At the instigation of Councilmember Meagan Harmon — who expressed concern about “criminalizing” people for using parks — the Santa Barbara City Council voted to soften language of new rules they’d voted for last week restricting the hours of park operation. The council voted 5-2 to eliminate language that authorizes police officers or park rangers to issue misdemeanor citations to people for being in city parks after the new earlier closing hours. Only citations for infractions — a lesser offense — can be issued.
Harmon expressed concern about “criminalizing everyday behavior like being in a park.” In addition, she pushed the council to adopt language requiring a warning be issued to park-hour violators before any citation be issued.
Last week, the council decreed all city parks would close a half hour after sunset. Currently, about half the city’s 60 parks close at 10 p.m. City parks officials argued the new closing hours were necessary because the misuse and abuse of city parks has cost City Hall $1.68 million from January 2018 to December 2018.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Bebe Longstreet opposed the changes proposed by Harmon. To do so, she argued, would render City Hall’s response to complaints about problem behavior in parks comparable to the federal government’s response to gun violence: “talk, talk, talk.”
Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, who’d reluctantly supported the changes last year, said he experienced second thoughts about his prior vote. “We were trying to do a good thing, but also lost opportunities for kids in the city.” Gutierrez noted that other recreational venues for members of the public — like school playgrounds — has also been lost.