in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the resolution, he noted, the council cited its obligation "to protect and serve everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from." By moving to delay the Foothills Park discussion, he wrote, the council "hollowed out those thoughtful words."
"As our nation struggles to redress historic injustices, the City Council has sustained a policy that crudely discriminates by zip code, knowing that such discrimination disparately affects those whose racial and socioeconomic backgrounds do not match those of the typical Palo Altan," McCauley wrote. "I joined the Parks & Recreation Commission to help improve our community resources and I have worked faithfully with some great people to bring much needed reform on this issue. But I cannot abide the Council majority's deliberate and politically calculated inaction."
McCauley also requested that the person who replaces him on the commission reflect the diversity of the region.