SAN ANTONIO CITIZEN #3- child safety


June 2011

“Damn the Children, Full Speed Ahead”

One section of un-landscaped land stood out on the recently opened Museum Reach of the Riverwalk. The piece in question sloped down from the rear of the Pearl Brewery to the concrete promenade. As time passed, workers covered the slope in grass sod. Huge rough hewn stone blocks, presumably Sandstone, were placed on the grass. Some steps were provided, also of rough hewn stone. It took a little while, but eventually it was obvious that this area was going to be an outdoor amphitheater.

In addition to the sloping amphitheater, there were two small grassed areas. One plot was at the top of the hill, contiguous to the amphitheater. The other was in a separate area adjacent to the newly opened (and popular) “La Gloria” restaurant. Soon children were seen playing there. Although this separate spot was no bigger than a standard suburban lawn, signs appeared announcing a “park”.

Next, all along the perimeter of the various segments of this new park signs began to appear – the type of metallic lawn sign common to political campaigns and tradesman. Hand lettered by children, they appeared by the dozen. They too proclaimed the arrival of “The Park at Pearl”; each one suggesting in a charmingly child’s way, all the things kids could do to have fun at a park. Finally, toys were distributed in this “park” for the merriment of children. It was only then, when I realized that the toys were being distributed in the amphitheater section of the “park”, and that children were being encouraged to play there, that a new question arose in my mind regarding this development: Has marijuana been legalized in Texas?

This amphitheater is sited on a slope; one that is difficult to walk down even for the average adult. On top of this has been placed a slippery grass cover. This grass is regularly slickened by the constant watering required to keep it green. The seating and steps provided for the audience consist of large stone slabs arranged in semi-circular rows. There are a few metal handrails to assist folks navigating to these “seats”. In addition, presumably to prevent erosion, there are metal pipes embedded in the grass at surface level and largely hidden from sight by the grass sod. This site, which would be a challenge for a healthy adult navigate, has now been proclaimed a playground for children.

Somebody must be high.

As I watched, with growing horror, little children and toddlers began playing in the amphitheater. I could not, at first, believe my eyes. These youngsters were to be regularly observed running across the tops of the sandstone blocks, jumping from one block to another (often with wet feet), and running deliriously in and out of the narrow spaces formed by the blocks and metal railings. On occasion, a child could be observed atop these stones powering a hula-hoop while at the same time playing catch with other children atop other equally dangerous blocks: The hula-hoops and balls having been kindly provided by the considerate folks at the Pearl Brewery.

What to do? I could either shake my head in wonder and ignore the situation or speak out. After a few weeks, and witnessing more close calls, I realized I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t try to do something. I would rather be considered an old crank than someday find out that a child had been badly injured or even killed at this amphitheater turned playground.

The first thing I did was to get online and see if there were any organizations dedicated to playground safety in San Antonio. I found an organization called Safe Kids USA that had a representative in San Antonio. In an exchange of e-mails, this lady more or less passed the buck by suggesting other people that might do something about my concerns.
Safe Kids USA, San Antonio branch, could not be bothered.

I contacted Paseo Del Rio in the hope they might have some jurisdiction or interest: They didn’t. I contacted the San Antonio River Association (SARA). It turns out that they built the stage for the amphitheater/playground. Although the stage is one of the main ingredients in attracting crowds to the amphitheater, they claim they have no responsibility for the “park”. I found this curious (this is not the time to ask why a public agency built a stage for a private park). After all, what is a theater without a stage?

It seemed to me that anyone responsible for attracting children would also be found liable if negligence would be found to result in a serious injury. Nonetheless, SARA did not agree and they too politely blew me off.

I had better luck with contacts in the city government. The parks department, where child safety is a constant concern, regretted they had no jurisdiction over private parks. Their concern was sufficient, however, to do enough research to indicate that the health department did have jurisdiction.

All this time, I wondered what could be motivating the highly intelligent folks at Silver Ventures that had created this safety nightmare. Clearly, they are using the park to attract customers to the other vendors that rent space from them at the Pearl. This is clear from their website. It says, regarding the park, “enjoy……then swing by the CIA bakery for sandwiches….” Through constant observation of the Pearl and frequent involvement, it has become clear that the overall development at pearl Brewery seems to be quite successful. It is the premier yuppie venue in San Antonio. It is also equally clear to me that the contributions to this success made by parents who bring children to play in the amphitheater are minimal. Why is this tiny incremental profit being allowed to overshadow common sense, concerns for child safety, and the threat of massive lawsuits?

Many millions of dollars are invested in this project. What percentage of this investment would be necessary to provide the required safety features? How much would simple fencing cost? Even if they are not motivated by a proper regard for child safety, one would think that such a tiny budget item would more than pay for itself in reduced insurance costs alone.

As of this writing, there are no safety measures whatsoever at this playground, nor is there any supervision provided. Still, a spokesperson for Pearl insists this site is safe. They maintain that, in any case, it is parents who are responsible, not Pearl Brewery.

They invited me to meet with them to listen to my concerns. I responded that I would be happy to do so if they could bring to that meeting the safety experts or safety reports they
had relied upon to justify using the amphitheater as a playground.

I’m still waiting.

An amphitheater is not a playground; what safety expert would risk their career or reputation signing off on such a reckless adventure? A thorough search of this subject would, I dare suggest, not find a single example on this planet where intelligent adults opened a rock strewn and sloped amphitheater as a children’s playground. While all San Antonians would like to advertise to the world our unique attractions, this is a case where we should prefer to be seen as normal.

The health department assured me that they shared my concerns. They informed me that they had spoken to Pearl about not distributing toys in the amphitheater area. They seemed to agree that child’s play should be restricted to the flat areas of the park and that play among the sandstone blocks was dangerous. They did not indicate that they were going to force Pearl to close this admittedly dangerous section of the park.

Several days after getting this advice from the health department I visited the park at prime time, a Sunday afternoon. On SARA’s stage, a live band was banging away. A tiny crowd was listening. Children were playing on and among the rocks. They were using the toys provided for that purpose by the Pearl Brewery. These toys had been distributed, once again, in the amphitheater area. If the health department had advised Silver Ventures that they should not provide these toys, and that play on the sandstone seats was dangerous, this advice was being completely ignored. As of Sunday, it was business as usual, full steam ahead, for the safety-challenged management at the Pearl Brewery.

So far, my efforts have created a storm of “cover your butt”, but the children are just as much at risk as ever. Perhaps citizen-journalism will get better results. I need your help. If you are in San Antonio, whether a private citizen like me or a public official, take a few minutes and check out our new playground.

Decide for yourself. Am I a nutcase, or is this place going to get some kid smashed up?

It is not a very important thing. It doesn’t compare with the border crisis or the budget crisis or the Arab Spring or the collapse of the Spurs.

Like children, it’s just a little thing.

Sensible comments to

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