Managing crowds
Area residents are encouraged to get out and exercise during the pandemic, but the influx of people to area beaches could create a public health hazard. Barbara Anderson / Review

Thousands of people visited the Coastside this 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.

Over the last week, the state of California and San Mateo County both issued orders to shelter-in-place, only allowing people to leave their residence for essential activities, such as grocery shopping.

Both state and local governments allow walking, hiking and running as long as people stay at least six feet apart from each other. State parks and beaches have remained largely open, though campgrounds are closed.

While people are encouraged to get some exercise, authorities say they did not intend to encourage residents to travel across counties to recreate in large groups, which can put people at greater risk for contracting the virus.

While 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 over the weekend.

“It is a shame no question about it. People are not obeying the rules and that includes people who live on the coast,” Councilman Harvey Rarback said.

On Sunday, Eisen sent an email to residents saying the City Council and staff are aware of the influx of visitors over the weekend and are considering ways to address the violations of the orders.

“City administration is working with local legislators and the governor’s office on remedies. While we own the land and parking lots for a few of our public beaches, jurisdiction of coastal access lies between the city, county, and state and we believe any action should be done collectively,” Eisen writes in his email.

City Manager Bob Nisbet said staff is waiting to see what happens this week. If any more restrictions were to be put in place regarding access to the city beaches he said it would not happen until this weekend. 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 being open to the public. 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.

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