Health Officer orders ruled that public beaches in Santa Barbara County were closed to non-exercise activities over Labor Day weekend, but that didn’t seem to matter much to members of the public.
Over the course of the weekend, crowds of people laid on the beach and disobeyed the order, which Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol officer Monica Broumand said came as quite a surprise to her department. Whereas similar prohibitions of non-active beach activities enacted over the July 4 weekend to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were largely met with compliance from the public. Labor Day weekend was precisely the opposite.
“There were a lot of people sitting and lying down,” Officer Broumand said. “There wasn’t supposed to be any pop-ups or umbrellas. The beach was covered with those.”
In order to encourage compliance with the restrictions, parking lots at Santa Barbara County beaches were closed with barriers. This helped little if at all, and Officer Broumand told the News-Press that Harbor Patrol received reports of people removing beach closure signs and tossing them into nearby bushes.
Early on Labor Day, Harbor Patrol officers spoke to some individuals at Leadbetter and West Beach about the restriction of non-exercise beach activities, but they had to respond to other calls shortly thereafter. These calls were regarding disturbances like people parking illegally, speeding on boats in the harbor, and even a boating accident.
By the time the officers checked back on the beaches, they were filled with people. By the end of the day, on duty Harbor Patrol officers had doubled from two to four, but Officer Broumand remarked that this wasn’t nearly enough to enforce the beach closures.
“We just don’t have the manpower to control the beaches being closed all day long,” she said.
She added that while beaches were supposed to be closed to lying around, Harbor Patrol had to tend to its number one priority, ensuring boating safety.
Harbor Patrol’s log of encounters with members of the public for Labor Day was twice as long as an ordinary day’s log.
“We usually have a four-page log on most days and we had an eight-page log over the weekend,” she said.
In a statement to the News-Press, Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors chair Gregg Hart said that while not everyone complied with the Health Officer order to the degree he had hoped, crowds at the beach were still far below normal Labor Day levels. Since massive crowds of out-of-towners stayed away as a result of the order, he considers the level to which people complied with it a success.
His statement read: “The beach access restrictions were enacted to reduce the possibility that out-of-town visitors would come to local beaches in large numbers and create overcrowded conditions that could increase the community spread of COVID-19. This objective was met.”
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office increased patrols on beaches between Friday and Monday. According to public information officer Raquel Zick, the Sheriff’s Office wrote 99 traffic citations over the weekend for beach parking violations and for cars parked in the Red Flag area of Tunnel Road.
While patrolling the beaches, deputies spent most of their time educating beachgoers and giving verbal warnings about the Health Officer order. No citations were issued.
Santa Barbara County underwent a sweltering heat wave over the holiday weekend, with the National Weather Service in Oxnard reporting some official highs for Sunday, the weekend’s hottest day. According to meteorologist Mark Jackson, Santa Maria broke its 1958 record-high temperature for the date at 103 degrees. Santa Barbara Airport broke its day-of record from 1955 with a high temperature of 97 degrees.
Though the NWS doesn’t have long-term records to determine whether some other localities broke records, Mr. Jackson said there was no shortage of staggeringly high temperatures on Sunday. The city of Santa Barbara reached a high of 102 degrees, Gaviota Beach a high of 109, the Montecito Hills 111, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden 112, and Santa Ynez 117. Lompoc had the highest of the highs, reaching 122 degrees.
“It’s fair to say it was an unprecedented heat wave,” Mr. Jackson said.
For the rest of this week, the NWS forecasts slightly higher temperatures than the seasonal average. According to Mr. Jackson, today is expected to reach a high of 85 degrees, Thursday and Friday highs of 83 degrees, Saturday 82 degrees, and 83 degrees again on Sunday.
Smoke from wildfires continuing to blaze across California continues to make its way to Santa Barbara County, which received more than expected over the holiday weekend. According to Santa Barbara County air pollution control officer Aeron Arlin Genet, the Air Pollution Control District’s initial air quality forecast for Labor Day weekend was done prior to the start of the Creek Fire on Friday.
The additional smoke from the Creek Fire led to the forecast changing from within the range of green to moderate air quality to simply moderate air quality. Ms. Arlin Genet told the News-Press that the change in Santa Barbara County’s air quality was not just due to the smoke heightening particulate matter, but also due to high temperatures increasing ozone levels.
It is not clear to the APCD exactly which wildfire is producing most of the smoke blowing into Santa Barbara County.
While most of the county has moderate air quality, Ms. Arlin Genet said some APCD staff in the North County have reported ashfall. In the event one sees ash falling outside, Ms. Arlin Genet recommended staying indoors as much as possible, cleaning up ash with a wet towel rather than with a leaf blower, and avoiding ash getting on one’s skin.
The APCD forecasts moderate air quality in Santa Barbara County today.