Poway council OKs using parks for worship, fitness groups


POWAY, Calif. (CNS) – The Poway City Council Wednesday approved the temporary use of public parks for local fitness groups and worship activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a brief meeting, the council unanimously directed city staff to prepare applications for groups to use open space in the city’s parks free of charge and with minimal paperwork.

Poway Mayor Steve Vaus proposed the Sharing Outdoor Space Initiative after the state of California on Monday issued an order requiring all houses of worship, gyms and other fitness organizations to stop all indoor activities until further notice to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.

“We don’t do red tape in Poway. No cost for the use of the parks and we’ve also made it available to houses of worship,” Vaus said. “They are under that same prohibition about indoor meetings, so we are inviting them to come out to a designated space in one of our many parks to have their services there.”

The city will require that it be named as an “additional insured” on the organization’s policy and “that all COVID-19 safety guidelines be adhered to, including rules regarding face coverings and social distancing.”

The SOS Initiative is one of several actions the city has taken to help local businesses, including a moratorium on commercial evictions to help those affected by the virus’ effect on the economy.

The council approved spending up to $2 million for loans to small businesses. The city also recently made picnic tables available to restaurants to expand outdoor dining.

“We have folks in Poway who are suffering,” Vaus said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I thought it would be important to step up and helped out wherever we can.”

Vaus said the city is “blessed with acres and acres of park space” for those wanting to stay physically fit.

“We have Lake Poway Park with hundreds of acres. We have ball fields that can be used.  We have a community park in south Poway Garden Road Park ,Silverset, Star-rid — we’ve got parks,” Vaus said. 

Businesses owners like Lisa Mello of Mello Yoga are thrilled with the move.

“I’m just excited to be part of it and have an alternative to keep my business alive and to continue to do yoga and what I love,” Mello said. 

Vaus said that his city has one of the lowest number COVID-19 cases in San Diego County and he is confident that it will stay that way when businesses move outdoors.

“Most people in Poway are grownups and they take their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their neighbors seriously,” Vaus said.

Councilman Barry Leonard described the initiative as “a common-sense approach.”

“This is beneficial to our community,” he added. “We’re not forcing people to do anything. We’re not telling people they have to come out and be uncomfortable.”

Leonard said thousands of small businesses have closed in the nation, and may not open again. “Our local businesses are in trouble,” he said, adding they’ve received mixed messages from state government. “Anything we can do to help them out I’m for.”‘

Assistant City Manager Wendy Kaserman said her office is looking at a modified reservation process for applicants. She said the city is looking at using certain parks, including Community and Old Poway, for religious services.

The city “wants to make sure there is opportunity for everybody,” Kaserman said, adding the initiative is temporary until government health orders are modified again.

Anita Edmondson of the Poway Chamber of Commerce commended city officials for the initiative.

“We have a lot of members who will fit this category,” Edmondson said, adding many were restarting their businesses when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the most recent indefinite closure. “I’m hoping our members can take advantage of this,” she added.

Councilman John Mullin said he supports whatever the city can do help businesses survive, adding that he’s frustrated by Newsom’s orders closing or restricting certain businesses, and questioned whether they’re effective at “flattening the curve.”

Rene Carmichael, Poway community outreach coordinator, said staff members are working on the application, which should be ready no later than Friday and will be released “as soon as it’s ready.”

She added that Poway fitness-oriented businesses or houses of worship that want to use a park may contact the Community Services Department at 858- 668-4595.

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