CARLSBAD —The Carlsbad City Council deadlocked 2-2 on reopening the city’s beaches, trails and parks during a special meeting on April 25, despite growing public pressure to recreate outdoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each motion failed due to the impasse, although the council approved another special meeting for May 1 to readdress potential openings.
The city’s special meeting was held in response to San Diego County health officials’ surprise announcement to reopen beaches on April 27, which caught several North County coastal cities unprepared.
Councilwomen Cori Schumacher and Priya Bhat-Patel voted against reopening the recreational areas saying they wanted more thorough plans and protocols in place. Mayor Matt Hall and Councilman Keith Blackburn said phased-in plans are in place, as presented by staff, and felt the decrease of coronavirus cases in the city shows it is ready to reopen.
“Six weeks ago, we were second in the county,” Hall said. “Now, we’re one of the lowest. We’ve worked as a community to make that happen. I think it’s reasonable to say this fall the virus will come back and I think we’ll be very, very prepared.”
However, Kevin Lynds, a battalion chief with the Carlsbad Fire Department, told the council the county’s decision to reopen beaches “took us by surprise.”
Lynds said a number of agencies across the county have been in discussions about a phased-in reopening, but no specific date had been set.
Carlsbad Fire Chief Mike Calderwood recommended the city reopen its beaches in a coordinated effort with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which owns the southern six miles of beaches in Carlsbad.
Calderwood said the reasoning is to avoid creating large groups of people gathering along just one mile of city-run coastline, along with visitors who may not know the boundary between state and city beaches.
The county’s latest order regarding beaches stipulates people must be running, walking or entering the water. Beachgoers are not allowed to stand, sit or lie down on the beach.
Blackburn said the city would have a huge congregation of people on the beach if the city opens independent of the state. He urged for a soft opening with limited recreational activities, such as surfing, paddleboarding, walking and running.
According to Carlsbad Police Chief Neil Gallucci, there is no timetable from the state to reopen its beaches.
“Life goes on and we should move on,” Hall said. “We’ll have the protocols in place to make that happen.”
Schumacher said there was not enough information to hold a vote. Additionally, she said the earliest the city should consider a reopening is May 1.
Still, Schumacher and Bhat-Patel said they did not feel comfortable with the plans presented by staff and wanted to make sure another week passed to ensure a steady decrease in cases was consistent.
“It’s unsettling to see this rapid change,” said Bhat-Patel, who holds a doctorate in public health. “We’ve done well as a community. We still have to remain vigilant. A lot of people think it’s fear — it’s not. It’s actual science and data. It’s a very unknown disease.”
Calderwood said as of April 14, the city has reported just 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with no new cases since then.
“The number of positive cases based on people tested has been decreasing and is currently just about 6%,” he said. “On April 20 there is a slight increase then a decrease.”
The council looked at reopening trails on April 28 and parks on May 1. No date was discussed about the beach, as Calderwood said it would be best to do so in coordination with the state.
In North County, only Encinitas and Oceanside have reopened their beaches for limited use. Del Mar and Solana Beach have kept their beaches closed.
As of May 1, facemasks will be required for all residents in the county who go outside and are not further than 6 feet away from nonhousehold individuals. There will be other stipulations, although the official order has yet to be released by the county, according to City Attorney Celia Brewer.
Violators in the city can be fined $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $1,000 for the third.