City on gatherings: Avert your eyes

Permitted gatherings, like the concert above in Keizer Rapids Park from previous years, are off.

Keizer city officials won’t permit large gatherings of any size in Keizer public spaces or block parties in neighborhoods, and don’t expect them to enforce pandemic guidelines either. 

Members of the Keizer City Council and city staff engaged in a lengthy discussion on issuing permits for gatherings of 50 people or more in public spaces at a meeting Monday, Aug. 17. The discussion ended with the city choosing to rely on a “don’t permit, don’t enforce” policy.

“Once we permit something, there will be some liability to the city that goes along with it,” said Shannon Johnson, Keizer’s city attorney. 

The discussion arose after the Keizer Chamber of Commerce requested use of Keizer Rapids Park to host a scaled-down version of the annual KeizerFEST. Johnson said the council would be hard-pressed to allow such a gathering to occur without exposing itself to requests from other groups. If a gathering is expected to attract 50 people or more, a city permit is required. 

Councilor Kim Freeman said she saw a large group gathered in Keizer Rapids Park the weekend of Aug. 15, one that didn’t appear to be following COVID-19 guidelines for social distancing and masks. She also spotted another cluster at the boat ramp in the park. 

“I know we can’t stop people from going to the park, but I don’t know how other people are going to interpret the gatherings,” Freeman said. 

Councilor Marlene Parsons expressed concern regarding gatherings at Keizer Little League (KLL) Park. More than a month ago, she visited a tournament at the KLL park and reported back to the council that spectators were not adhering to pandemic guidelines. 

Johnson said that city staff had begun monitoring the park activities slightly more closely in the wake of that incident. 

“What we’ve heard is they are doing a ‘pretty good’ job of following the guidelines,” said City Manager Chris Eppley. 

Keizer Public Works Director Bill Lawyer advised the council not to permit reservations of Keizer parks at least until the end of summer. 

“If we don’t permit it, we don’t have the responsibility. We might be allowing it to happen, but we are not permitting it,” Lawyer said. 

Lawyer had the same answer when it came to block parties.

“It’s one thing to permit them, it’s another thing to allow them. My neighbors held a cookout on what would have been National Night Out and they did fine using social distancing,” Lawyer said. 

If the city permitted gatherings, Eppley said, the enforcement of pandemic guidelines would fall on city staff or police. In lieu of a city-issued permit, enforcement lies with county authorities. 

Mayor Cathy Clark asked whether there were signs at the parks reminding people about the potential dangers of gathering in large groups. 

Lawyer responded that signs were in place at playgrounds and sports courts, but not at park entrances. 

“I visited Spongs Landing this past Sunday and the [Marion] County had signs up everywhere and I don’t think it made a bit of difference,” Lawyer said. 

Clark persisted saying, “I think there are some prudent locations for COVID signage.”