Proposed ‘Kid Zone’ ordinance could ban childless adults from playgrounds

Long Beach playgrounds could soon be off limits to adults who are not accompanied by children after the City Council voted Tuesday night to ask for a future ordinance to create “Kid Zones” in city park spaces.

The proposal came from four council members who said they wanted to ensure that playgrounds remain safe for children to use in the city by potentially barring adults not accompanied by a child from entering or remaining in them.

While the ordinance has yet to be drafted by the city attorney, the council members asked that it be modeled after other cities across the country that have policies that apply to any adult without a child under the age of 12.

“We are investing in playgrounds in the city and we need to protect these investments and ensure they’re being utilized for the population they’re intended to meet,” said Councilman Al Austin, one of the co-sponsors of the motion.

Other members’ concerns ranged from simple vandalism to adults causing damage to playground equipment because they equipment isn’t designed to sustain adult use.

Brent Dennis, Long Beach’s director of Parks, Recreation and Marine, said the city had to close the new playground at Junipero Beach in a matter of days because of damage sustained from adults using the facility.

Dennis said fortifying the supports of the playground at Junipero Beach cost the city about $50,000. Rebuilding the playground at Admiral Kidd Park that burned down in July could cost $500,000, Dennis said.

“It is important to have a zone where kids can be kids, and not adults being kids,” said Councilman Roberto Uranga, who represents the part of the city that includes Admiral Kidd Park.

A handful of cities across the country have similar laws, including Hollywood, Florida, which adopted its law in January 2015. Hollywood’s ordinance comes with a fine of up to $500 and possible jail time for a period of up to 60 days.

New York City has laws that set aside areas of parks for both children and seniors and violating its laws can draw a penalty of up to $1,000 and 90 days imprisonment. New York classifies violations of its park laws as a misdemeanor.

The Los Angeles City Council tried to follow suit in December 2016 when Councilman Mitch O’Farrell proposed the council adopt an ordinance to create a “safe haven” for kids.

The proposal was criticized as being a “fear-based” policy that had the potential to target adults simply going to the park to exercise, read on a bench or to use park space to eat a meal.

The ACLU Southern California called it “misdirected” and said it could infringe on basic rights to access public spaces. The ordinance was not adopted.

It’s unclear what the Long Beach ordinance could include but the council’s request asked for any ordinance to exclude other park spaces like fields, benches and bathrooms. If the council does adopt an ordinance it will require signs to be posted to announce where the new kid zones are. That will cost the city as will prosecuting people who potentially violate the ordinance.

City Manager Tom Modica said that before an ordinance is adopted the council would be advised of the resources that would be needed to implement kid zones and the enforcement options that could be in play. Modica said that the ordinance could “stretch us a little thin.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.