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La Jolla group sees pros and cons in councilman’s proposal to open parks to businesses

Kellogg Park
La Jolla Parks & Beaches member Mary Coakley-Munk fears that allowing certain businesses to operate in parks would mean “open season” in places like Kellogg Park, pictured.
(File)

As coronavirus-related restrictions continue to force businesses to get creative, a proposal from San Diego City Council member Chris Cate would allow certain businesses, nonprofits and faith-based organizations to operate in parks. The La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group debated the proposal during its July 27 meeting.

Cate’s memo, issued July 15 to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, requests that city staff “evaluate the feasibility of allowing organizations to safely operate in public parks by allowing temporary outdoor permits for up to 60 days and waiving any associated permit fees that may apply.”

The memo notes that San Diego is home to more than 40,000 acres of park assets, with more than 400 parks, 57 recreation centers and 26 miles of shoreline.

“As the chair of the city’s Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, I want to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and creative solutions in light of the state mandate and county public health order and allow all businesses, nonprofits and faith-based organizations capable of continuing to operate safely outdoors in public parks to open in San Diego,” the memo states.

Indoor operations have been shut down at many businesses and organizations, including restaurants, gyms, hair and nail salons, churches and theaters, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.

La Jolla Parks & Beaches members weighed the pros and cons of Cate’s proposal during their meeting.

Those opposed, such as Jane Reldan, said, “We have too many vendors in the parks already.”

Debbie Beachum added that the board has historically opposed having vendors in community parks. “Sometimes when it becomes commercialized, the public doesn’t get a chance to use it to walk quietly or experience the park,” she said. “People are really craving outdoor spaces for exercise, and if we take those spaces and commercialize them, we are taking away recreation opportunities in our parks, which is what they are there for.”

“There is nothing to say there wouldn’t be a flood of business from other vendors in the city, so our local merchants might have to compete against someone from the same business just because it’s open,” she added.

Member Mary Coakley-Munk, a La Jolla Shores resident, said that with the exception of ice cream trucks, commercial activity is “fairly under control” in Kellogg Park and that Cate’s proposal would mean “open season” in the parks.

However, member Ken Hunrichs said: “We are dealing with an extraordinary situation with the pandemic. [We could] encourage the city to bend and allow the businesses to shift their business — particularly someone that has a gym or yoga studio — to use the park. I don’t think anyone anticipates an auto parts store moving to the park. This is for businesses to survive.”

LJP&B secretary Bob Evans saw similarities between the proposal and the state Safe Sidewalk Vending Act (Senate Bill 946), which was enacted last year. The law allows sidewalk vending, establishes parameters for their regulation and prohibits local authorities from imposing criminal penalties on sidewalk vendors. It has caused some heartburn for boards such as LJP&B.

With the passage of SB 946, Evans said, “the sidewalk vendors are set up and there is nothing we can do. In light of this pandemic, and the need for communities to come together and support local businesses, I think we should take a step back and let it happen. I don’t know what else to do.”

With the City Council heading into its August recess starting Aug. 5, Steve Hadley, field representative for Councilwoman Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, said the proposal may be approved by way of a mayoral executive order and retroactively approved by the City Council when its resumes meeting after Labor Day.

LJP&B President Ann Dynes said she would docket the item for an advisory vote at the board’s August meeting.

“There is no question that commercial use of our parks brings a lot of concern,” she said. “It’s a longstanding concern with this committee, but with a new spin.”

La Jolla Parks & Beaches next meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24, tentatively via Zoom. Learn more at lajollaparksbeaches.org. ◆