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Sunset Beach Park closed for several weeks after damage done during 4/20

Last Updated Apr 21, 2018 at 4:47 pm PST

FILE: The field at Sunset Beach is left damaged following 4/20 in 2018. (Hana Mae Nassar, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Park Board says Sunset Park Field is closed for up to 10 weeks after 4/20 rally

Damage sustained during 4/20 demonstration in Vancouver closes Sunset Park Field

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It happened last year and there were concerns Sunset Beach would again be damaged this year following the annual 4/20 rally.

The Vancouver Park Board says Sunset Park Field will be blocked off to the public for up to 10 weeks following Friday’s hazy event. They say staff will continue cleaning it up this weekend and they’re cautioning people who use the park there is still debris on the field. A fence will go up as it’s closed for “major rehabilitation.”

On Thursday, organizers of the event did lay down mats across the field to prevent any potential damage to the grass.

Park Board Chair Stuart Mackinnon calls the coverage on the ground “limited,” which he admits helped, but points out water pooled underneath the mats. “And the rest of the field that was not covered has been torn up. The 4/20 people did a select area and not even completely… where they put their cables and things, they didn’t put covering and those are the areas where the most damage is now.”

Mackinnon says there is quite a bit of damage and adds the next step is to let the field dry out after Friday’s rainfall. “After that the field will have to be aerated, topped, dressed, seeded and then left to grow back.”

He adds this is the third year in a row the field has been damaged and he’s not sure if it can handle 4/20 next year, if that’s what organizers want. “I really don’t know if the field could take another beating like it did. We’re hoping if they want to continue with their trade show that they’ll go elsewhere in the city for it.”

Mackinnon hopes to have it re-opened by Canada Day.

As for what could have been done to mitigate the damage, Mackinnon has a message for the organizers.

“They could have gone somewhere else. Vancouver parks are not an appropriate place for a trade show and unfortunately that’s what 4/20 has become. It’s a place where more than 40,000 people set up their booths and there is a lot of money that exchanged hands. We have the Convention Centre, we have the PNE, there’s lots of places for a trade show, a public park isn’t the appropriate place for it.”

Mackinnon says the ground still hadn’t fully recovered following last year’s damage and he feels this has made it worse. “You can still see the damage from last year where the seeding didn’t take and I’m just afraid that after three years of this kind of abuse in the spring time that our field just can’t take it anymore. Spring is not the best time to be tearing up a field. This is when the field has rested and now it’s having an opportunity to regenerate.”

He points out it’s too early to say how much all the repair work will cost.

“We had our parks crews out at 11 p.m. working, cleaning up. They were out again this morning before 6 a.m., so that’s a lot of overtime wages and what not. The full police, fire and paramedics were out in full force yesterday, so this is going to be costing a lot of money to the [City of Vancouver,] but those numbers haven’t been collected yet.”

Mackinnon says organizers have offered some money to cover the costs, but haven’t said how much. “We will be sending them a bill, whether they pay it or not, is another question.”

He says this is incredibly disappointing. “It’s saddens me more than anything. This is a group that thinks they have more rights than other citizens — other residents of the city — and that they can do whatever they like and it’s really unfortunate because it takes away from the enjoyment and use of others.”

Jo Joncalves is with Protec Production Group, that’s the company that rented out the covering for the grounds.

He explains the product is designed to keep people from completely destroying grass, or letting their heels poke through the mud, but, it’s very expensive to lay down. “[It’s] $1 a square foot for the mat alone and then there’s labour — bringing it in and bringing it out — so you add another $1 to that and it becomes $2.”

The field was badly damaged last year as well and took weeks to fix while costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Locals react

Robert Nagle lives in the West End — not far from Sunset Beach — and says surrounding parks are basically his family’s backyard.

“It’s a little disappointing because you see I have two small kids and you know, we have an apartment with no balcony. This is our green space and we like to make use of it.”

He’s not against people expressing themselves and their freedoms, but says it’s unfair that others’ actions directly impact others.

“Enjoying the 4/20 event, but when it’s closures that affect everybody else, it becomes annoying for the local residents.”

Another resident tells NEWS 1130 is frustrating, especially in the lead up to summer. “It’s disappointing,” she says. “I don’t have any green space, I don’t have an amenities area in my building. The closest park is within a 10 to 15 minute walk so this is what we rely on to have friends from out of town here and pick nicks and barbecues in the summer.”

Meanwhile, others take issue with how the city and Park Board are handling the situation.

“I think [the Park Board] is exaggerating,” says one woman. “They’re just blaming [organizers], they’re just blaming the cause.”

Critics respond

Pot activist Jodie Emery took to social media to defend the current state of the field.

“The #420Vancouver non-profit volunteer-run society paid $30,000 for ground covering alone & got all the available panels in the city — literally ALL of Vancouver’s concert-grade parts… it’s for OUR use & pleasure.”

She went on to say, “gotta love [the Park Board’s] intolerant, derogatory, stigmatizing, anti-cannabis bias.”

Emery insists it’s a professionally organized event that’s “safe and fun.”

Dana Larsen is an organizer and he says he doesn’t understand why the park has to be closed for so long.

“I’ve looked at photos of the park from a week before the event and photos from the park today and there is some damage that we added to the park but it seems to be 10 weeks is a much longer period of time than last year and that seems very strange to me.”

Larsen claims he has yet to hear from the Park Board. “In fact, Stuart Mackinnon, the park board chair, has refused to meet with me for over two years. He’s never spoken with me or talked to me. He’s blocked me on Twitter and refuses to engage with us or have any discussions with us about 4/20 before or after the event.”

He feels that so-called lack of communication makes things difficult for both sides.

“When we moved to Sunset Beach we considered many spots in the city and looking around trying to find a place that could accommodate our crowd and work for the event. There’s a reason that other large events also happen at Sunset Beach as well, it’s because it’s the only place in the city that can really handle that.”

He thinks Friday’s rain played a factor in the damage. “The first year we were there, there was no damage to the park and the park wasn’t closed at all and that was simply because it was a nice sunny day and there wasn’t any rain. The rain is really the factor that makes it difficult for us.”

Larsen says they considered moving the event to PNE, but adds they were turned down.

He adds this year they will cover the costs to repair the park and any other “auxiliary” costs facing the board.