Encinitas will allow staircase access, open more beach space starting Saturday, May 9

All stairways up and down connecting the street and beaches will reopen Saturday.
All stairways up and down connecting the street and beaches will reopen Saturday.
(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Encinitas will expand the open areas of its beaches and allow people to use coastal access staircases starting Saturday, May 9, the City Council unanimously decided Wednesday, May 6.

One day earlier, on Friday morning, May 8, the city also will lift some restrictions on “active” recreation areas at city parks, permitting families to play basketball or tennis, but keeping the playgrounds, skatepark areas and pickleball courts closed due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

In order to move to the “Phase Two”stage of opening the beaches, the city’s lifeguard program will shift into summer staffing levels five weeks early, at an additional expense of $45,000. The extra staffing is needed because of the sheer number of pedestrians, runners, surfers and swimmers who’ve been coming to Moonlight Beach since it reopened to active recreation in late April, Encinitas Lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles told the council.

“I just wanted to stress to you that we are seeing record numbers down on our beaches,” he said, mentioning that because of the lack of other entertainment options and the school closures tens of thousands of people have been coming to the beach to exercise.

In order to relieve pressure on Moonlight Beach’s access points, city employees are proposing to reopen the public access staircases at D Street, Grandview and Stonesteps now that the county of San Diego is allowing this change, city Fire Chief Mike Stein said.

The city’s staircases are not wide enough to meet the recommended 6-foot separation distance between people set by the county’s health department, so people are required to wear facial coverings when using the staircases, he added. Several weeks ago, council members had proposed making the stairways one-way access points once they reopened, but Stein said Wednesday, May 6, that the county will support two-way access as long as staircase users wear facial coverings.

Councilwoman Jody Hubbard asked if someone will be checking people going up and down the stairs to see if they are wearing facial coverings.

“I’m really concerned about compliance ... I think we could be in for a real boomerang (second wave of coronavirus cases in Encinitas),” she said.

Stein said there isn’t the staffing available to monitor the staircases daily for hours at a time, but sheriff’s deputies will be doing “spot checks” and he’s also hoping that peer pressure will help encourage compliance.

Hubbard said she hoped the city will have extensive signage placed at the staircases detailing the facial covering requirement and the narrowness of the staircases.

Councilman Tony Kranz said people need to realize that they don’t have to wear a medical-grade mask; they can use a scarf or a T-shirt, or even pull a towel across their faces as they go up or down the stairs.

In addition to opening the staircases, the city also will be expanding the open areas of the beaches beyond the high tide region. That will create more sand space for runners and pedestrians, thus reducing crowding, Stein said.

The beaches remain closed to picnicking, beach volleyball games, sitting on the sand and sunbathing. Beach parking lots also remain closed.

Encinitas was one of the first communities in San Diego County to partially reopen its beaches when the county began authorizing cities to do so. Moonlight Beach reopened to active recreation April 27. Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach began reopening their beaches later on May 4.

--- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune