With more than 80% of eligible Menlo Park residents at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, the Menlo Park City Council began to start thinking about how to relaunch city services and programs at its April 27 meeting.
As of April 27, 82.8% of Menlo Park residents ages 16 and up had received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19, according to San Mateo County health data, which compares the number of residents receiving shots to the city's population.
Sean Reinhart, director of library and community services for the city, laid out the city's proposed path to reopening city services, a four-phase approach that would ease in increasingly risky activities over the course of the next six to eight months.
In phase one, the city would launch its plans to transition services offered at the Onetta Harris Community Center and Menlo Park Senior Center in Belle Haven to the Arrillaga Recreation Center and Belle Haven Library. The community center and senior center are slated for demolition starting this summer as part of Facebook's project to rebuild the facilities into a new multi-use, multigenerational community center, he said.
Phase one would also allow for indoor public access to the city's main and Belle Haven branch libraries, outdoor recreation programs, and additional virtual classes and events. The police station's lobby would also reopen in the first phase, and there's a possibility of reopening the neighborhood service center and police substation in Belle Haven, potentially as a community meeting space.
In a separate meeting held April 19, the city's Library Commission unanimously recommended that the city reopen indoor access to its libraries on or near July 1, according to staff.
Phase two, which could begin in late summer or early fall, would ease in community service programs considered to pose a more moderate risk of transmitting the coronavirus, such as indoor recreation programs. It would also reopen the chambers for City Council meetings to occur in person again, according to Reinhart.
Phase three would reopen City Hall to the public and permit high-contact indoor programs like gymnastics. However, since the gymnastics program isn't being funded right now, City Council members will have to decide under what conditions they want to relaunch those services first.
Lastly, phase four, which could begin around the end of 2021 or early 2022, would allow facility rentals for high-density indoor gatherings and large-scale special events, both indoors and outdoors, as well as all other indoor programs, Reinhart said.
During the pandemic, a number of city services have remained open, including police operations, the public works department and most parks.
The city has continued to feed seniors by delivering meals, and the city's child care and after school programs, aquatic centers and skate park, tennis courts, sports fields, playgrounds and the City Hall permit counter have reopened with limitations. The library also has reopened to offer curbside pickups. Roughly 45% of the city's workforce is working remotely, according to City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson.
The discussion raised several questions that are not yet resolved. One question from Councilman Ray Mueller about the proposed phase-in is to what degree the city plans to track the vaccination status of its employees.
Another, raised by Complete Streets Commission member Adina Levin in a public comment, is whether some of the ease that offering public meetings virtually has provided community members will be retained as the pandemic's threats ease.
She pointed to proposed state legislation, Assembly Bill 339, which would, if passed, permit people to continue to provide comments in public meetings over the phone or online rather than having to attend in person. The city could perhaps consider supporting the legislation, because it allows people in the community, particularly those with family or work obligations in the evenings, to more easily participate, she said.
Vice Mayor Betsy Nash asked about how many staff need to be added back to reopen services and when, and Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor asked about how the city could go about permitting on-site sign-ups for facilities like pool lanes rather than requiring advance reservations.
Councilwoman Jen Wolosin asked about the possibility of setting up portables near Willow Road and Ivy Drive rather than busing seniors from Belle Haven to the Arrillaga Family Recreation Center for senior programs, a suggestion raised by Belle Haven resident Pam Jones. Prior to the pandemic, the council had agreed on the busing option, but the council could revisit the topic in the future.
Mayor Drew Combs noted that the Menlo Park City School District was ahead of many other school districts in the region to reopen, and so families in the community have high reopening expectations. "That's not a bad thing," he said, adding that "every decision should be led by safety and science."