REGIONAL — As Robert Doyle retires at the end of December 2020, he leaves behind many legacies that will benefit the lives of East Bay residents in perpetuity.
Doyle served the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) for 47 years, including 10 years as the general manager. He received recognition for his work during the EBRPD Board of Directors’ Dec. 15 meeting.
“It has been such an honor to lead the district and the talented staff that make Regional Parks work, including daily park operations and maintenance, interpretation and recreation programs, land acquisition and park planning, and police and fire protection, to name a few,” Doyle said. “The park district’s success is about having a team committed to our 86-year mission to protect public open space, wildlife and habitat while providing quality parks for recreation.
“Preserving land for parks on a large landscape scale has been something I’ve been passionate about and is worth fighting for."
EBRPD’s Livermore representative, Ayn Wieskamp, stated that Doyle’s work with both park expansion and people has been incredible.
“He spent his life working here at the district from the ground up,” Wieskamp said. “He knows every corner. He knows ranchers and has known them for 30 years … he keeps contact with them so that when they’re ready to sell, they call us first … He’s the one who’s going to write a book, because he knows people stories as well as land stories.”
Doyle was intimately involved with the creation of the last three EBRPD masterplans, essentially creating the roadmap for district expansion.
“Parks do their best when they have a great leader, and the East Bay has had incredible leadership with Bob Doyle,” said Former Director of National Park Service John Jarvis, who served under President Barack Obama. “Bob is not only a visionary, but someone who can deliver on that vision at the same time, a rare quality.”
Doyle more than doubled the size of the EBRPD in acreage, parks and trails. Several of his other significant accomplishments have been lauded by leaders within the East Bay:
Three former military bases that closed during the Clinton administration are now approved for redevelopment into the future with publicly accessible regional parklands.
Doyle successfully fought a 20-year battle for environmental justice along the Richmond shoreline, including the Dotson Family Marsh (named after the family who began the fight to acquire this property for the public) that offers access along the Bay adjacent to a predominantly Black community near Point Pinole in Richmond.
Closing gaps incrementally along the San Francisco Bay Trail, including developing two pedestrian bridges over busy BNSF Railway tracks. Doyle is responsible for EBRPD’s mostly contiguous Bay Trail along the 55 miles of the East Bay urban shoreline.
McLaughlin Eastshore State Park grew out of community support by leaders like Sylvia McLaughlin, co-founder of Save the Bay, who fought to remove garbage dumps from the Berkeley shoreline; under Doyle’s leadership, a close partnership exists with a 30-year management plan between the State of California and the EBRPD to manage this popular destination for recreation and environmental enthusiasts.
Doyle significantly increased the EBRPD’s connection with multicultural communities through innovative health initiatives, educational programming, and a record 10-year sustainable revenue growth of the Regional Parks Foundation, the private fundraising nonprofit that improves regional park access for underserved communities and communities of color.
“Bob lives conservation,” said Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo Conservation director. “During his years at the park district, protected acres at the district have more than doubled, and public lands in the East Bay as a whole have more than tripled. John Muir is the East Bay’s most famous conservationist, but much of his work was elsewhere. Bob Doyle has been the most effective environmentalist in the history of the East Bay, with a greater positive impact on the physical geography than any other individual.”
Growing up in Concord, Doyle spent endless outdoor time as a kid exploring the open spaces around him, especially Mount Diablo, Diablo Foothills and the land that is now Black Diamond Mines Regional Park. His first contribution to the environmental movement began in 1970 during the nation’s first-ever Earth Day, where he organized his high school’s participation and activities. Doyle then went on to become one of the founding board members of Save Mount Diablo in 1971.
During his four decades spent at the EBRPD, Doyle has held many instrumental roles. His unique journey from park ranger to general manager included many significant positions along the way. His first leadership position came in 1979 when former General Manager Richard Trudeau tapped him to lead the district’s efforts to create a regional trail system connecting its parks. Today, regional trails in the East Bay are likely the most used trails in the EBRPD, providing environmentally friendly modes of transportation for recreation and getting to work, school or shopping areas.
In 1985, Doyle was selected to lead the EBRPD land acquisition efforts. After 20 years as assistant general manager for Land Acquisition, Trail Planning, and Interagency and Advanced Planning, Doyle was selected as general manager of the district in 2010. During his tenure, the EBRPD has grown from 59,689 acres to 125,186 acres and today is the nation’s largest regional park system.
“The landscape of the East Bay would be significantly different if it were not for Bob Doyle,” said Pat O’Brien, former EBRPD general manager. “Not only did he help create parks and preserve properties and areas for wildlife, but he inspired other people, who took up the mantel to advocate for open space, for legislative priorities within the district, and to procure public access.
“Bob has also been an advocate for public access, one thing that probably is not talked about enough. Not only did he want to preserve the properties and acquire them, but he also knew the importance of public access because, without public access, the public wouldn’t support the property acquisition program of the district.”
Always one to share his district’s best practices on a state, national and international level, Doyle is well known in the Parks, Conservation, Environmental space. He was a co-leader in California’s first successful statewide park bond effort in 15 years for Prop 68, generating $4 billion in per capita funding for every park agency in California. Under Doyle’s leadership, the EBRPD has never seen higher support from the public (85% voter approval for 2018’s Measure FF to provide additional revenues for parks); he has successfully advocated and helped the EBRPD receive over $1 billion in new revenue to pay for sorely needed capital development at parks and acquisition of parklands across Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
Doyle concluded his career at the EBRPD leading the agency through one of the most challenging times in its history.
“COVID-19 has shown just how essential parks are to the community’s physical and mental health,” Doyle said. “The district overcame tremendous challenges to keep parks open and safe for the public when they needed them most. Our existing partnerships with the County Health Departments have been very effective in showing that parks are essential for health, not just recreation. I am extremely proud of how district staff answered the call and came to the public’s aid during this time.”
Doyle is currently a Walnut Creek resident. His wife Tina is also an ardent conservationist, executive leader, and successful private fundraiser for parks and open space. The two have plans to enjoy their coastal home hiking trails and ocean views.
The EBRPD has begun the recruitment process for a new general manager. In the interim, beginning in January 2021, EBRPD District Counsel Carol Victor will serve as acting general manager.