Report Faults City Playgrounds

Will Evans of The Daily Californian staff contributed to this report.





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Berkeley's children are playing on unsafe equipment in several city parks, according to a nationwide report released last week by the California Public Interest Research Group and the Consumer Federation of America.

The report looks most closely at whether playgrounds have equipment that is too high, inadequate cushioning on the ground and any chipped paint that may contain lead.

"(The groups) teamed up because they had noticed an alarming number of playground deaths," said Christine Harrison, CalPIRG's campaign coordinator.

In Berkeley, Grove Park and LeConte School Park were considered dangerous in terms of ground cushioning and equipment height. In contrast, Willard Park in Berkeley scored almost perfectly across the board. Its only deficiency was in swing clearance.

"It is really unsafe," said Rosemary Johnson, whose niece, Kesha, plays at Grove Park. "It's old school. All that concrete shouldn't be there. There should be that foam they put on new playgrounds."

She said children's fingers sometimes get cut because the swings do not include protective plastic.

Janee Black, a community member who uses the park, said local schools often bring their children to play there. She said the city should renovate the park because children need somewhere to play.

"We have done a huge amount of renovation," said Lisa Caronna, director of Berkeley's Parks and Waterfront department. "We still have six areas to renovate, and we do two to three renovations a year. The City Council has made (playgrounds) a top priority. We're pretty much replacing everything -- all the playground equipment."

Grove Park playground is "hazardous" and its structures are expected to be removed next year, since the parks department has plans to restore the area to its historical roots, Caronna said.

"There will be a play experience area, but it will not have traditional play equipment," Caronna explained. "It's going to be an interpretive play environment."

State law requires Berkeley to adhere to certain safety standards. California is one of only a few states to have a law concerning playground safety, according to the report.

"If someone falls off play equipment, they can bring suit," Caronna said. "So it's in the city's interest to make adjustments."

Rachel Weintraub, a staff attorney for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and coauthor of the report, said the state law took effect only this year.

"The law requires that statewide regulations be as safe as the Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, which, at the federal level, are merely suggestions," she explained.

Weintraub said the best way to minimize playground dangers is for parents to accompany their children.

"We want parents to be aware of the hazards, to avoid certain places and to advocate for something safer," she said.

According to the report, eight out of 10 playgrounds across the country are on ground that is too hard. The report also said 27 percent of all swings are placed too closely together. Seventy-five percent of all playground injuries are caused by falls.

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