HERCULES -- The City Council unanimously approved a ban this week on inflatable play structures -- or "bounce houses" -- at the city's parks and facilities in an effort to eliminate injury lawsuits and liability.
The council during Tuesday's meeting also directed city staff to begin working on an ordinance that would allow the city to attach monetary fines and penalties against violators.
The concern over bounce house liability has been plaguing Hercules for years, Parks and Recreation Director Pedro Jimenez said Tuesday.
The issue was first discussed in 2004, he said, and the city agreed to require permits for inflatable jumpers in the park -- and restricted the number to two per park at a time. Then in 2008, Hercules stopped issuing the permits altogether because the city's insurance agency does not provide liability coverage for the inflatable jumpers.
Even if inflatable company owners offer insurance, the coverage may not be enough, and if someone gets hurt at a city park and then sues the city, the city would be financially liable, he said.
Signs will advise park visitors of the ban, and Parks and Recreation personnel will patrol the parks for violators. City workers will also advise local businesses that rent the inflatables of the new restrictions.
If violators refuse to dismantle the bounce houses at parks, city workers will summon police officials to provide additional motivation. But until the resolution becomes an ordinance, no financial "bite" or penalties can be attached to the removal requests.
Vice Mayor Sherry McCoy expressed concerns about how the city would monitor and enforce the resolution because it currently has no financial component.
Most people do comply with the restrictions when told, said Jimenez. Remaining violators tend to comply when police are called in, he said.
But the city is still financially liable as long as the inflatables are on city property, said City Attorney Patrick Tang.
Also, during Tuesday's council meeting, one of the developers of the city's Sycamore North project told the council that he and his partners are prepared to close escrow on time by Jan. 31 and said the developers will pay $700,000 for the property -- a 65 percent increase over the initial $425,000 price.
"The winds of progress are blowing hard, and we have our sails up," Mark Conroe said as he described his excitement about the project.
Conroe didn't elaborate on whether issues overshadowing the project had been cleared, including a ruling on whether the project developers will have to pay union wages to complete the project.
The ruling from the Department of Industrial Relations in Sacramento could add an additional $6 million to the total project cost if it's decided that union wages must be paid. A second issue was an eminent domain lawsuit that the city has filed against the Bayside Homeowners Association over an alley behind the residential/commercial property that the developer needs to complete the project. City officials discussed the issue in closed session Tuesday night but did not provide public notice of any action on the lawsuit.
Sycamore North started out as a city project but stalled in 2011 when Hercules ran out of money, with more than $35 million spent and an estimated $30 million needed to finish. The initial plan had been for 96 apartments, 74 of them affordable, over as much as 40,000 square feet of retail space.
The current plan is for Presidio Development Partners to finish the project, since renamed Town Centrale, as an upscale, market-rate apartment complex with about 140 units over 10,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurants and stores.