Should playgrounds be closed to adults without kids? That’s the question at the heart of what has been politely called a “robust conversation” in Los Angeles, with some talking child safety and others voicing fear about ulterior motives and government overreach.
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell has proposed a motion that would, if passed, allegedly create a “safe haven” for children on the city’s many brightly colored play structures, the Los Angeles Times reports.
But some are asking whether the move’s about protecting kids — or discriminating against the homeless.
Tony Arranaga, a spokesperson for O’Farrell, told the Times that the councilman had proposed the law after hearing complaints about drug dealers at the Selma Park playground in Hollywood. Selma Park, the paper notes, is surrounded by homeless encampments.
“It’s about pushing the homeless away,” a local homeless man told the Times. (Advocates for the homeless frequently document how U.S. cities pass laws that criminalize living on the streets.)
Arranaga denied that. And last week O’Farrell took to Facebook to defend the proposal.
“I want to reassure you — this is NOT a ban on adults without children from using our parks,” he clarified, after at least one tweet shouted otherwise. “This proposal is limited and affects a small area of a park.”
The motion stems from an existing state law, O’Farrell wrote, adding that New York City, Santa Monica and Miami Beach have similar ordinances.
But enforcing such a law in Los Angeles could be tricky if it’s anything like its New York counterpart, the Times notes. In 2010, officials ticketed two men for playing chess on chess tables in a playground — inciting a fierce public outcry. Concrete chess tables can also be found inside the playground in Selma Park. Also fun for kids isn’t limited to playgrounds, and cities have expanded thinking about what’s “playable” in recent years, in an effort to be more family-friendly as well as more, not less, inclusive.
For some conservative news sites, the proposal is a prime examples of government overreach. But a number of Angelenos have simpler concerns.
“I must confess that as a single woman, I have on occasion sat on a bench in a children’s playground while my car was being serviced nearby,” one woman wrote in a Times op-ed. “Why do I choose that particular bench? Because as a single woman in the park, it’s where I feel safest. … Not all single people in playgrounds are criminals. Some of us may even be there to help protect a child when needed.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.