It’s been nearly two months since statewide stay-at-home orders, but warm weather has drawn many visitors to Coastside attractions. As the pandemic drags on, the Half Moon Bay City Council, city staff and local law enforcement officials are struggling to find the balance between education and enforcement.
Under current San Mateo County health guidelines, people are required to recreate within 10 miles of their residence and must stay at least six feet from others who are not a part of their own household. Additionally, people are to wear masks when they visit essential businesses or when social distancing is not feasible. However, once again over the weekend, people flooded into the coast, creating traffic jams and an enforcement conundrum.
In April, most on the City Council wanted the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to ticket rather than warn violators of the health orders. Sheriff’s Office Capt. Saul Lopez said his deputies instead have been taking an educational approach, and that citing violators was a last resort. Over recent weekends, Lopez said deputies have given hundreds of verbal warnings and issued dozens of parking citations. Extra staffing was brought in to patrol on the weekends and deputies have used an off-road vehicle to access the beaches.
Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock proposed on May 5 that the city establish a residential parking permit program, even if it just as temporary action, until the state of emergency is lifted.
“So it is easy to determine who the residents are and who are not,” she said.
This is not the first time the city’s considered a parking permit program. In 2005, the issue came up as a way to address overflow beach parking and excess trash in the neighborhoods. The California Coastal Commission required the city to apply for a Coastal Development Permit stating the program would limit the public’s access to the beach.
Ruddock said she would like to see a program in the neighborhoods west of Highway 1 to start. Not all councilmembers were on board with the idea, however. Vice Mayor Robert Brownstone said unless the program was initiated for all neighborhoods it would be challenging.
“If you have one neighborhood with signs up then everyone simply moves to the other neighborhoods,” he said. “So we just keep moving the issue around.”
Councilman Harvey Rarback acknowledged the cost and time associated with implementing a permit program would be difficult.
“It involves a large amount of administrative overhead that has to be factored into this when we don’t have the staff to do this,” he said.
City Manager Bob Nisbet said under normal circumstances there would be a public process to survey residents to see if this is a program they’d want to implement. There would be administrative costs but would be mostly covered by the fees paid by residents for the permits.
Nisbet said he would ask the Coastal Commission about permitted parking, but acknowledged that the state board would likely disapprove of a permit program, but may make an exception on a temporary basis.
“We’d want to devise it out as simple as possible to avoid a lot of work,” he said.
Lopez said enforcing a parking permit program comes with challenges.
“It would be difficult to do the enforcement. My staff would respond on a compliant basis,” Lopez said. “But to proactively zig-zag through the neighborhoods that would be difficult to enforce based on the contract we have with the city and our staffing.”
Other ideas included checkpoints on the major highways leading into Half Moon Bay. Lopez dismissed the proposal stating that the request would have to be approved by Caltrans.
“It would cause a traffic nightmare if we did checkpoints on a state route,” he said.
Lopez said he’s noticed lately people are being more cooperative, with deputies responding to fewer calls for service.
“People are getting the message,” he said.
Some city residents are not so sure.
“We have to get tougher, even if it is considering a permit program," Ruddock said.