GENEVA – Aldermen voted 7-1 with two absent to suspend special event review and approval for events on or before Oct. 1, but expanded outdoor seating areas to Oct. 31.
Speaking at the July 6 City Council meeting, City Administrator Stephanie Dawkins said several other communities have taken similar steps to cancel summer and fall events including Elgin, Glen Ellyn, St. Charles and Batavia.
Dawkins said nothing in Gov. Pritzker’s executive order on limited gatherings affects gatherings in private households or residences. Likewise, the city cannot regulate gatherings on private property,only special events proposed to be on public property.
“I would emphasize that the events that we are talking about this evening are only those that would be required to go through the city special event application process,” Dawkins said.
“While we recognize that special events draw people to community benefiting restaurants and merchants, it is also important to evaluate the impact of using public property for organized events, given the close concentration of expanded outdoor seating areas and current social distancing challenges,” Dawkins said.
The Phase 4 guidelines under Gov. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan limits any gathering of more than 50 people as in-person contact presents the greatest risk of transmission of COVID-19, she said.
Conventions, festivals and large gatherings are not permitted until Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, Dawkins said.
“Individuals are encouraged to continue limiting in-person contact with others and to expand their social contact cautiously. Gathering remotely continues continues to be the safest way to interact with those outside a household or residence,” Dawkins said.
An example of an event that does not require a special event permit would be the Geneva Park District hosting its Wednesday night concerts in a park on its own property.
“It’s not on city property, the city has no involvement,” Dawkins said. “A private event on private property – the city would not be involved. Only if it’s closing city streets, closing city sidewalks, using city parking lots. And that would include athletic events as well – runs – we close streets down for that.”
Regarding the Geneva Chamber of Commerce’s annual Festival of the Vine, which is held in September, 4th Ward Alderman Gabriel Kaven asked if the recommendation couldn’t be for Sept. 1 instead of Oct. 1 to give the chamber the possibility of hosting the event.
“Moving it to Sept. 1 means we’re reviewing it now,” Dawkins said. “And reviewing it now means our recommendation would be not to approve it.”
She said staff will continue to monitor updates to the guidelines, and if they change, staff would revisit the issue.
“We were trying to put a date out there so we’re not reviewing things now for a date in the future, knowing that where we are today, we would not recommend approval,” Dawkins said.
Kaven acknowledged that these decisions are difficult.
“I know that none of this is normal,” Kaven said. “And I do understand that, it’s just I with there was something else that we would be able to do or stall it off a little bit.”
First Ward Alderman Michael Bruno said he was sure all aldermen had great empathy for merchants and the chamber with regard to festivals.
“The example we are seeing of opening too early across the country – I think it’s much better to stay closed too long than open too early, from what I’m seeing, so I would be supportive of this,” Bruno said.
Kaven cast the lone no vote; 1st Ward Alderman Tara Burghart and 4th Ward Alderman Jeanne McGowan were absent.