EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated with several clarifications.
ENCINITAS — Following stay-at-home protests in San Diego and Encinitas over the weekend, Mayor Catherine Blakespear held a Facebook Live session to address several issues, including the reopening of the Coastal Rail Trail and beaches.
Later this week, Blakespear said the Coastal Rail Trail along Highway 101 will reopen to the public with additional signage enforcing social distancing and personal protective equipment, such as face masks. The decision to open the trail was made prior to the rally on April 19.
“Closing the trail was a reset,” Blakespear told The Coast News. “There was too much crowding. We wanted people to reestablish their habits near their home, in their neighborhoods and to not drive to their daily walk.”
Blakespear continued, outlining a proposed three-phase process to open access to the ocean, beaches and parking lots — in that order — in the coming weeks.
“I want to open it as soon as possible,” Blakespear said. “It seems to me the risk of [contracting COVID] is the lowest in the ocean because people are, by nature, 6 feet apart. It’s completely reasonable for people to safely get back in the water.”
County officials are responsible for the health order which closed public access to beaches until April 30, not individual coastal cities.
While the county has not officially committed to allowing water access starting May 1, Blakespear said it appears county and local officials are aiming to review the health order at that time.
She further acknowledged initial beach closures last month were “disorganized and chaotic,” which left certain beaches vulnerable to large crowds. Future decisions will likely be made in unison with all coastal communities.
“We don’t want just one city to open their beaches alone,” Blakespear said. “If Encinitas were to open their beaches on their own, we could be completely overrun by beachgoers from all across the county.”
Not only will coastal mayors, city councilmembers, county health officials and law enforcement influence the process of opening access to beaches, but also local marine safety officers and lifeguards.
“They are on the front lines of water rescues and crowd management. How we unroll regulations and opening procedures is going to be based on their recommendations,” Blakespear said.
Additional factors include considering the size of beach access points.
Many narrow wooden staircases found on northern Encinitas beaches are incapable of supporting social distancing guidelines, while entrances at Moonlight Beach are wide enough to accommodate beachgoers. This will impact which entrances will be accessible to the public.
“The beaches will be opened to active recreation only,” Blakespear said. “Walking, running, and potentially biking on the beach will be allowed but not laying out, having a party or sitting in a group.”
Regulations will be enforced by authorities, Blakespear said.
The final phase is to reopen parking lots adjacent to the beach.
“We need to have some type of crowd control so we don’t end up with the spring break crowds we’ve seen in photos of Florida and other beach communities,” Blakespear said. “Regulating parking is a way of controlling numbers.”
While the timing and implementation of these phases are not concrete, local officials will base all decisions on the most current data reported by county health officials.
If San Diego County experiences an unexpected spike in COVID cases, public areas may be closed once again.
Blakespear also addressed recent protests in Encinitas, expressing her disappointment and dismay over not just the manner in which protesters conducted themselves, but also the lack of response by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Despite an estimated 200 people attending, deputies did not issue any citations to protestors clearly violating social distancing guidelines.
Just two weeks prior, near that very same location, Encinitas police ticketed families and individuals sitting in their cars watching the sunset.
“[Encinitas’] law enforcement agencies will be much better prepared [in the future] and also have clarity about what it is they are [enforcing] … about what is acceptable, at the very least how be dispersing people … and how to apply that evenly.”
Such clarity will be needed in the coming weeks as local law enforcement enforce the gradual reopening of public spaces.
Blakespear compared the nearly 200 protesters’ disrespect for the law to those who remained home.
“It is quite selfish for people to be completely violating stay-at-home orders,” Blakespear said. “People are sacrificing and really suffering. People are out of work, small businesses are closed… and healthcare workers are putting their own health at risk on the front lines.
“There is a way to exercise your first amendment and freedom of assembly rights… while also maintaining distance from other people, wearing facial coverings and abiding by the social contract.”
Protestors eventually marched along Coast Highway 101 from Swami’s to Blakespear’s private residence.
“I [found] it to be a violation and invasion of my own privacy,” Blakespear said. “It definitely frightened my children to have a hundred people taunting me to come out, trying to somehow engage me on a Sunday at my private home.”
Blakespear said she was not given any warning from law enforcement that the walking protesters were headed to her personal residence.
“We have places where decisions are made… they are at City Hall or county government,” Blakespear said. “Local or official decisions are not made at private residences.”
“I would encourage anybody who wants to protest to do it at City Hall, in a controlled way,” Blakespear said.
Mayor Blakespear has held multiple such Facebook Live Sessions during the coronavirus, in which she gives further details on city regulations and decision-making, as well as answers to live questions from residents. These are available for all to watch and participate at facebook.com/cblakespear.