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San Diego County to consider opening its parks to worship and workouts

Outside workouts at the Movement Warehouse gym in San Diego's Pacific Beach.
Michael Hamanaka, center, owner of the Movement Warehouse in San Diego’s Pacific Beach, works outside with clients after new COVID-19 restrictions were put in place this month.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is set to consider a proposal early next month that could make it cheaper and easier for places of worship and fitness-oriented businesses to operate in county parks.

If the board approves the proposal during its Aug. 5 meeting, permits to use reservable public areas in parks will have streamlined applications and waived fees for applicable businesses approved by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Under the proposal, the county department would also be tasked with ensuring that the businesses don’t interfere with the parks’ activities, infrastructure, environment or rules.

“In order to balance public safety and keep our businesses afloat, the county must be creative and flexible in our approach,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob wrote in a board letter introducing the proposal.

Jacob’s proposal will likely come as welcome relief to houses of worship and fitness-oriented businesses that have seen their financial stakes plummet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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San Diego County’s gyms, churches, salons and malls, which had weathered months of closure, enjoyed a short reprieve earlier this month when the restrictions were briefly eased. Less than two weeks ago, they found themselves once again forced to shutter indoor operations at the direction of Gov. Gavin Newsom and local public health officials.

That direction came only six days after local restaurants, bars and family entertainment businesses, including movie theaters, were placed under similar restrictions in an attempt to combat a rise in COVID-19 infections in the county, state and around the nation.

Although county officials have taken steps to assist some affected businesses, not as much focus has been directed toward churches and fitness facilities.

The county recently opted to allow businesses to carry out some activities — including dining — in outdoor spaces like parking lots.

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In her board letter, Jacob noted that the proposal would expand on those actions, even as the financial impact for the county is not yet clear.

The Parks and Recreation Department receives about $80,000 in annual revenue from places of worship and fitness-oriented businesses using park space. That revenue would presumably be reduced if fees were waived; however, Jacob states in the letter that businesses that relocate to park spaces would still be required to pay for day-use parking and equipment rentals.

The proposal also states that the Parks and Recreation Department would examine and report to the board the fiscal impact of waiving the fees associated with obtaining a permit within 90 days, and would monitor and pursue federal CARES Act funding where applicable. San Diego County received $334 million in federal aid as part of March’s CARES Act relief bill.

Ratanpal and Contreras write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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