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Some La Jolla churches and fitness centers not leaping at chance to use city parks for outdoor services

La Jolla Sports Club will not seek a permit to operate outdoors in a city park, according to owner Brett Murphy.
(File)

‘We don’t even think anything outside is safe,’ one church leader says.

Permitting opens Monday, Aug. 24, for any San Diego church or fitness center that wants to apply to operate outdoors in one of the 340 city parks. But several La Jolla churches and exercise facilities indicated they would not seek a permit.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer signed an executive order Aug. 18 to ease the process and offer relief from shutdowns of indoor activities prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The order waives the permitting fees for 60 days, which could be extended by City Council vote.

Outdoor religious services, fitness classes and camps are eligible under the order. Businesses must display their San Diego County Safe Reopening Plan, hold insurance naming the city of San Diego as an additional insured and have a city business tax certificate as of Aug. 1.

“There is no city better than San Diego to take advantage of the fact that COVID-19 has a harder time spreading outdoors. Using parks as part of our pandemic relief response will help the mental health and physical health of thousands of San Diegans,” Faulconer said. “This executive order lets San Diegans work out and worship in parks across our city. Starting [Aug. 24] you can join a small group to pray, do Pilates or part ways with your Quarantine 15 weight gain, all in a healthy outdoor environment.”

But the Rev. Tim Seery of Congregational Church of La Jolla said: “We don’t even think anything outside is safe. Our music director and several of our members have not left their homes since March. We won’t resume anything until there is a vaccine and the congregation has had a chance to all get it. So sometime in mid- to late 2021, hopefully.”

Mary Skeen, principal of All Hallows Academy, said the associated All Hallows Catholic Church doesn’t have plans to apply for a permit.

The Rev. Denise Jackson of Prince Chapel by the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church said the board had not decided whether to apply.

La Jolla’s larger and more equipment-dependent exercise facilities are not expected to seek the permit.

La Jolla Sports Club owner Brett Murphy said he would not apply because it would involve regularly transporting equipment to and from a park and would not be “fiscally responsible.”

The Life Time fitness club temporarily closed all services at its La Jolla location earlier this year.

Other exercise facilities did not immediately respond to the La Jolla Light’s requests for comment.

Faulconer’s executive order came after San Diego City Council member Chris Cate proposed allowing certain businesses, nonprofits and faith-based organizations to operate in city parks.

San Diego County earlier this month moved to allow gyms and churches to hold services and classes at county parks, also waiving permitting fees.

The La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory group debated Cate’s proposal during its July 27 meeting.

“We are dealing with an extraordinary situation with the pandemic,” member Ken Hunrichs said. "[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.”

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.

However, Debbie Beachum, who has long opposed what she calls “commercialization of the parks,” said: “Sometimes when it becomes commercialized, the public doesn’t get a chance to use it to walk quietly or experience the park. 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,” she added, “so our local merchants might have to compete against someone from the same business just because it’s open.”

New permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for each park, depending on demand and total space available, according to a city staff report. Because park space is limited, so are the permits.

The city Parks and Recreation Department is handling the permitting. The numbers of applicants for La Jolla’s Scripps Park and Kellogg Park were not yet available Aug. 21. ◆