The Santa Barbara beaches were unusually empty on Tuesday despite a sunny day and a cool breeze.
Parks and Recreation Department staff took down the East Beach volleyball nets, but a few walkers, joggers and beachgoers scattered the sidewalk and sand from East Cabrillo Boulevard to Shoreline Drive.
The scene was a far cry from the crowded beach parties that forced Florida officials to close some of the state’s most popular beaches.
On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory stay home order in response to the coronavirus pandemic. That order allows people to leave the house for outdoor recreation as long as they maintain a six-foot social distance from others.
“We have a new sign that we’ve put out on the beaches telling people to maintain the six-foot social distancing standard. We don’t want to close the beaches because people need to get out,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo.
“The other consideration is that it is impossible to close a beach because the entry points are everywhere. We are hoping that the signage will help people do the right thing.”
Ms. Murillo said the city is taking its lead from the Governor’s Office and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department on whether to leave the beaches open. She continued that the city will re-evaluate the decision to leave the beaches open if the coronavirus outbreak escalates.
“I’m hoping that we don’t get to that critical stage where the governor says, ‘Close all of California’s beaches.’ What would trigger that, I believe, is rampant infection and a great number of positive cases. That would probably trigger the governor, the county and the city to say, ‘Don’t go out at all – to any public spaces and that includes the beaches,’” Ms. Murillo said.
“This is the week that County Public Health and other medical professionals have identified as the critical time for us to prevent the spread of the virus. This week, everyone has an opportunity to stay home and if they go out, and I hope they don’t they don’t, only go out on rare occasions. If you have to (go out) maintain at least the six-foot distance if not more because we have a certain amount of infection right now and this is the chance to just not be out there and spread it or catch it.” Ms. Murillo said.
Holistic health practitioner and certified physical trainer Sean Mortland led a “yoga sculpt” class for 12 friends at Leadbetter Beach on Tuesday morning.
“People seemed a little cautious, but excited to be out. I heard people saying ‘We need this.’ I need this because I feel good when I’m helping other people be happy and healthy. Part of it is for mental and physical health,” Mr. Mortland said.
He admitted that the group will probably move to a private backyard because of public concern. The class drew mixed reactions from people walking up Shoreline Drive and a Santa Barbara Police Department cruiser drove by the class, but did not stop or take any enforcement action.
“We don’t want to alarm people. There were some people coming by cheering us on, but I observed others that had a protective (posture). They did not express enthusiasm,” Mr. Mortland said.
“It’s nice to see the community getting out, even if individually, and getting some exercise.”
Shoreline Beach Cafe Owner Steve Marsh said low beach traffic and being restricted to serving takeout only has him making 10% of his usual income. The restaurant is located at 801 Shoreline Drive just off Leadbetter Beach.
“I’ve got six people left out of 50. One of the main reasons I’ve stayed open is to support my staff. I’ve got guys who’ve worked for me for 20 years and I’m trying to take care of them. I’m losing money, but that’s ok,” Mr. Marsh said.
The longtime restaurateur is also looking out for the community. The Shoreline Beach Cafe is offering its full menu and cocktails to-go. Every takeout order more than $10 comes with a free roll of toilet paper.
“My toilet paper guy just drove up with two more cases,” laughed Mr. Marsh as he gestured to a truck outside the restaurant.
“So many people came in and were like ‘I need a burger and a roll of toilet paper.’ I thought I could help them out.”
Carpinteria City Manager Dave Durflinger could not be reached for comment.
Carpinteria State Beach is still open to the public.