“I think playground equipment, it should almost be a sanctuary space for our city’s kids and families,” said Councilmember Al Austin, one of the original supporters of establishing the new kid zones.
Austin and other members of the council cited instances where people were reported using drugs or camping in city playgrounds, forcing families to navigate unsafe debris such as drug paraphernalia and used condoms.
The new kid zones would apply to playground equipment and the space immediately around them, but wouldn’t apply to other areas in city parks like sports fields, benches or other spaces without playgrounds.
Parks, Recreation and Marine Director Brent Dennis said the 12-year age limit was chosen in part because that’s generally the limit manufacturers put on the playground equipment sold to cities to ensure they’re used safely and have longevity.
Dennis cited a number of instances in recent months where new park equipment had been damaged by adults aggressively using playground installations meant for children, leading to costly repairs.
While the new law would require a police officer or park ranger to issue a citation before any violation could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, Dennis said large signs notifying people of the new law would be placed around city playgrounds and park employees would work to educate park visitors of the change.
“It will be an awareness campaign and a kinder, gentler approach,” Dennis said.
Despite the unanimous vote, there were some concerns from the council about legal precedent and how this rule might be applied to older kids, with Councilmember Rex Richardson asking to avoid citing older kids and requesting the law be enforced in a “developmentally” way.
Deputy City Attorney Anita Lakhani said that so far no one has challenged the constitutionality of a similar law implemented in San Francisco.
A 2006 ruling by the California Attorney General said limiting tot-lot areas to younger children was not unconstitutional because it prevented the equipment from being damaged and potentially hurting the children it was intended to serve.
The City Council will take a second procedural vote on the law at its May 10 meeting before the issue heads to the mayor’s desk for a signature.
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