The Coast News Group

ENCINITAS

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Encinitas City Council to hold virtual meetings due to COVID-19 ‘outbreak’

ENCINITAS — After a reported “outbreak” of coronavirus infections at City Hall this past week, the Encinitas City Council has decided to return to virtual meetings for at least the next 30 days.  The council voted 4-0 at Wednesday’s meeting to suspend in-person gatherings, with Mayor Catherine Blakespear absent. The decision came after City Manager Pamela Antil warned that a move to virtual gatherings was necessary in order to protect the public and avert a potential major outbreak of COVID-19 amongst city staff.  “It is with regret that I am making this recommendation, but we have had an outbreak which the Cal/OSHA folks consider an outbreak, while not a major outbreak…and we’re trying to get ahead of it,” Antil said. “Rather than roll the dice and see if we end up with a major outbreak, what I’d like to do is get ahead of it now and ask that we do remote meetings where we don’t have a lot of people gathering in council gatherings, and see if we can nip this one in the bud over the course of a few weeks.”  According to a city spokesperson, both City Hall and the city’s Public Works Department on Calle Magdalena are classified as under “outbreak” as defined by guidelines under California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or CalOSHA. Since the first case at City Hall was reported on May 3, the downtown location has documented a total of six COVID-19 infections. At the Public Works facility, since the first positive COVID-19 case was reported on May 11, the locale has seen a total of four positive cases. The city’s Community and Senior Center does not currently have any reported cases. Cal/OSHA describes an “outbreak” as any situation where three or more coronavirus infections are detected in an “exposed group” within a 14-day period. CAL/OSHA defines a “major outbreak” as any case where 20 or more infections occur within a 14-day period.  Antil said that currently, the city does not meet the threshold for a major outbreak. In the event of a major outbreak, she said state guidelines would mandate that City Hall shut down all operations indefinitely.  The suspension of in-person gatherings at these city facilities will be for at least the next 30 days, after which time the Brown Act requires the council to vote on another resolution if they wish to extend the timeline any further, according to City Attorney Tarquin Preziosi. If there are no additional coronavirus cases reported for a two-week period, Antil said she will recommend the resumption of in-person meetings.  On Wednesday, the four council members expressed regret over the situation but agreed that moving back to virtual meetings would be the best course of action in order to avert a major outbreak.  “It’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but infection rates are on an exponential path to a crisis again,” said Councilman Tony Kranz, referencing the countywide rise in COVID-19 cases in the past couple of weeks. “As much as I enjoy in-person meetings more than I do Zoom, this building that we’re in is an old strip mall, the circulation isn’t great and you have a roomful of people breathing in here. This virus is airborne and that contributes to infection.”  Councilmember Joy Lyndes agreed.  “The last thing I want is to not be in person…but to go against OSHA is not a responsible way forward, and it creates risks that we as a city should not be in a position to take, so that is not how we want to handle this,” Lyndes said.  Cal/OSHA guidelines state the employer, in this case, the City of Encinitas, “shall evaluate” implementing protocols to reduce COVID-19 transmission, including physical distancing protocols of at least six feet, use of cleanable solid partitions, improving air filtration, requiring respiratory protection and/or moving indoor tasks outdoors, in addition to performing indoor tasks remotely. However, city officials and council members did not discuss in detail the prospect of adopting other viable safety measures as possible alternatives to virtual-only meetings. Members of the public who spoke at the meeting expressed displeasure with the council’s decision, calling it politically motivated.  Cindy Cremona, a Leucadia resident and Encinitas mayoral candidate, claimed the council was purposefully switching over to Zoom meetings in order to avoid facing public criticism at upcoming meetings on controversial issues.  “Why are we being denied in-person access to you, our policymakers? That’s easy, you don’t want to hear from us,” Cremona said. “The recommendation tonight isn’t about keeping people safe. It’s about muzzling public participation. Sunlight illuminates the dark corners of council chambers much better than it does a computer screen. “Today, you are closing your doors on the night you’re scheduled to replace Bruce Ehlers. Next week, the controversial homeless parking lot is on your agenda. And in less than a month, you are scheduled to act on the Goodson project. How convenient and how hypocritical.”  Ehlers, who was controversially removed from his role as chairman of the Planning Commission last month, spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, questioning why the council wasn’t exploring viable alternatives to virtual meetings that would still keep people safe.  “How about a hybrid meeting? If, as stated in the staff report, the problem is a city-employee Covid outbreak, then a hybrid combined in-person and Zoom meeting would safely isolate exposed staff from the public,” Ehlers said. “This would also enhance and not impede public participation.” Antil maintained that even a hybrid meeting would still put those in attendance at risk of infection given the outbreak.  “A hybrid meeting simply doesn’t solve the problems that would be created by people gathering here in City Hall,” Antil said.  Ehlers said if a hybrid option was not adopted, the council should wait to convene for discussions on controversial items until the resumption of in-person meetings. Ehlers, an Olivenhain resident and District 4 candidate, also expressed that with three of the sitting council members — Kranz, Lyndes and Blakespear — all running for elected office this year…

You’ve got your New Encinitas, Old Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff-by-the-Sea and Olivenhain. Yes, each of the five communities is part of Encinitas, but make no mistake that they have distinct personalities. An enclave of artists of every kind, Encinitas is known widely as the “flower growing capital of the world,” but that’s really just one part of what makes this city cool. Just ask resident and surfing legend Rob Machado. Traveling the coast of Encinitas you will encounter the ever-funky Leucadia before hitting Swami’s and the Self Realization Fellowship and then the Cardiff State Beach Campgrounds. And who can forget our polarizing buddy the Cardiff Kook?Heading into New Encinitas amazing restaurants and shops dot the landscape where the younger residents take advantage of the highly regarded school districts.

Population: Approximately 61,588

Housing units: Approximately 25,740

Median income: $63,954