What a difference between Salem and Eugene when it comes to making sure that city parks are available, safe, and welcoming to all in an equitable fashion in these COVID-19 days.
The City of Salem is operating its parks quite differently from Eugene, with no reservation permit system at all anymore. This allows Salem Awakening 2020, a religious group, to continue appropriating the Riverfront Park amphitheater every evening from 6 to 8 pm for many weeks or months, using a sound system and also, I’ve heard, city electricity.
UPDATE: Councilor Leung forwarded me a message from a city employee saying Salem Awakening isn't using city electricity. OK, I'll accept that. I just wonder how batteries could power large speakers and electrified musical instruments. See:
Councilor Leung, while we are no longer taking reservations for park spaces, we are allowing drop in use of our park facilities, which could be considered first come first serve.
Without a reservation process in place I realize that some conflicts could occur between groups and hopefully everyone will remain civil and courteous as we work through this pandemic together.
The church group does not have access to our electrical, apparently they are using battery power to amplify the program. No city assets are being used per Public Works.
Thanks Mike Niblock
Of course, this prevents anyone else from using the amphitheater from 6 to 8 pm unless they want to argue with Salem Awakening about who got there first. After the permit for Salem Awakening was revoked, and the religious group vowed to keep on meeting in the park, the City of Salem did away with permits entirely.
This is unfair to everyone in Salem who wants to schedule a group meeting in a park. If you agree, tell the City Manager (Steve Powers) and the City Council how you feel about this:
By contrast, this morning I learned from a Eugene Parks and Open Spaces Division employee about how that city, which is about the same size as Salem, is handling park reservation permits. I've boldfaced an especially pertinent requirement. In Eugene:
On Wednesday Governor Brown’s order to wear a mask outside if a six foot physical distancing isn’t possible went into effect. People sure seem to be sitting closer than six feet from each other. I don’t see anyone wearing a mask. Hard to believe all the people in close proximity to each other are family members.
This "who cares?" attitude toward COVID is occurring while Oregon just registered the highest daily infection count ever, 437 new cases. That Statesman Journal story also reports:
Salem halts in-person city services
Due to the increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the region, the city of Salem will close the recently reopened in-person services at city hall starting Friday.
The change effectively closes the limited services, including in-person bill payment, parks reservations and development permit service center, that the city began offering on July 6.
City officials said the decision to close in-person services was made after receiving additional guidance from public health agencies about limiting indoor gatherings to no more than ten people.
The first COVID cases in Oregon were reported on March 2. It's now July 16. So City officials have had over four a half months to prepare their operations for life during a pandemic.
Yet even with all that time available, now they aren't able to do something as simple as having people who want to reserve a park for a group activity, and pay for the reservation, do this online.
Gosh, I recently saw an ad in the free West Salem Newspaper from a realtor who is able to have a prospective house buyer look at a property, make an offer on it, transact all of the purchase details, and receive the closing documents -- all without any person-to-person contact.
Meanwhile, Salem city officials have given up on reservations and are allowing a free-for-all when it comes to groups using city parks.
It may well be that at some point a group other than Salem Awakening is going to want to use the Riverfront Park amphitheater during the same time as the religious group has taken it over without a permit. Not just once, but day after day, week upon week, until September 8, I've heard.
They probably think Jesus will protect their nightly takeover of the amphitheater. They sure seem to think that Jesus is protecting them from COVID, given the fervent laying on of hands a few days ago.
Quite a few people have shared their concern about the hands-off attitude City Manager Steve Powers and other city officials are displaying about the permit-free takeover of the Riverfront Park amphitheater by Salem Awakening. I've seen creative suggestions for what could happen at the amphitheater during, say, a few hours before and after the 6 pm start time of the religious event.
Like a heavy metal concert, recorded or otherwise. Even more appealing, a Satanic Temple event. (Sadly, there is no longer a chapter in Oregon.)
Additional update: Councilor Leung also shared this July 10 message from City Manager Steve Powers. It confirms my view that the City of Salem basically has thrown up its hands and decided not to try to make groups that use city parks without a permit conform to COVID public health guidelines and requirements. Very disappointing.
City staff are adjusting to Oregon Health Authority and State of Oregon guidance and requirements regarding social distancing, mask, and contact tracing. At the same time, we are responding to Salem residents and others who are unhappy with specific events and the inconsistency between street uses and park uses.
We do not have clear guidance from OHA or the State for use of streets.
We continue to presume that demonstrations will occur regardless of whether the City issues a permit or closes a street.
Restaurants and retail have guidance and requirements for operating safely – indoors or out of doors.
For parks and other City facilities, we are not issuing permits or reservations. We are evaluating our staff availability. At this time, we are not staffed to ensure the groups can meet public health requirements. When the City charges someone to reserve a park facility, the state reopening guidelines place responsibility on the City for monitoring for social distancing, mask use, and contact tracing.
We have refunded the reservation for the church group that had reserved the Riverfront Park amphitheater every night through Labor Day (73 dates). We are also going to refund the permit for a yoga group that had another three days remaining on their reservation. We are encouraging groups to use park facilities on a drop-in basis.
Managing public goals (right to assemble, protecting public health, recreation) without conflict is becoming increasingly difficult.
City of Salem