MORRO BAY — The Coronavirus Pandemic response has hit most everyone hard, and perhaps one of the hardest hits has been absorbed by the Morro Bay Recreation Department.

A once robust organization offering youth and adult sports leagues, afterschool programs, a teen center, numerous other recreation classes, and activities all pretty much ground to a halt in March 2020 with the advent of the pandemic and the State’s stay-at-home orders and business closures.

Over 70 mostly part-time recreation employees were laid off, and the department’s small office staff was cut in half.

“As we begin to move out of the COVID-19 restrictions,” reads a report by Recreation Services Manager Kirk Carmichael, “interest is growing, and demand is here for activity classes and use of City property. We have received numerous requests for facility, beach, and park use for weddings, parties, sports activities, and other special events.”

He said the City is not yet ready to reopen its indoor facilities — City offices, the Community Center, and Vet’s Hall — but requests to use outdoor facilities “are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

When the pandemic hit, most everyone in the Recreation Department was let go.

“Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Morro Bay Recreation Division was staffed with four full-time positions (Recreation Manager, Recreation Supervisor, Recreation Coordinator, and an Administrative Technician) and five regular part-time positions working within the office to support all programs (Kids Club/Camp, youth and adult sports, special events, community classes, swimming pool activities, junior lifeguards and active adults). The City also hired temporary part-time employees to teach community classes, referee games, teach swim lessons, lifeguard the pool, maintain sports fields, staff building rental attendants for outside uses, and staff our popular summer junior lifeguard program.”

With the pandemic, “Recreation’s full-time staffing was reduced to two positions (Recreation Manager and Recreation Coordinator), and many of the regular part-time staff were let go.”

The City’s once robust rec program fell off a cliff. “Since April of 2020,” Carmichael reported, “due to these restrictions, the City has only been able to provide pool service (lessons, lap swim, and classes), Junior Guards, camps for kids and daycare service (Kids Club), and some outdoor Active Adult classes.

“Recreation could not field kids’ fall soccer, winter basketball, or spring futsal. Nor could the City host active adults’ activities and recreation/enrichment classes in the Community Center or Veteran’s Hall as we typically did in years past.”

The City’s support for special events — from Little League to Art-in-the-Park — also ended. 

Carmichael said they’ve had a tough time of it. “It has been a challenging time, to say the least, for the City and Recreation. The limitations placed on the City by State and County COVID-19 restrictions and the financial impacts have made it hard to provide the services we know our community desires and our Recreation Team loves to provide.”

The Morro Bay Senior Center has been closed since last March too, but some of the senior exercise programs have continued in city parks. 

“Senior exercise classes have found a way to continue and have been popular,” Carmichael said. “Stretching and Balance, Bocce Ball, Walking, Tai Chi, and Pickleball” have continued.

In other Rec Department news, Carmichael said they were pursuing another grant from the State to try and replace the condemned public restrooms at Coleman Park. 

They hope to offer adult softball for over-50 in spring or summer; they are working with the City of SLO on a girl’s softball season very soon.

They hope to get enough money from the City Administration to re-launch their youth basketball program for “winter 2021,” but they need to start looking for coaches, staff now to prepare for it.

One bright spot, the Junior Lifeguard Program, will be offered again starting in mid-June. “We are in the process of selecting and certifying our summer staff as well as ordering much-needed equipment for the program,” he said of one of the few programs that wasn’t ended by the pandemic.

They canceled the Annual Brian Waterbury Memorial Rock to Pier Fun Run again this year. But they restarted their Kids Club afterschool program at Del Mar Elementary.

The Kids’ Club started up again on Mar. 3, occupying three classrooms at Del Mar and caring for children from 60 families. It’s funded by the school district through Jul. 1.

The Teen Center and skate park, located in front of the high school, was closed last March, and there are no plans to reopen it at this time. Carmichael said they’ve decided to wait until the County is in the Governor’s “Yellow Tier” of the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” to reopen the City’s facilities. Indoor sports will have to wait too.

Yes, the pandemic all but killed the City’s recreation programs, and the road back is tricky, too. Carmichael said he’s having trouble finding employees. “A lot of people have moved on to other things,” he told Morro Bay Life

He’s going to need people to coordinate the various leagues, a part-time jobs that needs to get started soon to be ready for a fall youth sports season. He’s hoping for a fall return of youth soccer. 

He’s going to ask the City Administration to start hiring staff.

“I need funding,” he said. The City has been in a difficult financial position due to the pandemic, and he must put in a request for funding. But with the passage of the sales tax increase in November (increased to 1.5 percent), which starts in April, plus nearly $2 million coming with the recent passage of the federal COVID relief bill, he’s optimistic.

“I think we’ll be more comfortable with the budget with the tax increase and the federal monies.” The increased sales taxes were estimated to bring in $2 million a year in a normal economy.

He was able to bring in $4,600 recently, when Ford did a 2-day commercial filming in town, paying fees for the use of the Pit parking lot, the Rock parking lot, and Coleman Beach, where they drove trucks on the sand. 

It was quite a production; as Carmichael said, they brought in some 35 vehicles, with about 50 crewmembers and even catering. There’s another film permit request that he’s working on now, he said. “It’s those things that will help the City’s coffers. I move those things to the top of my stack of work.”

They are also planning to bring back City special events such as the Downtown Halloween Trick-or-Treat, the Holiday Tree Lighting, and Breakfast with Santa. 

Of course, all this could be moot if the virus returns and the State locks down once again.