Hoping to restart neighborhood relations, senior officials with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on Monday night urged the public to work with them in the future and set aside their frustrations over a ranger's controversial use of a stun-gun.
In a packed town hall meeting at the Farallone View Elementary School, the GGNRA senior staff answered questions from dozens of public speakers, including U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, about the handling of an infamous Taser-use incident in January. The episode at the Rancho Corral de Tierra property caught fire earlier this year after a ranger used an electroshock Taser against a Montara resident whose initial crime was walking his dog off-leash. The incident generated cries of excessive force among many Coastside observers and touched on larger concerns over how national parks officials would manage the area.
Anger and speculation over the incident were both compounded months later when GGNRA officials abruptly made the decision in April to withhold public disclosure of an investigation report into the incident.
GGNRA Superintendent Frank Dean said privacy laws obligated his agency to not disclose the report, except to say that it absolved the ranger from blame in the incident. But he acknowledged the series of events became an additional setback in forging relations with the Midcoast community.
“We share your frustrations. No one wanted to share this report more than we do,” he said. “This is a bad start for all of us as the new neighbor.”
Taking her turn to speak, Speier urged GGNRA officials to consider stricter rules for how rangers are instructed to use Tasers. She pointed out that the level of force warranted by a situation is largely left up to the judgment of each individual ranger, unlike other law enforcement agencies that have guidelines for using each weapon.
“I don't think the use of a Taser is minimal … In fact, it's a significant use of force,” she said. “This is an opportunity to clear the air and move forward.”
More than three-quarters of the two-hour meeting were spent discussing the Taser incident and the best way for national parks officials to regain public trust. The series of public speakers touched on a larger debate simmering throughout the Montara community over how dogs, traffic and recreation and should fit into the Rancho Corral property.
People were passionate about the Rancho Corral property because so much work had been invested locally to preserve it, concluded Julia Thollaug, a 23-year-old Montara resident.
“We're all extremely protective of this place because we've had to do so much to protect it,” she said.
GGNRA officials urged anyone interested in Rancho Corral to attend the next public meeting scheduled for Nov. 13.