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Manhattan Beach Grapples With When/How To Reopen Public Spaces

Apr 17, 2020 02:32PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

An empty Manhattan Beach Pier and beach area from back in April. Will the Fourth of July look like this?

When and how will Manhattan Beach re-open its public spaces? The decision is a complicated one, potentially fraught with consequences, as the Manhattan Beach City Council discussed on Friday morning.

The council has agreed to hold a discussion at its meeting on Wednesday, April 22, on potentially opening some public spaces, with restrictions such as mandated face coverings.

Meanwhile, a petition to re-open public spaces in Manhattan Beach has garnered just shy of  2,500 signatures at press time.

"The natives are getting restless," observed Manhattan Beach Mayor Richard Montgomery at Friday's City Council meeting.

As with any move to re-open, there is both the concern that people will ignore social distancing and face-covering requirements; and that increased movement outside the house could lead to a spike in COVID-19 coronavirus transmission. 

This could lead to a second round of closures, council members warned, which would unquestionably be hard or even harder for the public to endure. 

Managing Inconsistencies

Part of the debate has grown from a series of seeming inconsistencies: Some public spaces such as Ocean Drive and the Greenbelt are open, but parks are not. Other jurisdictions such as Hermosa Beach have parks open but Manhattan Beach does not. 

Additionally, the new Los Angeles County requirement that masks or face coverings must be worn in essential businesses has raised the question: If face coverings make it possible for people to shop inside, why wouldn't it make it possible for people to exercise with a face mask in a larger open space?

Council member Steve Napolitano introduced the idea of opening some public recreation spaces while requiring face masks to be worn, to try to bring what he said would be more consistency into current public space restrictions. 

"Polliwog Park is closed, but if we require masks and social distancing, and keep open spaces for walking and sitting - that’s another alternative for folks to be outside," said Napolitano. "Right now we’ve got the Greenbelt with no required masks, and Ocean [Drive] where everyone is congregating."

Napolitano added: "If we’re doing it responsibly, and we're saying it's safe to go into stores with masks...I think other areas should be discussed. With everyone getting stir crazy and wanting to avoid revolt, some further consideration is warranted."

Council member Suzanne Hadley added that the new L.A. County mask order has really "created a new opportunity" for Manhattan Beach to open more public spaces. "For instance, I walk by the dog park and I think, 'With a mask, couldn't that reopen?'"

'Flattening the Curve' - Then What? 

Hadley also brought up the notion about the "curve" having been flattened, with a relatively stable rate of increase in COVID-19 cases, and hospitals such as Little Company of Mary and Torrance Memorial having beds available.

"I would like to remind everyone that the purpose [of all the shutdowns] was to flatten the curve. It was not to eliminate people getting the virus. That is impossible," she said.

But council member Nancy Hersman said she was opposed to lifting restrictions yet.

"I am very frustrated at this conversation. Yesterday was the highest death rate [for Los Angeles County]. I’m all for people enjoying outside, but we're talking about life and death here," said Hersman. "Why are we trying to jump the gun?"

Hersman added that she would want to see movement toward lifting restrictions from a statewide level or as part of a concerted effort of the county or towns working together. "Just when we get police tapes around the park [in Manhattan Beach], we get citations, we’re saying 'Oh, let’s back off,'" she said. "I think this is way too early."

Council member Hildy Stern also called lifting restrictions "a Pandora's box." Opening up spaces should be a collective effort, not something that Manhattan Beach does alone, she said. "It’s really not just about flattening the curve, it’s about making sure we don’t have the deaths and the impact on our health care system."

During the discussion, the city manager and city attorney noted that opening up a new space would require at least a few days' notice in order to fix signage, alert employees, determine policies for citations for face coverings, and more.

Petition Calls for Opening Manhattan Beach Spaces

Meanwhile, a petition calling on Manhattan Beach to open its public spaces has garnered nearly 2,500 signatures (at press time).

Petition author Beck Cherry is a UC Santa Barbara mechanical engineering student who is now home in Manhattan Beach. He said he was inspired to start the petition to let local government officials to know how their actions were affecting the citizens.

"A lot of us who live down near the beach, we don’t have yards, we don’t have open spaces; we’re confined to the alleys," said Cherry in an interview. "Every time we're out walking, almost without fail a bike almost hits us. It’s not safe to be out there."

Cherry added, "In my opinion, walking on the beach where there’s square miles of open sand is way more socially distant than walking on Ocean Ave."

He said he recognizes that the beach closure is a decision made by Los Angeles County, but he would like to see local officials calling for change. "I still think the mayor should be working with L.A. County to open our spaces as quickly as possible, because that’s the healthiest way to get through this."

Editor's Note: Continue reading more on this story, in an update published on Saturday, April 18: Re-Opening Debate Rages On In Manhattan Beach

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