North County Report: Beach Access Varies Across the County

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North County Report: Beach Access Varies Across the County

Classrooms go online, the county secures thousands of motel rooms for patients and vulnerable residents and more in our biweekly roundup of North County news.

Residents walk along Carlsbad Boulevard despite the closure of Tamarack Beach just a couple steps below. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Beach access is wildly inconsistent across San Diego amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some agencies have closed only parking lots while others have erected barriers to the shore and shut down boardwalks.

Oceanside and Coronado are outliers for their decision to keep beaches mostly open despite community concerns that those public places will increase the spread of coronavirus at a time when people are instructed to stay indoors and away from others. Officials in both cities are committed to keeping beaches open unless they see a significant number of people congregating in large groups or until a statewide order or countywide order forces them to close.

Without a uniform approach, some residents and state officials are worried that members of the public will just go to the next beach spot that remains open and congregate there.

Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss told VOSD he supports keeping beaches and city parks open, and said the city is following state recommendations with soft closures of beaches. He said the city already closed beach parking lots and recently closed the Strand to residential traffic only. Lifeguards and police, he said, are monitoring the beaches in the meantime and telling people not to have large gatherings.

He said congregation doesn’t seem to be an issue and it won’t be as long as there aren’t of people gathering and not following appropriate guidelines.

“We’re supposed to keep them open,” Weiss said. “I feel more uncomfortable in Walmart than I do at local beaches and parks where there’s not a lot of close contact. To me, it’s important to have my kids go out to the soccer field and play ball.”

Last week, I talked to Oceanside residents concerned about the city’s decision to keep its beaches, parks and golf courses open. Chuck Lowery, a former Oceanside city councilman, said he’s frustrated that beaches remain open, especially now that it’s one of the only cities in the county to do so. Lowery and others say they’re concerned that people from neighboring cities like Carlsbad and Encinitas will come to Oceanside to congregate on the city’s beaches.

I asked Weiss under what conditions the city would close its beaches. “If people don’t listen and there’s too many crowds and it starts being an issue or if the governor issues a statewide order, then we’ll close them,” he said.

On the southern end of the county, people in Coronado can walk or run at the beaches, but only on weekdays. The City Council voted Tuesday to close beaches on weekends after droves of people showed up and city police and fire chiefs complained about exposure to coronavirus during patrols.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey wrote in an email to VOSD the city is committed to doing its part to flatten the curve and slow the spread of coronavirus. He said if anyone is loitering, laying out or not socially distancing, they will be asked to comply with the policy or leave. He said in addition to shutting down parking lots, beach fire rings and volleyball courts, and that the beach is only open for running or walking.

“We trust our community to respect one another and follow the social distancing guidelines,” Bailey wrote in an email to VOSD. “If the situation changes and people are not properly social distancing, then we will close the beach to walking or running immediately.”

On Friday, eight California legislators, including San Diego Assemblymen Todd Gloria and Brian Maienschein, asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order for the immediate closure of all state and county beaches in California to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“This past weekend, despite repeated warnings by you and other elected officials throughout the state,” the letter reads, “Californians and tourists alike continued to flock to our beautiful beaches in droves … As California heads further into spring and summer, our state and county beaches will continue to attract crowds of Californians and tourists without strong statewide intervention.”

Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner-Horvath, who represents Encinitas and Oceanside, did not sign the letter. She did not immediately respond to an interview request.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at a Wednesday press conference it’s up to individual jurisdictions to decide what to do about beach closures, but if they can’t ensure physical distancing, they should close.

North County Students Will Learn Online From Now on

Newsom announced Tuesday that school districts must close for the remainder of the academic school year to prevent the spread of coronavirus in classrooms across the state. Now, school districts across the county are scrambling to get online learning materials to teachers and computers and internet access to students who don’t have it at home.

North County schools are taking different approaches to how and when classes will resume. Some students will begin learning again sooner than others. Carlsbad Unified and Vista Unified, for example, already announced plans to move to online learning for the remainder of the school year. Others have followed suit, and some are still figuring out what they’ll do next.

Carlsbad Unified kicked off online learning on Tuesday.

“This is a big transition, and we expect there to be bumps in the road along the way. Please encourage your students to check for assignments and activities daily, and to keep an open mind about this new experience,” the district’s website reads.

Vista Unified announced March 27 that schools are closed until further notice and a group of teachers and administrators at the district developed a virtual school system to provide a continuation of learning and support services during this time.

“It is important to note that while we believe that the Vista Virtual School System is high quality, it is not intended to replace the normal learning environment,” a district letter to the school community reads.

The move to online learning presents challenges to many families and students who don’t have reliable internet at home. They’re left to figure it out on their own or risk falling behind unless school districts figure out a way to disperse those resources to families.

Earlier this week, I dug into how the coronavirus is bringing San Diego’s digital divide to light.

What We’re Working On

  • Newsom has praised county leaders for rapidly securing thousands of motel rooms for coronavirus patients and vulnerable homeless residents. Yet there’s been widespread confusion about who can access them. Lisa Halverstadt reports about 440 of 2,026 rooms are being offered to temporarily house homeless San Diegans in the county who are considered particularly vulnerable.
  • Our new environment reporter MacKenzie Elmer talked to a scientist who studies the chemistry of the atmosphere at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She explained why you might need more than six feet of space at the beach.
  • And county projections show the number of coronavirus cases may not peak for six weeks, and we may not have enough hospital beds for the patients who need them, Will Huntsberry reports.
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