Residents react to bounce house policy at Clewiston parks

“They didn’t include local companies. They didn’t think of the consequences. It affects people.”

A decision made by the Clewiston City Commission last week has some residents and one local business owner up in arms about the tentative policy.

Luis Vallejo, who operates Busy Bee Party Rental in Clewiston, was outspoken about the policy, which he said has already lost him hundreds of dollars.

“This isn’t a hobby for me. It’s my job,” he said.

At their regular meeting on Monday, July 20, commissioners voted to suspend all private parties with bounce houses and other inflatables on city parks except Sugarland Park for 30 days.

The decision came roughly one month after commissioners asked Vallejo and other registered businesses to add the city on a $1-million insurance policy to limit the city’s liability in the case of an accident. The city also required all residents renting inflatables to sign a hold harmless agreement, further limiting its liability.

Vallejo complied with the commission’s demands, and even lauded them on social media saying such a policy was the norm and he welcomed the decision.

“I was in favor of the changes they were making last month with the insurance. I’m OK with that. I love the fact that they’re making a registered list. That means the fly-by-nights are going to have a barrier to prevent them from setting up,” Vallejo told The Clewiston News.

So when commissioners decided all bounce houses and other inflatables could only be set up at Sugarland Park on Sonora Avenue for 30 days, Vallejo and residents with scheduled parties were confounded.

“They allowed me to book the parties that we had to cancel,” said Vallejo. “The city allowed me to do this, only to make me contact my customers and say ‘we’re going to cancel your event.’ How professional does that make me look?”

Residents also felt affronted.

Responding to the news on Facebook, one resident wrote, “Our taxes pay for the parks and now we are not allowed to use them?”

Another resident wrote that her friend was forced to move a birthday party to a new venue after reserving a park four weeks ago.

City commissioners on the other hand stand behind their decision until they hear recommendations from city staff regarding the issue.

Commissioner Mali Gardner said her decision was based on the fact that the city attorney did not recommend allowing inflatables on city property at all.

“Most other communities have guidelines and requirements, whereas we have not done that. I think it’s in the best interest for the community as whole to check with the attorney and go from there, to minimize risk especially for the kids. … We do have wonderful resources here in town and I want to be a good steward of them,” said Commissioner Gardner.

Mayor Phillip Roland, who was the first to raise concern over the use of inflatables on city property, was adamant that the commission’s decision was based on safety and liability.

The issue of parks being overtaken by very large parties and essentially closed off to other users has also been raised, as well as the noise level for residents living around some of these parks.

Commissioner Julio Rodriguez said he was waiting for staff’s recommendation before he made a final decision about the issue, but said he does not want to put anyone out of business because of this decision.

“I’m really open for suggestions from the board and maybe some of the vendors. There’s no doubt that they’re popular, kids love to bounce and slide so I think there’s a time and a place for them. But today I couldn’t tell you whether I’m for it or against it. I’d like to have more conversations on it, so hopefully we can come up with a resolution,” said Commissioner Rodriguez.

Though most of the commission’s conversation has been centered around safety and liability, some residents, including Vallejo, have wondered if that’s really the crux of the issue. To date, there have been no reported accidents due to inflatables on city property.

“The idea that it’s just because of the liability is the wrong idea. There’s an agenda there. … The question I keep asking people is ‘what’s next?’” said Vallejo.

Since the commission’s decision to move all parties with inflatables to Sugarland Park on July 20, three parties either canceled their event entirely, canceled their bounce house reservation or moved the party to another location.

One of those canceled events was the annual Hendry County Sheriff’s Community Fun Day, which was scheduled for Aug. 8. Sheriff Steve Whidden explained that it was not feasible for the department to plan the event by Aug. 8 and it is looking to reschedule.

As of Monday, there were five events scheduled at Sugarland Park before the next commission meeting. Two of those events will have bounce houses.

The Clewiston City Commission will revisit the policy at their next regular meeting on Aug. 17 at 5 p.m. at Clewiston City Hall.

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