Parks COVID-19 closure and reopening plan

The city of Del Rio developed a phased plan for the opening of public parks amid the COVID-19 public health disaster declaration.

Del Rio City Council members Tuesday reopened the San Felipe Creek for recreational activities like wading, swimming, fishing, kayaking and tubing.

The council voted 4-1-1 to reopen the creek following the presentation of a phased reopening plan for city parks by City Manager Matt Wojnowski.

Wojnowski introduced the phased reopening plan after a comment by Councilman Jim DeReus, who said he believed the city needed to clarify the status of the city’s parks.

DeReus said he spoke with a number of persons and “got about a 50-50 response” when he asked them if they thought they could go to the parks and have a family picnic.

After DeReus made his comments, Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano said it was his understanding that City Emergency Management Coordinator John Sheedy and Del Rio Police Department Chief Fred Knoll Jr. had developed a phased reopening plan for the city’s parks.

Wojnowski shared the color-coded, six-phase plan with the council.

“The council had asked us to come up with a plan for reopening the parks, so we came up with this phased approach,” Wojnowski said.

Phase 6 of the plan is complete closure of all parks.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, the city was Phase 5, the city manager said, with the parks open for exercise only. Phase 5 allows biking, hiking, walking and running, as well as use of the San Felipe Springs Golf Course, the disc (Frisbee) golf course in north Del Rio and the tennis courts off Kings Way.

Phase 4, which the council later approved, includes all of the activities allowed in Phase 5 as well as access to the waters of the San Felipe Creek for kayaking, tubing, swimming, wading and fishing. Under Phase 4, alcoholic beverages and onsite cooking are still prohibited.

Wojnowski said the phases become gradually more lenient until they reached Phase 1, which would open the parks to their pre-COVID-19 status.

When the discussion circled back to how to best clarify what could and could not be done in city parks, City Attorney Suzanne West suggested attaching the phase chart to the city’s public health emergency declaration and specifying in the current declaration which phase the city was in.

DeReus agreed that method would probably be “the best, simplest way to go.”

Sheedy interjected he and several other city administrators had met with Val Verde County/City of Del Rio Local Health Authority Dr. J. Gutierrez earlier in the day and “it was our understanding after the last council meeting that there was the consideration to move into Phase 4 ... after Labor Day.”

Gutierrez said he wouldn’t mind staying at Phase 5, “but given the fact that our numbers are so much better than they were a month ago, it’s hard to argue to keep us at Phase 5 and clearly we could, potentially, upgrade to Phase 4.”

“It seems reasonable to have people recreate by kayaking or tubing or swimming. At this point, no alcohol, no cooking, no gatherings, so it seems fairly reasonable to allow people to have more access to the creek,” Gutierrez added.

He said he would like to see Del Rioans given more access to the parks “provided we continue with this downward trend in our numbers.”

“Things can clearly change, should we get a flurry (of new cases),” Gutierrez added.

After Gutierrez finished speaking, Lozano asked, “So with all that being said, it’s my understanding that now you’re recommending to go to Phase 4, is that correct?”
“Yes,” Gutierrez replied.

Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado asked, since the Labor Day weekend had only just passed, if it would be prudent to wait until the council’s next meeting on Sept. 16 “to see if anything happens with the numbers” before relaxing the current restrictions on use of city parks.

“I don’t have an issue with that ... I am all for waiting a little bit longer. I do want to see if our numbers continue to drop,” Gutierrez replied.

Lozano interjected, saying he appreciated Gutierrez’s perspective, but added, “Now the council’s getting a mixed directive from you.”

“As an LHA (local health authority), today, the current question that I asked was, do you recommend going to Phase 4, and now you’re giving us a passive-aggressive suggestion that you’re okay with waiting a week. So is your direction for us, your recommendation, to go to Phase 4 today? We need a clear, definitive answer so that we can proceed with the declaration,” Lozano said.

“Phase 4,” Gutierrez replied.

Lozano then made a motion to move into Phase 4 of the parks reopening plan, with DeReus giving the second.

Lozano, DeReus, Councilman Raul C. Ojeda and Councilwoman Liz Elizalde De Calderon voted in favor of the motion.

Councilman Rowland Garza was opposed, and Salgado abstained.

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