Encinitas closes playgrounds, skate parks in response to coronavirus


Council also ratifies city manager’s state of emergency proclamation


Effective immediately, Encinitas will close all its playgrounds, skate parks and other “active recreation” areas because of concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, the City Council unanimously decided Wednesday, March 18.
The “passive” sections of the city’s parks -- walking trails, grass areas and the like -- will remain open because it’s easier for people using those spaces to maintain the recommended 6 feet of separation between themselves and others, council members decided.

Given the ever-evolving city, state and national response to what has become a global pandemic, council members said they would not set a reopening date for the city’s active recreation areas, which also include tennis and basketball courts. Instead, they decided, the closure will last “until further notice.”

Councilwoman Jody Hubbard initially suggested closing playground areas, saying a playground “just seems like the perfect place” for the coronavirus to spread from one person to another because little kids typically don’t follow health guidelines about keeping their hands away from their faces while they’re scrambling over the play equipment. After a bit of council discussion, Hubbard also suggested including skate parks, saying crowds of kids now are congregating there because the schools have closed.

City Manager Karen Brust told the council that she wasn’t aware of any other neighboring cities that had closed their playground equipment. Jennifer Campbell, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts director, told the council that city crews recently have been cleaning the playground equipment and park picnic tables once a day, and have been sanitizing the restrooms twice a day.

Closing the playgrounds won’t be easy, Campbell warned, saying, “It’s really difficult to close facilities that aren’t gated.”

Hubbard responded that the city can at least put signs up, notifying people that the play spaces are closed because of the disease outbreak.

In other action Wednesday, March 18, the council unanimously agreed to ratify a decision by the city manager earlier this week to declare a state of emergency because of the coronavirus.

The council also heard reports from a series of department heads about the city’s response to the crisis. The city’s fire chief, Mike Stein, said the emergency response crews had an eight- to 10-day supply of protective equipment for use when responding to coronavirus cases and had secured a source for more.

“(We’re) in a pretty good position moving forward,” he said.

Campbell said the city’s senior center is closed, but employees are providing 50 seniors with daily meals, either through a drive-through-pickup program or home deliveries.

Tom Bokosky, the city’s human resource director, said Encinitas has hired an epidemiologist to assist with communications to residents as well as a Spanish translator to make sure messages reach people who don’t speak English as a first language.

One area left unresolved Wednesday night was what to do with the city’s homeless population if a “stay in place” order is issued requiring all people to stay home to reduce the disease’s spread. John Van Cleef, executive director of the nonprofit Community Resource Center, suggested that the council might want to look into renting out rooms at the city’s Days Inn as a solution.

Council members debated various options, including using the city’s senior center facility or area school buildings, and ultimately decided to direct the city manager explore various alternatives and come up with a proposal.

-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune