Columbia City Council is expected Tuesday to finalize a plan that would create protected play zones for kids ages 12 and under in some of the city’s public parks.
The measure would create safety zones barring anyone over age 12 from entering the play zones unless they are “the parents, legal guardians or authorized temporary custodians caring for the minor child or minor children playing within the area.” The proposal would not, however, prohibit visitors from going to other areas of the park.
The play areas would be designated with “the placement of fencing or other discernible barriers along with the placement of signage.”
If passed, the first park to get such a play area would be Roy Lynch Park, which is used by students from Logan Elementary in the Elmwood Park neighborhood.
Councilman Cameron Runyan, who supports the measure, said primary concerns at Roy Lynch Park are with drugs, sex offenders and prostitution, which puts children who play there at risk.
“Roy Lynch Park is a park that doesn’t have assets in it for adults,” Runyan said. “It’s designed for children. But it is being used for lawless elements that are often found on the grounds.”
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said she has heard concerns about Roy Lynch Park, but she said Monday she will vote against the plan. She said there are too many unanswered questions about how the proposal would play out.
“What the ordinance would do is limit any law-abiding, taxpaying citizen from accessing the park,” said Devine, whose children attend adjacent Logan Elementary.
Runyan said others parks would be assessed to determine which ones would get the restricted play zones.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina voiced its opposition to the measure in a letter to council members, noting, “This ordinance would make the mere presence of a citizen in a newly restricted area unlawful. This has the potential to make criminals out of older children and elderly adults who are doing nothing other than sitting on a bench or leaning on a tree.”
Victoria Middleton, executive director of ACLU, added, “Having an ordinance restricting peoples’ movement in a public place raises our concerns.”
But Jeff Caton, Columbia’s director of Parks and Recreation, said the proposal is a good starting point for discussion.
“I think it is a good-faith effort to try to address some of the issues that are being faced at Roy Lynch Park,” Caton said. “I think that the public input process allows for public discussion to make sure that the implementation is acceptable by the people who use the facilities.”