Sunday, May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020

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Outbreak ripples through Vancouver city operations

Officials close facilities, suspend 'nonessential' meetings, pivot to remote participation

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Changes are underway at Vancouver City Hall, where the government is aiming to stem the spread of COVID-19 through social-distancing measures that require the shuttering of some public facilities.

The effects of COVID-19 — a disease caused by an infectious virus that is a member of the coronavirus family — rippled out to every branch of the city government.

The Firstenburg and Marshall community centers closed effective Monday. So did the Water Resources Education Center. The city’s Permit Center will close beginning Tuesday.

Additionally, all “nonessential” public meetings have been suspended, and city leaders are strongly encouraging residents to attend or participate in city council meetings remotely instead of in person. Participants were urged to submit testimony ahead of the city council’s Monday evening meeting through an online portal, in an attempt to keep attendance at less than 20 people.

“Social distancing measures will be encouraged for attendees, including 6-foot spacing between visitor chairs,” Carol Bua, Vancouver’s communication director, said in an email.

In a recorded address Monday evening, Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said Vancouver’s response to the viral outbreak has been changing rapidly.

“This is a time of great stress and anxiety. The swiftness of the situation has emerged globally, and it’s stunning,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “Our top priorities are the city’s employees and our community.”

Parks and Recreation cancellations

The Parks and Recreation Department has canceled all major events through May 1, including the Paddy Hough Parade, the Couve Clover Run, the Activate Church Easter Egg Hunt, the Union Chapel Easter Gathering, the Nez Perce Chief Redheart Ceremony and the MS Walk.

Following a Declaration of Civil Emergency from City Manager Eric Holmes late Friday, the parks department additionally canceled all classes and programs that cater to vulnerable populations.

The Marshall and Firstenburg community centers are scheduled to reopen May 1, though that date could change.

“We know that closing these facilities will cause difficulties for many residents who rely on community centers for fitness, education, social connection, youth services and a safe place to be during the day,” the department said in a media release. The release added that the decision was made “without local precedent.”

“We do not take this decision lightly but we believe these preventative measures are needed to slow the rate of spread of COVID-19 and reduce the virus’s impact on our citizens and health care systems.”

Spring break camps are canceled, and registered participants will receive a refund, the department announced on Monday.

Public parks and trails will remain open, though the city is urging users to practice social distancing.

Staff “cannot guarantee a sanitizing schedule for park and playground facilities at this time,” the press release stated, “so residents are encouraged to use their best judgment regarding use of equipment and structures. Sports fields, walking paths and trails offer many alternative activity options.”

Permitting moves online

The closure of the Permit Center means that there will be nobody to assist applicants in person. However, the Community and Economic Development department will continue to accept building permit applications and review and issue development permits online.

Permit applications can be completed through a digital portal located at cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/getting-started-eplans, and payments can be made at cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/epermits.

For anyone awaiting an in-person building inspection, the department will only send staff to new construction or unoccupied units vacant for at least two weeks. All other inspections will be postponed or conducted remotely through “video, video chat or photos, at the inspector’s discretion,” the department said in a media release.

Open government

An inquiry to Bua about what qualifies as a “nonessential” public meeting went unanswered as of press time Monday evening.

However, all but two public meetings — Monday’s city council and Wednesday’s civil service meetings — were officially canceled in the upcoming week.

Previously scheduled meetings this week included the Culture, Art & Heritage Commission, the Vancouver Parks and Recreation Advisory Commissions, the Urban Forestry Commission and the City Center Redevelopment Authority. None will be held.

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