4/17/20: Opening vs. Closing During this Pandemic

As our pandemic “stay at home” period drags on, you may be wondering, “Aren’t we re-opening yet? Why are we closing down even more areas?” 

While there’s a lot of talk about what conditions are necessary for re-opening, our county’s coronavirus numbers continue to rise every day. And the county’s health orders regarding the requirement to stay at home haven’t changed.

We can’t let our guard down just yet.

It’s hard to look at the graph above and think that we’ve peaked, or even plateaued. 

However, our local hospitals aren’t overwhelmed and the number of Encinitas residents testing positive remains relatively low. We haven’t had a new positive case for almost a week. The number of Encinitas cases is holding steady at 34 cases.

Let’s look at the issues one at a time:

The beaches and the ocean

So why are the beaches and the ocean closed? Because the county health order, effective April 10, 2020, says this: “Swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, boating for recreational purposes, and all other water recreational activities are prohibited on or in public waterways and at beaches.” 

This order will be in effect through the end of April. The full text of the order is here.

I have been speaking with the leaders of other coastal cities about what we could do to influence the county to get the ocean back open. Just speaking personally, I think the city can require and enforce social distancing to access the ocean, and people in the ocean can be required to stay more than six feet apart.     

The Cardiff Rail Trail and Hwy 101 pedestrian walkway

The top photo was taken on the Coastal Rail Trail at the beginning of the pandemic, but before the walking path was closed, as seen in the bottom photo.

The other issue that has irritated some people today is the closing of the Coastal Rail Trail and the walking areas along Highway 101. This happened because of substantial and uncontrolled crowding, especially on sunny days. And unfortunately, a low percentage of people are wearing the recommended facial masks. 

The county’s health order says this: “All public parks and recreation areas, including public beaches, where social distancing requirements cannot be effectively implemented shall close.” 

The Cardiff Rail Trail is between 10- and 12-feet wide, and all reports from the officials in our Emergency Operation Center (as well as my own subjective observations) are that there was substantial overcrowding as too many people were drawn to the area. People would drive there to walk, and they would see others they knew and stop to chat without social distancing. And again, very few masks.

Here are stories from the San Diego Union-Tribune and Encinitas Advocate.

Working to preserve walking and biking in Encinitas

At our City Council meeting last Wednesday night, we gave direction to the city staff to return to us with options for providing more public space for walking and biking, even considering the temporary elimination of car traffic lanes to accommodate this, or walking in now-closed parking lanes. We also talked about the creation of one-way travel to make distancing easier to accomplish.

Another problem area that we’re working to improve is Neptune Avenue, where many people are enjoying the outside near the ocean on a public street. 

Here are some important reminders while exercising outside:

  • Don’t spit or clear your nose onto the sidewalk or the road. This is unsanitary, and it alarms people. Plus, gross. 
  • Don’t run or ride your bike closely behind others, especially when you are heavily breathing. 
  • Wear a facial covering! It is not mandatory (yet) but it’s strongly advised. Masks are protective, and indicate that you are taking this pandemic seriously and encouraging others to follow suit. 
  • Avoid walking in places where others are walking. Resist the urge to congregate, even when standing far away from others. 
  • As one resident suggested, “Don’t drive to your walk.” Walk around your own city streets or exercise at home.

I understand the frustration with the current sacrifices we’re making, but please know that all these measures are being guided by scientific expertise, with the aim of protecting vulnerable people.

More Encinitas updates…

Here are some other highlights that I’d like to share with you.

  • Helping local businesses: We asked city staff to come back with options for the city to help our small businesses through a loan or grant program. We have 560 businesses in the city and want to help small businesses that might fall through the cracks. It’s heartbreaking for me to receive letters at City Hall detailing how many jobs are being eliminated, and hearing from business owners gripped with fear and anxiety about their uncertain future. 
     
  • Homeless assistance: We are continuing to provide money to the Community Resource Center for motel vouchers for people experiencing homelessness during the “stay at home” orders. About 75 vouchers have been utilized. We need to find better solutions for those experiencing homelessness than a motel room, but for this moment it’s better than nothing. I’ve been thinking about all the empty vacation rentals in the city and the housing that’s available.
     
  • Farewell to Karen: Our beloved city manager, Karen Brust, is retiring after 35 years in municipal government. She’s been with us nearly five years, and is the only permanent city manager that I’ve worked with since being elected. The City Council hires and fires only two people – the city manager and the city attorney. The city manager hires her team, all of the city staff, to accomplish the City Council’s priorities. Karen has served the city well. We’ll immediately begin the hunt for her replacement. She’ll be with us through mid-June. We will sorely miss her and wish her many happy years in a well-deserved retirement. 

Let’s do another Facebook Live this Saturday afternoon!

Tomorrow, Saturday, at 4 p.m. I’ll be doing another Facebook Live to discuss the ocean and trail closures, and answer your questions. Our first Facebook Live was great, and you can still watch it here. Feel free to ask questions at the end of our Facebook chat – or to avoid getting crowded out, you can reply to this email beforehand with questions that I can address for you. 

I’m so grateful to the several dozens of you who’ve contributed to my re-election campaign after my announcement last week that I’m running to be re-elected as your mayor. From the bottom of my heart, thank you! It takes all of us to make success happen, and I’ve never been more grateful for your energetic support.

Final thoughts

Under any circumstances, as your mayor, controversy comes with the job. While I understand this, I’m not a person who relishes fighting and disagreement. I try to maintain an even approach, focusing on what’s in the best interest of Encinitas residents, working to solve the problems that confront us, like homelessness, and bettering our lives through investments in public spaces, such as the Coastal Rail Trail – which I hope we’ll be able to enjoy again soon.

Together, we are accomplishing so much in Encinitas, but there remains a lot to do. I’m eager to continue working with you, preserving and enhancing our paradise!

In your service,

P.S. Check out this 3-D simulation from the New York Times that graphically shows why social distancing is so crucial to overcoming this pandemic:

Coronavirus Resources