Thousands of people visited the Coastside this past weekend to take advantage of the beautiful beaches and open space, but they also put themselves and others at risk due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The city of Half Moon Bay appears poised to do something about it.
Over the last week, the state of California and San Mateo County both issued orders to shelter-in-place, allowing people to leave their residence for essential activities, such as grocery shopping. Both state and local governments allow people to exercise outside by walking, hiking and running as long as people stay at least six feet apart.
However, many people got in their cars over the weekend to travel to beaches and parks, sometimes gathering in large groups, which can put everyone at greater risk for contracting the virus. In response state and local officials are closing parks or making access to beaches and parks more difficult.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Half Moon Bay Mayor Adam Eisen, among others, issued urgent calls for people to stay closer to home. There were traffic jams down coastal highways throughout the region and crowded beaches from Stinson Beach to San Diego.
“It is a shame no question about it. People are not obeying the rules and that includes people who live on the coast,” City Councilman Harvey Rarback said.
On Sunday, Eisen sent an email to residents saying the City Council and staff is aware of the influx of visitors over the weekend and are looking for solutions. The following day San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow reiterated the intention of the shelter-in-place orders.
“As for outdoors exercise, people certainly need to get out, but do this in your own immediate neighborhoods,” he said. “Do not drive except to provide or obtain an essential service. Do not go into other neighborhoods for recreation. This increases the risk of virus spread.”
That same day, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state is closing parking lots to dozens of beaches and state parks, including Half Moon Bay State Beach, to discourage people from congregating in large masses.
City Manager Bob Nisbet said staff is waiting to see what happens this week, but said the city could follow state actions and close parking lots at Poplar and Redondo Beach. He also indicated that the city is at the whim of state and county regulations in some respects.
This week the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss the topic of parks and beaches. For now, the only guidance from the county’s Park Department is to practice social distancing, leave no trash behind and plan accordingly as all restrooms, picnic areas, playground and visitor centers are closed.
San Mateo County is not the only jurisdiction having to manage summer-like crowds. Marin County public health officials shut down city, town, county, state and federal parks, including the Point Reyes National Seashore and Muir Woods.
It’s unclear yet if the city of Half Moon Bay or San Mateo County will take such measures, but local officials recognize the need to encourage people to adhere to the shelter in place orders.
At this point the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office is not issuing citations to people who are violating the social distance rules or traveling for non-essential work, according to spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade. But the Sheriff’s Office is asking for people to voluntarily comply and educating people about the rules when possible. The Sheriff’s Office also put out electronic messaging signs at the entry points to the city on Highway 1 and 92 reminding people to stay home.