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Council Votes to Begin Re-Opening Select Manhattan Beach Parks

May 06, 2020 09:47AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Editor's note: At its Thursday morning meeting, the City Council amended its original motion to remove Dorsey Field from the list of open green spaces. On Saturday, the town will open the north and south portions of the open space at Live Oak Park, plus the grassy area at Sand Dune Park.

The Manhattan Beach City Council voted on Tuesday night to begin re-opening select Manhattan Beach parks on the west side of town. The new order gives direction to city staff to begin the process of opening green spaces at Live Oak Park and Sand Dune Park. The parks are expected to open by Saturday.

Council members approved the motion on a vote of 3-2, with council members Suzanne Hadley, Steve Napolitano, and Mayor Richard Montgomery in favor; and Nancy Hersman and Hildy Stern opposed.

The motion came after lengthy discussion about a multi-phased plan to re-open all of the parks. After considering several different approaches to the plan, the council eventually voted to begin by re-opening those three spaces only.

The council also passed, 4-1, a resolution to begin the process of opening the tennis courts, with restrictions. City staff had estimated that it would take 10 to 14 days to work out the details of the reservation process and staffing before the courts could open again. Hersman was the only dissenting vote.

The council declined to vote on a motion by Suzanne Hadley to move even further ahead with the plan by re-opening dog parks.

Four-Phased Plan

The meeting had focused on a four-phased plan for reopening the parks that city staff had created.

Under the proposed plan, Phase 1 would allow for a re-opening of green spaces and walkways only, with social distancing requirements. Phase 2 would involve re-opening park restrooms, dog runs, tennis court reservations, paddleball/pickleball reservations, Begg Pool recreational swim reservations, and lap swim reservations. Phase 3 would allow for small gatherings with adherence to public health requirements, along with the re-opening of basketball courts, the skate park, batting cages, athletic fields, Sand Dune Park (for family use on the dune and stairs), and picnic pads. Phase 4 would involve a return to normal operations, with adherence to public health requirements.

"I would call Phase 1 'No Touch;' Phase 2 'Low Touch;' Phase 3 'Closer Contact;' and Phase 4 'Normal Operations,'" said City Manager Bruce Moe.

Council members studied the plan and then pulled out pieces of it to move ahead with, including the green spaces at Dorsey Field, Live Oak Park, and Sand Dune Park.

Under the Phase 1 plan, the green grass areas and walkways would be opened with appropriate signage. All park amenities, including restrooms, dog runs, play equipment, picnic pads, and athletic fields would remain closed. The stairs and the dune at Sand Dune Park would also remain closed.

Although the re-opening of the tennis courts is part of "Phase 2," the council voted to begin the opening process after city officials said it would take up to two weeks to get the reservation system and staffing in place.

The restrictions on the tennis courts would be for singles play only, with 50-minute reservation periods and the sanitizing of hard surfaces each day.

Spirited Debate

The topic of re-opening public spaces once again drew a spirited debate among council members.

Hadley and Napolitano have been vocally in favor of opening the parks sooner rather than later.

Napolitano pointed out that neither the state nor L.A. County had ever mandated that parks be closed. He added that even though crowds have packed Ocean Drive and the Greenbelt,   Manhattan Beach has not seen a huge spike in cases.

"I’m talking about taking a prudent, reasonable, and rational approach [to re-opening the parks], he said. "There’s nothing science-based keeping our park spaces closed. We know that by the other cities that have them open."

Hadley said she didn't regret having voted to close the parks with the information the council had at the time, but if she had known how hard it would be to re-open the parks once they were closed, she wouldn't have voted to close them.

"What really frosts me about all of these phases is that they can be pretexts for dragging our feet," said Hadley. "We did flatten the curve, we did create space in the health care system. Now we keep moving the goal posts back."

The act of closing the parks was never about preventing any one person from getting the virus, she added. "We cannot prevent someone at a park from getting this virus any more than a teacher at school can prevent a kid from catching a cold from another kid."

Yet Stern and Hersman have repeatedly called for caution.

"I want to make sure that when we go to Phase 1, what’s our standard? And then how do we assess that before we go to Phase 2? I want to make sure we’re getting there at the right time," said Stern. "We’re seeing noncompliance in the things we’ve been told will stop this contagion. Let’s wait until we know what’s the safest thing to do."

Hersman expressed frustration that the council was even considering items in "Phase 2," such as dog parks and tennis courts that would require contact such as touching and opening gates.

"I don't get where we’re going here. This is really disconcerting to me," said Hersman. "I know that we have a lot of residents who are very concerned about anything that we do about opening up."

Hersman added, "I want to err on the side of protecting our residents; not err on the side of opening everything up."

Bruce's Beach Remains Flashpoint

An earlier motion that would have included Bruce's Beach among the parks to be reopened failed on a vote of 2-3, with Stern, Hersman, and Montgomery voting against it.

Montgomery, whose wife is a nurse at a local hospital, said that his wife had communicated a special concern about peoples' ability to do social distancing at Bruce's Beach. "Do we know how many people can be six feet apart [at Bruce's Beach]? Are we going to enforce it? [Manhattan Beach Police] Chief Abell will tell us, 'I don’t have the manpower,'" he said.

Another major concern about Bruce’s Beach being open would be the spillover effect on the Strand, said Montgomery. "L.A. County Beaches and Harbors are very hesitant about anything putting pressure on the Strand. Torrance shut down its parks along the beach for the same reason," he said.

Once Bruce's Beach was removed from consideration, Montgomery added his vote to approve the limited re-opening of the other selected parks.

"The balance is there. It is a cautious step," he said.

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