Parking lots at Encinitas parks to start reopening Friday, May 22

(Staff file photo)

Beacons Beach pathway, which was damaged by winter storms, to reopen in early June


Starting Friday, May 22, Encinitas will take another step toward returning to its pre-COVID-19 days by allowing people to start parking their vehicles in the lots at city parks.

Plans also are in the works to ease beach restrictions, so family groups can spread out blankets and sit down after the weeks of exercise-only, no-stopping beach rules, city employees told the City Council at a special meeting Wednesday, May 20. A date has not yet been fixed for lifting the current sitting-on-the-sand ban, but area cities are working together and hope to remove their restrictions very soon in a coordinated fashion, city Fire Chief Mike Stein said.

Council members said they’d also like to get all the beach parking lots open as soon as possible. The lots were closed to encourage people to stay in their own neighborhoods to exercise, but “that flies in the face of reality” because people are driving to the beach anyway and parking in the surrounding residential neighborhoods, Councilman Joe Mosca said.

Stein told the council that a recent survey of officials at neighboring beach cities found that “none of the jurisdictions wanted the parking lots to open just yet” and any easing of restrictions ought to be done in a fashion that’s “as unified as possible. That way no one jurisdiction stands out.”

There’s another bit of good news on the beach-related front, reported Annette Saul, city park operations manager. Contractors were able to obtain building supplies faster than expected for the planned repair work to the Beacons Beach pathway, she said.

Now that the supplies have arrived, the repair should be able to start Friday, May 22, and “hopefully that (pathway) will be reopened the first week of June,” Saul said. While other beach access points reopened weeks ago to surfers, walkers and swimmers after the city’s coronavirus cases stablized, the Leucadia-area pathway has remained closed because it was badly damaged by a record-setting rainstorm in mid-April.

Walking trails and grass areas, the “passive” sections of the city’s parks, have remained open throughout the coronavirus closure period. Tennis and basketball courts as well as some other active recreation areas closed in mid-March and began reopening to family groups-only in early May.

During the Wednesday, May 20, meeting, the council approved the plans to start partially reopening the parks’ parking lots, allowing about 50 percent occupancy starting Friday, May 22. This will apply to Encinitas Community Park and Leo Mullen Sports Park, as well as Glen, Cottonwood Creek and Oakcrest parks. However, the city’s dog park and skateparks remain closed.

Council members also decided to rework city parking, signage and sidewalk regulations to help restaurants and other businesses recover from the economic impacts related to the pandemic. Among other things, the council approved suspending some city regulations to create “curbside” pickup areas for restaurants and retail businesses. Council members also agreed to let businesses display temporary advertising banners for six months, instead of the usual two, and they waived the permit renewal fees for the 24 restaurants that hold city permits allowing them put tables and chairs on city sidewalk areas.

Other changes in the works include streamlining construction permits for businesses that are proposing to rework their interiors to comply with new county health orders, acting development department services director Roy Sapa’u said. Also, there are plans for a “virtual food court”at Moonlight Beach to advertise area restaurants and offer information about their menus, he said.

Councilman Tony Kranz noted that other San Diego County cities are establishing grant programs to help their small businesses recover from the economic downturn associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Encinitas hasn’t yet done so and might want to add this to the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in July, he said.

While there was good news this week, city employees also told council members that they’ve had their challenges when it comes to the new rules regarding facial coverings. People are supposed to be wearing them when they use the city’s beach access staircases because those staircases are less than six feet wide. However, daily surveys typically find that less than half the beach visitors are using them, sometimes far less than half, Encinitas Lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles said.

Council members said they found the statistics frustrating and mentioned that it’s not just a problem at the beach areas, it’s citywide. Councilwoman Jody Hubbard said she believes the facial covering requirements are going to be around for a while and said she wished the nation’s president would comply with mask-wearing recommendations.

“From what I see, it’s turning into a political statement, which is really sad,” she said, later adding, “I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m extremely frustrated by it.”

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune