Flagstaff City Council agreed to remove capacity limitations on outdoor special events this summer, though mask-wearing and social distancing will remain a requirement.
Outdoor special events that are set to take place on city property can anticipate full capacity beginning July 1. The move was supported by a majority of councilmembers at Tuesday's meeting. Councilmember Austin Aslan and Mayor Paul Deasy were the only members hesitant to make the change.
Aslan said he believed there was a solution that allowed the city to continue regulating capacity while also easing restrictions enough for organizers to begin the event-planning process.
"We simply don't have the line of sight to make that decision today," Aslan said. "I think a nice compromise would be to lift these capacities a little bit and very much encourage our event planners and organizers to do the responsible thing and require masks."
Deasy did not entirely disagree with the July 1 date, but advocated for further discussion to place stipulations in case COVID-19 transmission worsened before then.
Tuesday's decision follows a lengthy discussion from two weeks ago also regarding the city's approach to special event permits moving forward. A full reopening was considered then, but because it was not on the meeting agenda, the decision was tabled until this week.
But for many local event planners, time was of the essence when it came to planning large gatherings. Council heard public comments during both meetings from local event planners urging the city to provide a clearer picture of an event-capacity outlook for this summer.
This week, Flagstaff Hullabaloo director Matthew Ziegler told Council he was running out of time to plan the annual festival.
"It usually takes over 10 months to plan this event," he said. "If we are to make an event work in August this year, we now have about three months. Time to organize is crucial for a well-planned event, and now more than ever with all of the safety protocols involved."
Removing the capacity limitation gives event organizers like Ziegler more flexibility as they look to plan summertime festivities.
Special events planned to take place before July will continue to follow capacity limitations agreed upon by Council during the last COVID-19 discussion. Currently, capacity for special event permits is regulated utilizing a capacity calculator. The implementation of the calculator takes into account the type of event, setup, organization and attendees.
Council also addressed safety protocols for upcoming special events, specifically looking at mask-wearing requirements and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vice Mayor Becky Daggett pointed out that the CDC's recommendations already include guidance on mask wearing, and supported following the center's recommendations until new guidance is released.
Council unanimously agreed that outdoor events on city property -- even those taking place after July 1 -- are still required to follow all safety recommendations from the CDC. A few of those protocols include hand washing, physical distancing, wearing masks, and frequent cleaning and disinfecting of facilities.
Just hours before the meeting, the CDC released updated guidelines on masks for outdoor activities. Council was briefed on the changes by Deputy City Manager Shannon Anderson.
The CDC eased mask-wearing rules for Americans, saying that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to cover their faces outdoors unless in a large crowd of strangers.