Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach is reopening Saturday, April 25, a month after the city closed all its parks, the pier, fields and recreational facilities.
City Council during a Wednesday meeting voted to reopen the 18-acre park's green space; keeping bathrooms, playground equipment, picnic table areas, sports fields and trails off limits. The count was 3-2, with Councilmembers Hildy Stern and Nancy Hersman voting "no."
"We consider this a trial," Mayor Richard Montgomery said during the teleconferenced meeting. "If things don't work out (we can) come right back and close it."
Parks in Hermosa and Redondo Beach are open, City Manager Bruce Moe said during the meeting, with those amenities closed where it's nearly impossible to physically distance.
Visitors of Polliwog Park will have to wear face coverings and maintain social distance, except with members of their own household which they came with, city officials decided.
Sign messaging at the park will be rewritten, Moe said, and some city public works and parks and recreation staff will be on site to enforce the rules. Manhattan Beach has 61 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, April 21, he added.
The park, on the city's east side, also has a dog park, which the council chose to keep closed.
"It forces people to come closer together as they bring dogs to the dog park," Moe said, and people touching the metal gates around the dog park is a huge risk of potentially spreading COVID-19.
Although Police Chief Derrick Abell understands the city is trying to give people some freedom during the safer at home orders, he said he is concerned about non-residents adding to the crowd at Polliwog.
"This will be a snapshot of what it will be like in the days and weeks ahead," Abell said.
Hersman said she thought the council is approaching this with a "cavalier attitude" by deciding to open the park and just "see how it goes."
"We've had issues downtown with people gathering outside establishments," Abell said, "That's a precursor of people being frustrated with not being able to go do what they want."
Councilmember Suzanne Hadley suggested also opening Bruce's Beach, a small, beach-side park with no playground equipment, so people can spread out on the east and west sides of town. She also lobbied to expand the list beyond those two parks.
The council voted not to reopen Bruce's Beach, with Hadley and Steve Napolitano voting "yes" to open it, until they can use Polliwog's data to inform if more areas will open in the future.
To reopen anything west of the Greenbelt while the Police Department already gets daily complaints about people not abiding by social distancing rules at Bruce's Beach would "be opening a can of worms," Abell said.
"Anything right now more than (Polliwog Park) is pushing the envelope," Abell said.
If on Monday the reports of activity at the park look promising, he added, then the city can talk about opening Bruce's Beach.
"Two days don't make a full evaluation possible" however, Moe said. "We don't want to come back and open more (facilities) on Monday based on what happened over the weekend."
The city also considered requiring people to wear face coverings anytime they're outside of home—not just while visiting essential businesses, but officials agreed that it would be too taxing for the Police Department to issue citations for both face covering and social distancing violations.
Abell's first concern right now is public safety, he said, and protecting the community from increased criminal activity due to the shutdown. He's less inclined to burden officers with being stationed in certain areas to cite people for not wearing face coverings.
If the city is willing to trial-run relaxing rules for parks, Stern said during the meeting, she wants to try requiring face coverings for those who run, walk and bike on the Greenbelt and along Ocean Drive.
"We already have 'strongly suggest' signs (in those areas) but (have) seen no change in (face coverings) being used," Stern said. Manhattan Beach is seeing a lack of social distancing, she added, especially at high impact times during weekends.
More than 4,000 people have signed a petition to "reopen Manhattan Beach's public spaces."
This weekend at Polliwog Park will be an early look at doing so, but the city is "not ready to relax yet," Stern said.