During any other summer, the traffic gridlock on Highway 1 through Half Moon Bay would be just the price to pay for living on the Coastside. The beaches, the restaurants and the pleasant weather attract visitors near and far.
But now, as coronavirus infections are back on the rise in California, local residents are balking at the influx of visitors that could unknowingly bring the virus with them.
Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend city officials opted to close all of its beaches and parking lots, following suit as Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all state beaches closed. The effort was aimed at preventing what happened during the Memorial Day weekend when the Coastside attracted thousands of people to enjoy the scenery and beaches and open space. Now local officials are debating just how open and inviting to be in the midst of a global pandemic.
“City staff and the (San Mateo County) Sheriff’s Office quickly partnered with Caltrans, County Parks, and State Parks to make this closure a success,” Communications Director and City Clerk Jessica Blair said after the Fourth of July. “As far as our long-term plan, we will continue to utilize signage and communication efforts to educate the public.”
City and elected officials have had numerous public discussions since March about options to mitigate crowds and enforce the shelter-in-place guidelines. The solution from the city is to put the onus on individuals to follow the rules of wearing a mask when social distancing is not feasible and to avoid congregating in large groups.
“We continue to provide as many resources and tools as necessary so the public can make informed decisions with their behavior,” Blair said.
This includes putting signs at the beaches and on the Coastal Trail, blasting the city’s social media channels with reminders to wear masks and stay a safe distance from others, and emailing updates. Those include a weekly letter from Mayor Adam Eisen.
At this time, no more beach closures are scheduled unless local or state health officials mandate it, according to Blair.
While the Sheriff’s Office indicates it has been attempting to enforce the social distancing guidelines, it’s proven challenging. Despite numerous citations issued, people continue to ignore the warnings.
“Over the summer, we will utilize our resources to the best of our ability to try and manage the crowds, but again, we rely on residents and visitors to make informed decisions in their behavior given the current environment,” Blair said.
Part of the allure of a trip to the coast is a visit to a local restaurant or bar. About a month ago San Mateo County health officials allowed for outdoor retail and dining to resume.
Half Moon Bay City officials are working to create a formal policy on sidewalk retail and dining, according to Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester. Some restaurants, such as Taste Cafe, are already taking advantage of these options with tables and chairs set up on the sidewalk outside.
Chidester said he’s heard complaints about customers moving tables and chairs to block pedestrian or vehicle access, and people are not always following social distancing guidelines. But overall, he said, businesses have been cooperative.
He said city staff has surveyed businesses over the last few weeks as they home in on drafting an outdoor dining policy.
“We already have a process in place for the use of private parking lots. There still isn’t overwhelming support for parklets (using street parking spaces for dining and retail), or for closing Main Street itself,” Chidester said.
In the coming months, the city is planning to close one or two blocks for a weekend to create a food court seating area. Officials are cautiously optimistic and hope a rise in COVID-19 cases in the county doesn’t scuttle the plan entirely. Several cities in Santa Clara County have closed roads for outside dining, however the rules tightened this week to require more stringent use of masks during the experience.
“We’ll follow all guidance. We don’t want to do anything to promote a public gathering,” he said.
Though the city of Half Moon Bay continues to be reliant on its tourism industry for a health economy, this year city officials are forced to walk a cautious tone for fear of a local coronavirus outbreak.
“We appreciate tourists visiting and our locals utilizing outdoor amenities but will continue to encourage social distancing, face coverings, and respect for the community,” Blair said.