The ordinance will waive fees for the use of public parkland for places of worship and businesses such as restaurants, gyms, yoga studios or any other indoor businesses forced to curtail business due to stay-at-home orders. Photo by Chris Stone

The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend and expand a temporary ordinance allowing some brick and mortar businesses to apply for use of outdoor parkland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ordinance will waive fees for the use of public parkland for places of worship and businesses such as restaurants, gyms, yoga studios or any other indoor businesses forced to curtail business practices due to stay-at-home orders.

All businesses or entities applying for use of the land have to meet guidelines for “proper park use,” as written in the city charter, must have had a physical brick and mortar site and must continue to meet local, state and federal social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines.

Councilman Chris Cate first proposed the idea in mid-July of 2020, and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a similar ordinance for county parks on Aug. 5, 2020. Then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer issued an executive order Aug. 24 permitting houses of worship and fitness businesses to apply for the use of public parkland and delaying payment of fees for 60 days.

The ordinance passed Tuesday would waive the grounds fees and would remain in effect either until businesses can resume indoor operations safely or Dec. 31, 2021 — whichever comes first. The fee waivers are also retroactive to Aug. 31, 2020.

According to Karen Dennison, with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, waiving these fees will result in no loss of revenue to the city as all of these businesses able to apply for use of park land would normally have operated on their own premises.

Councilmembers Monica Montgomery Steppe and Joe LaCava raised some concern about the timing of the ordinance, as San Diego County continues to set records for numbers of new COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations and deaths.

“We need to thread the needle between stay-at-home order and throwing out a small lifeline to these businesses,” LaCava said.

Several other members mentioned not all of the city’s districts are created equal. While San Diego has hundreds of parks, 26 miles of shoreline and 57 recreation centers, they aren’t distributed equitably around the city.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno urged the Parks and Recreation Department to weigh applications to help struggling businesses and the regular park use residents engage in on a daily basis. Her District 8, which covers all of the South San Diego exclave as well as Sherman and Logan Heights, Barrio Logan and Grant Hill, has a high proportion of multi-family housing units.

“The city parks serve as the backyard for many residents of District 8,” she said.

Morena and Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera asked the city departments to consider equity when approving the applications, but ultimately agreed this could help keep struggling businesses afloat.

The city has issued 105 permits to use public parkland since the initial ordinance went into effect last year.

New permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis for each park depending on the local demand and total space available. Applicants can find requirements and more details here.

— City News Service

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