ENCINITAS — During a special meeting on Sunday afternoon, the Encinitas City Council voted 3-2 to approve a proposal to reopen Moonlight Beach starting April 27 and revising sanitation protocols in lieu of state COVID-19 orders.
Councilman Joe Mosca and Councilwoman Jody Hubbard voted against the proposal.
The special meeting was held in response to the San Diego County Health Department’s surprise announcement Friday that ocean activities would be allowed countywide starting at sunrise on Monday.
Several local officials, including Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Stein and Jennifer Campbell, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts, presented to the council an outline of proposed opening procedures, safety issues and financial challenges under the state and county’s advised protocols.
City Manager Karen Brust, who submitted her resignation (effective June 12) last month, said this was the best plan under the circumstances.
“Our team put together the best plan they could possibly [make] in a short period of time… it’s the best we could provide you on such short notice,” Brust said. “This plan is not perfect, we have limited resources, and there are risks, [but] it is the best we can provide.”
Originally, North County coastal cities planned to reopen beaches in a gradual and coordinated effort — different from the beach closures, which Stein described as “haphazard.”
However, when health officials lifted beach restrictions countywide effective April 27, it threw North County governments into chaos.
“It took us by surprise,” Stein said. “We did not know nor did we have any warning that the county was going to do that.”
Stein explained under Phase 1 of the reopening plan, Moonlight Beach will serve as the sole entrance to Encinitas’ coastline, where residents may engage in active recreation such as walking, running, and biking.
Additionally, visitors swimming, surfing, kayaking and paddleboarding, but group activities, such as boating or fishing, are prohibited. Loitering, picnics and sitting on the beach is not permitted and parking lots remain closed.
Under Phase 1, Moonlight Beach is the only entrance to the city’s coastline, with all other public and private access points strictly off-limits.
In Phase 2, other access points such as Beacons, Stone Steps, Swami’s and Grandview, may be opened for exiting the beach only.
“We need people to help us out,” Stein said, “Use the beach as a transient place, get your exercise in, and leave if it becomes overcrowded.”
Jennifer Campbell, director of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts, reviewed the county’s new sanitation protocols for restrooms at beaches and parks, which must be cleaned and disinfected every two hours — or five daily cleanings for each bathroom — for a total of $77,000 per month.
Currently, Blue Moon Janitorial Company cleans nine different city restroom facilities, twice daily, costing the city $2,688 per day.
Campbell clarified that the county health order allows the city to close any restroom facilities it can’t afford to maintain.
Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze asked Campbell whether surfers were required to wear masks under the upcoming order.
“If you can remain six feet apart, you do not need to wear a facial covering,” Campbell said. “If they’re walking, jogging, or surfing, you would not need a mask.”
Councilman Tony Kranz encouraged the public to comply and assist law enforcement officials with the reopening.
“This doesn’t mean you suddenly plan a picnic to the beach,” Kranz said. “You leave everything [at home] when you come to the beach. You don’t bring a chair, you don’t bring anything that would suggest you’re going to be there for a while.”
“It’s a local zone situation,” Kranz said. “We’re not inviting other cities. That would not be in compliance with the way the “stay at home” order is written.”
Mayor Catherine Blakespear voted in favor of adopting the proposed protocols.
“The reality is that we need something that is sustainable,” Blakespear said. “We need to be able to recreate outside.”
“When we have the capacity in our hospitals, we need to take advantage of the places we have for our people to stay safe and well, both mentally and physically, and we need something that can go on for a long time,” Blakspear said.
Residents return to the beach safely
Following a tumultuous week of protests, surprise announcements, special meetings and a few arrests, Encinitas residents eagerly returned to Moonlight Beach on April 27 seeking some measure of normalcy.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Marine Safety Division of the Encinitas Fire Department were prepared to enforce orders established by the Encinitas City Council during a special meeting on April 26.
By midmorning on Monday, law enforcement officials told The Coast News the situation was under control.
“This is kind of the grand opening of North County since everything’s closed down,” said Marine Safety Capt. Larry Giles on Monday. “There’s a lot of people eager to get back in the water but I think it will flatten out a bit when other cities open, once their safety resources are in place.”
In order to enforce state and county health protocols, Giles said lifeguards will be responsible for determining which portions of the beach are available for recreation, establishing an “active zone” on the beaches that will change according to various factors, including tidal conditions, ability to abide by social distancing protocols, staffing numbers and available personal protective equipment for lifeguards.
“We are keeping a close eye on it constantly with the Sheriff’s Department,” Giles said. “Can we get to all of the beach areas to ensure beachgoers safety? Do we have the numbers to manage the conditions of the county health order? This is a fluid situation.”
Lt. John Boyce, of the Sheriff’s North Coastal Station, said deputies will be educating the public about the current status of the beach and what that means for them.
With regard to enforcing social distancing guidelines, Boyce said most individuals will receive a verbal notification first.
“If there’s a group seen congregating and it’s brought to our attention, [we’re] going to address it by speaking to the group and asking them to abide by the current laws first before issuing a citation,” Boyce said.
Throughout the morning, lifeguards used the loudspeakers to remind beachgoers to keep moving.
Currently, residents can only access the ocean and coastline through Moonlight Beach. All other access points in Encinitas are closed and will be intermittently monitored by the Sheriff’s department during peak hours.
“This upcoming weekend will be a test for us to determine what kind of manpower we need in place to handle all of this,” Boyce said. “But the surfers are happy and you know, this is a surfing town. Though the virus is unique, it’s nothing we haven’t handled similarly during a busy summer weekend.”