When does life get back to normal? At present, Manhattan Beach residents are banned from the Strand walk path and all public parks (except the greenbelt). And, of course, the County has closed the beach, the pier and the adjacent bike path.
So, instead of looking like the lead photo above, our beach looks like the photo below (Photographer: Jeanne Fratello for DigMB.com).
This has led to a virtual take-no-prisoners social media dogfight between those who want to see Manhattan Beach's beach shut down for the near (and, in some cases, the not so near) future and those who are less concerned about the potential spread of COVID-19, at least in open air venues like the beach or Polliwog park, and would like to see access restored (with strict virus protocols) to some of those places.
Here's one recent example of a NextDoor message of opposition to opening the beach from an El Porto resident to his fellow Manhattan Beach neighbors. Note the calm, dispassionate, levelheaded tone with just a touch of class envy:
83 PEOPLE DIED YESTERDAY! WTF is wrong with you entitled, spoiled, millionaires? I don't get you sick and you don't get me sick. It's simple. Get off your pitty potty and deal with it ...
As noted in our newsletter, one 3-sentence post in favor of opening the Strand generated almost 400 comments, at last count, as well as two competing Change.org petitions - one in favor of re-opening Manhattan Beach public spaces (click here to see the petition) and one opposed to any near-term re-opening, at least with regard to the Strand and the beach, until re-opening is deemed safe (click here to see the petition).
There was even a NextDoor poll that asked the question, "Do you support the opening of the beach with social distancing standards?" The results were essentially split right down the middle with a slight (51-49%) edge to re-opening all LA County beaches (Strand not included) with social distancing requirements and closed parking lots (1002 votes cast as we went to print!).
The beach in Manhattan Beach is owned by LA County, not by the city (in contrast with Hermosa which does own its own beach). So any opening of Manhattan Beach's beach or the adjoining bike path (also County property) would undoubtedly be in conjunction with a general opening of all County beaches by the County Board of Supervisors.
Still, our City Council, like all the beach cities' councils, has input on this issue so the real dispute is over the stance that the community would like Council to take vis-a-vis the County on the issue of re-opening the beach (and, tangentially, what the City will do, as a result, with the City-owned parking lots and Strand walk path).
Obviously, the community is seriously divided. We have readers from both camps who subscribe to our newsletter and the issue itself is fraught with emotion (see the social media post quoted above, although you can tell from its anti-intellectual tone the poster is not a subscriber of ours).
Honestly, we're sympathetic to both sides.
Those who are opposed to opening the beach are concerned about opening the beach too soon which, along with the potential failure of beachgoers to practice social distancing, could re-ignite the spread of COVID-19. And we're definitely mindful of the first responder issue - don't want the police, EMTs or lifeguards getting sick.
Those in favor of opening the beach feel the risk of viral spread on a wide-open beach is minimal and that its closure forces people to crowd other areas like Ocean Avenue and the Strand walkpath (the latter is also closed but that closure, unlike the bike path, is on City Council not the County).
We here at Real Estate Edge are concerned that, once you weed out all the social media name-calling and tedious virtue-signaling, the substance of the discussion on NextDoor doesn't fully address two additional but critical points, namely:
- The purpose of the shutdown was never about eliminating COVID-19 which, as Suzanne Hadley aptly noted last Friday, is simply not possible. The goal was to 'flatten the curve' to avoid taxing our health system and recent data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) indicates that this flattening has been achieved in California.
- With all the focus on the deleterious health effects of COVID-19, we've lost sight of the adverse health and family consequences of severe economic distress as the result of the shuttering of the economy that's being used to fight this virus - people unemployed, losing their businesses, their life savings, not to mention the possibility of newly-unemployed homeowners being unable to make their mortgage payments, same for income property owners whose laid-off tenants are protected from eviction even if they're no longer paying rent.
And what are those health and family consequences of economic distress? Drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, divorce, child abuse, crime (including crimes of violence) and the harmful long-term health consequences of stress and depression plus, in extreme cases, suicide or drug overdose. Again, this is a very valid point made by Suzanne Hadley (pictured above pre-COVID) at last Friday's meeting.
What does all this have to do with opening the beach and, by extension, the Strand? Quite simply, we are a beach-centric town (says so in the name) and without access to the beach or the Strand, there is little reason for visitors to come here and bring their shopping and dining dollars with them, which hurts our economy, local businesses and, on a macro level, city revenues. In effect, our local economy is inextricably wed to that big strip of sand, the Strand paths (biking and walking) and the Pier/Roundhouse.
Of course, most of our shops and restaurants are also currently closed down so it would make sense to coordinate any opening of the beach with a gradual re-opening of our local businesses and restaurants as well.
Now we think it's fair to say that everyone on both sides of the issue wants the County to re-open the beaches and for life to get back to normal here in Manhattan Beach so the issue really boils down to one of timing. Should LA County open the beaches now? In a few weeks? A few months? When there's a readily available vaccine (18 months minimum to develop and distribute).
We're currently in the "few weeks" camp.
This is based on IHME data (go here to the IMHE COVID-19 estimation updates). If you scroll down to the color-coded state map, you'll see they are currently predicting May 18 as the date California can consider easing some virus protocols if containment measures are in place, ie, extensive testing, contact tracing and maintaining restrictions on mass gatherings of people (the latter we interpret to mean that, in wide-open outdoor venues like the beach, social distancing must still be enforced between small groups of people and large groups are still outlawed).
Yeah, we know, IHME's record has been spotty but that could be due, in part, to the unfolding data on a novel (hence, not well understood) virus. Of course, LA County may have their own source of epidemiological projections.
Also, even the relatively short time frame of the IHME model hinges on a number of containment measures being in place as a condition precedent. And there's the further complication that things can always change, for better or worse, as new data emerges.
Back to last Friday, at the tail end of the meeting, Councilmember Hildy Stern asked if there was any way the City could implement a speed limit on Ocean Avenue with respect to cyclists. Steve Napolitano then chimed in (facetiously, we believe) that he was fine with banning bikes on Ocean Avenue but Hildy demurred, noting that this would be a problem for all the families using that street for their kids to bike and joked whether the prohibition could just be applied to those bikers attired in elastic racing shorts.
We can almost hear it now -
[MBPD squad car bullhorn] "Hey, you in the spandex! Pull over!"
So a shout out to Steve and Hildy. Some levity is always welcome in these trying times.