With temperatures dipping to the low 80s this weekend, Fresno park goers will still have to leave their car at home.
A padlocked barricade prevents cars from parking at Melody Park in east-central Fresno. At other city parks, fences or just orange cones prevent vehicles from coming in.
While parks in Fresno never closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, access has been restricted since late March. The city closed parking lots to most city parks, as well as playgrounds.
Even though the city eased emergency orders to allow businesses to open, the park parking lots remain closed. Things may change soon.
“The administration is working diligently on the process to reopen parking access to city parks, including Woodward and Roeding, after we are confident that compliance with state and local public health ordinances can be achieved,” city spokesman Mark Standriff said. “This includes providing proper staffing, training, sanitation and disinfecting policies, and strategies for park visitors to maintain social distancing. We plan to announce a timeline for reopening soon.”
Keeping The Public Safe
“We believe that by keeping the parking lot closed now, we limit to cross-contamination across the city, across the whole region.” — city council president Miguel Arias
Both City Hall and members of the city council say limiting park access is needed to prevent any further spread of COVID-19.
“Parks can still pose a substantial risk for transmission because of high-contact areas like dog parks, picnic tables, and recreation equipment, and do not have the ability to limit activity and maintain sanitation like businesses and churches can,” Standriff said.
Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias is worried about the increasing rate of infection.
“We believe that by keeping the parking lot closed now, we limit to cross-contamination across the city, across the whole region,” Arias said.
Councilman Nelson Esparza says it’s about public safety.
“By having the parking lots continue to be closed, that’s sending a message that (park recreation) is not entirely a safe activity, if there’s a lot of people gathered at the park,” Esparza said. “I do not want to see a big second wave of virus come and hit our city or the world, for that matter,” Esparza said.
Arias said people may not have the confidence to go to parks that are not properly cleaned and sanitized.
“Simply opening parking lots is not going to convince (people) to use a park,” Arias said.
Walking to Parks
Both Esparza and Arias said people can still walk to their neighborhood park.
According to the latest Trust for Public Land survey, Fresno is rated 51 on scale of 100 for access. One-third of residents have to walk more than 10 minutes to access a park.
The survey also gave Fresno low marks for basketball hoops, dog parks, and playgrounds.
Arias said the lack of neighborhood parks is not new, especially in southwest Fresno.
“It’s the reason why myself and others supported Measure P,” Arias said of the 2018 sales tax measure to fund parks that failed to pass.
Esparza said people will find a way to access the parks.
“Even with the parking restriction, I certainly don’t think there is any massive barrier of stopping folks from where they want to go or just going into the park,” Esparza said.
By the Numbers
Melody Park is approximately 210,000 square feet of total space. It has 76 parking spaces.
Since the city shares the CDC recommendation of six feet of social distancing, that would mean each person — or family unit — would need 36 square feet of space.
In theory — if park users remain stationary or respect six-foot boundaries — about 5,800 people could fit into Melody Park and still meet local and state distancing guidelines — far exceeding the amount of parking spaces.
Logan Park in northwest Fresno is approximately 363,000 square feet with 35 parking spaces. More than 10,000 people would able to safely socially distance.
Arias said people don’t just stay stationary at a park.
“If you’re walking around and if you’re jogging, if you’re using trails and bike lanes, sure. But when you’re using a playground, that’s not practical,” Arias said.
Esparza said he would be open to the conversation of reopening parking lots, as long as safety can be maintained.
Emergency Order Barred Vehicles
The latest emergency order in place since May 26, EO 2020-17, no longer mentions parking lots, yet they remain closed.
The parking lot closures, along with playgrounds and other amenities, were made with state, local, and civic group recommendations.
“The closures were made with an abundance of caution to protect the health and safety of residents and our employees,” Standriff said.
Clovis Parks Remain Open, Lots as Well
Clovis never shut down its parks nor parking lots, although it did close playgrounds, exercise equipment, and picnic tables for a time. Those amenities have since reopened.
“Parks and trails throughout the city of Clovis are open for the public to enjoy safely and responsibly, and parking lots for those facilities also remain open for the convenience of our residents. We have posted signs encouraging social distancing and proper hygiene and trust that those who make use of our public parks and trails will do so in a safe and responsible manner,” Clovis Public Utilities Director Scott Redelfs said.