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“It costs the taxpayer”: Some Vancouver playgrounds fenced off due to COVID-19 scofflaws

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In a city experiencing significant revenue shortfalls from its pandemic response, Vancouver taxpayers are facing another expense and as Kristen Robinson reports, this extra cost is the result of a few people flouting COVID-19 restrictions – May 3, 2020

The City of Vancouver is experiencing significant revenue shortfalls and additional costs related to its COVID-19 response, and now taxpayers are on the hook for another expense resulting from a few people flouting pandemic restrictions.

The Park Board has been forced to spend an estimated $7,000 on fencing to prevent scofflaws from accessing closed playgrounds and outdoor exercise areas.

“We’ve all been home for a while now. I think that people are starting to feel that they’re hopeful or ready to get back out into the world and I understand that,” Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung said.

“But I think we need to just hang in there a little bit longer.”

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When playgrounds and outdoor exercise spaces were initially shut down, caution tape was used to block them off. While many people respected the closures, the Park Board says the yellow tape was getting torn down every day at certain sites and staff had to continually replace it.

“We found there were some locations where the tape was ripped down daily and public use continued, so we targeted those particular sites with temporary fencing,” the Park Board said in an email.

The playgrounds at Douglas and David Lam parks, the Victoria Park bocce lanes, and the playground and basketball courts at Coopers’ Park are now enclosed with a total of 2,280 feet, or 695 metres of metal fencing.

“If we don’t follow these precautionary measures it’s going to take longer and we’re going to see more instances of COVID,” Kirby-Yung said.

“So it’s actually working against that instinct. I understand it’s human but it doesn’t help anybody and it costs the taxpayer.”

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The Park Board says some invoices have yet to be received so the final costs have not been determined but the price tag for the fortification measures is expected to be approximately $7,000 – at a time when the city says the pandemic has created an estimated 2020 budget deficit of $60 to $190 million.

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“Every penny counts,” Kirby-Yung told Global News.

“I’d far rather see that money spent on getting our community centres and our libraries up and running…than having them put up fences because people can’t respect the tape.”

In terms of cracking down on repeat offenders, the City of Vancouver says park rangers don’t have the power to enforce physical distancing in city spaces but they continue to warn individuals and groups who are not following the Provincial Health Officer’s directive to stay two metres apart.

Since mid-March, the rangers have had more than 7,000 interactions with people regarding safe social distancing.