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Churches, gyms, yoga studios applying to use county parks

Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park in downtown San Diego is one of several county parks that could be used for fitness classes and religious services during the pandemic. The photo above was taken in the days before social distancing and facial coverings.
( Courtesy of County of San Diego)

Several county parks are available for specific use without fees

Applications are trickling in from churches, gyms and other organizations following a Board of Supervisors decision to waive permit fees for certain gatherings at county parks during the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Friday, permits had been granted to GC2 Church and Yoga Jai Ma to use 4S Ranch Community Park and for Love of Christ Fellowship to use Los Penasquitos Canyon County Preserve.

Four other churches, five fitness facilities, one performing arts workshop and one dance class also have applied for permits.

A pastor at GC2 Church and director at Yoga Jai Ma said the congregation and students they serve are looking forward to seeing one another in person after months of Zoom meetings.

“People are really craving for personal contact,” said Pastor Luke Chen at GS Church in Rancho Bernardo. “And kids miss their friends.”

The church is scheduled to hold its first service at 4S Rancho Community Park on Aug. 30.

Yoga Jai Ma, also in Rancho Bernardo, held its first yoga class at the park on Tuesday and is permitted to use the park on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings.

“There were definitely some tears from people getting to see their friends again,” yoga director Nita Mehta said. “They did air hugs, and everyone talked from a distance. It’s good for mental health.”

Public gatherings were prohibited by a county health order earlier this year as one of several measures aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Gyms, yoga studios and churches are among the organizations still not allowed to hold gatherings indoors.

While the prohibition on gatherings in parks has eased, the ban on indoor gatherings still is in place. With many people expressing frustration at not being able to attend church services and business owners complaining they may lose their livelihoods because of the shutdown, the county Board of Supervisors on Aug. 5 agreed to waive fees for some activities in county parks.

Mehta was on the phone with the permitting office at 8 a.m. the following morning. Yoga Jai Ma received its permit Monday.

“They did move very quickly,” said Mehta, who also complimented the staff members she dealt with for being professional and helpful.

4S Ranch Community Park
(Courtesy County of San Diego.)

Fees normally range from $200 to $500 for a minimum three-hour block.

Chen said the fees are not prohibitive, and he suspects the church might have paid them in the past. Until the county announced parks were lifting the fees for religious services, however, he said he didn’t realize that churches always were allowed to use public parks, as long as permits are acquired.

Mehta also said the fees were not an issue, and she would pay them and continue using the park if the county were to revoke the waiver once the restriction on indoor activities is lifted. Many students in her studio are hesitant to attend classes inside because they are older, and their age makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19, she said.

Chen also said his 100-member congregation may be hesitant to attend indoor services. The church held indoor services in June when the restriction was briefly lifted, but the turnout was very small, he said.

Chen said he is disappointed that only 25 people at a time will be able to use the 4S Ranch site because meetings will be in a small pavilion. Gatherings will be just for sub-groups in the church, such as ones for youths, families, men, women and people 55 and older.

“But it’s better than nothing,” he said.

Mehta said about 12 people showed up for the Tuesday yoga class, about three times as many as sometimes attend on-line classes. Those people came out with just one day’s notice, which she took as a sign that people are eager to do in-person classes.

Mehta said she’s heard of some complaints about the county allowing for-profit businesses to use public parks. She quickly pointed out that holding outdoor sessions during a shutdown isn’t about making a profit, but an attempt to make ends meet and survive during an unprecedented time.

Churches and other groups also have submitted applications to use Lindo Lake in Lakeside, Waterfront Park in downtown San Diego, Heritage Park in Old Town, Otay Lakes, Fallbrook Community Center and San Dieguito Park in Del Mar.

The waiver applies to religious services, cultural ceremonies and organized fitness activities, and applicants must be associated with a brick-and-mortar location that was closed by the public health order. Applications can be made by calling the county’s reservation team at (858) 565-3600 or by visiting https://www.sdparks.org/content/sdparks/en/news-events/news-stories/COVID-19Response.html.html.html.


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