A small group enjoys a picnic at the Mission Rose Garden on Saturday after the city banned gatherings at city parks. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

City public picnic spaces have been declared off-limits, as have any group activities taking place in city parks, pending the return to normalcy in the onslaught of the coronavirus. Likewise, the waterfront boat ramp for recreational seafaring activities is no longer allowed. Individuals will still be allowed access to public parks for passive recreational activities and running or jogging. But even then, city officials are stressing, the six-foot social-distancing rule must be observed. 

Orange caution tape has been used at Leadbetter Beach to block off areas traditionally used for picnicking. City Parks & Recreation Director Jill Zachary explained that yoga and exercise classes began congregating at Leadbetter with numbers jumping from six people to 20. These classes, she said, caused anxiety among other people using the area, and it’s not what sheltering in place is about. 

“We want people to walk through the park, not hang out in it,” she said. “If you have two people sitting on the grass, six feet apart, resting from a walk or a run, that’s okay.” 

Zachary said City Hall wants to keep the parks open and not shut them down outright, as other communities have done. For that to happen, she said, city residents need to rein themselves in and forgo group gatherings.    

Councilmember Michael Jordan made a Facebook post suggesting that all the easy choices have already been made to promote social distancing and sheltering in place. From here on out, he indicated, the choices get harder and harder. 

“Beaches, we all understand, are a problem,” said Jordan, who represents the Mesa, home to more beachfront square-footage than the rest of the city combined. “But we also know people need an outlet. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to have outdoor fitness classes at Shoreline Park with 20 people anymore.” Shoreline has long functioned as Santa Barbara’s collective backyard, ground zero for countless family birthday parties, baby showers, dog walkers, kite flyers, football chuckers, ad hoc soccer matches, quinceañeras, and weekend barbecues. 

Making matters more problematic, Jordan added, are the inherent problems of enforcing any such restrictions. “Really? We’re going to dispatch uniformed officers on this? Do we really want to increase the likelihood that our first responders get infected?” People need to understand, Jordan said, that they’re not only putting the public at greater risk by congregating in public spaces, but they’re also putting at risk the very people most needed to maintain such essential functions as public safety and water treatment. 

Earlier this week, City Hall shut down Skater’s Point—the waterfront skateboard park—and removed nets from city basketball courts. Volleyball nets have also been taken down, and private parties are not allowed to bring their own.

Zachary, a serious long-distance runner, said she’s checked most of the city’s beaches during her daily runs. The stretch of sand between Leadbetter and Hendry’s Beach, she said, wasn’t problematic in terms of social gatherings. Hendry’s has long been a destination for large groups of dog walkers, as well as surfers and strollers. 

“It’s a destination where people have traditionally hung out,” she said. “We’re asking people not to do that anymore. We really want to keep the parks open.”  

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