Pandemic Panic Paralyzes Our Parks

Posted by Mike Michalski on Sunday, April 26th, 2020.

"Everyone knows corona is no walk in the park ..... because you literally can't walk in the park." - Bill Maher

Certainly that’s true of Manhattan Beach where the City, pursuant to orders of Council, banned access to all city parks, the pier and the beach volleyball courts (those operated by the City) due to the spread of COVID-19. 

But isn’t it interesting that other nearby cities – El Segundo, Hermosa Beach, Torrance - have not followed Manhattan Beach’s draconian lead, have kept their parks open (at least for those jogging and walking through them), and yet, despite that, they have lower overall infection rates. 

City Population # Infections Rate/100,000
Hermosa Beach 19,670 23 117
El Segundo 16,786 25 149
Torrance 149,300 230 154
Manhattan Beach 35,955 64 178

Source: PublicHealth.LACounty.gov/media/coronavirus/locations

So after a blizzard of $1000 citations to Manhattan Beach park visitors in previous weeks, Manhattan Beach has now relented and opened up one park – Polliwog – and then only to visitors who are walking/running through the park, not congregating.  So, for example, amenities including playgrounds, fitness equipment, the sports field, the dog run, and picnic pads will remain closed, not to mention the restrooms (yikes!).

Most importantly, you are still subject to a fine in Polliwog Park if you are not maintaining proper social distancing or wearing a facial covering.

But even that modest concession was a bridge too far for the Big Government nanny-staters on Council, Hildy Stern and Nancy Hersman, both of whom voted against opening Polliwog Park.

And when the subject of a second park came up – Bruce’s Beach – Mayor Montgomery sided with the Big Government-types and vetoed opening it up as well.

The result is a crazy patchwork of rules and regulations that can be summed up as follows:

  • Nonessential businesses and restaurants, beach, pier, strand, all parks except Polliwog - no visitors (restaurants may serve food and alcohol for takeout only, other businesses by appointment only).

  • Essential businesses (including construction sites) and Polliwog Park - visitors (and workers) allowed but must wear face masks, practice social distancing.

  • Greenbelt, Ocean Drive - visitors allowed, social distancing required, face masks encouraged but not required.

Needless to say, these ever-changing rules have created all sorts of confusion amongst neighbors and even police personnel.  At one point, an officer attempted to cite someone on the greenbelt under the mistaken impression it was closed to all visitors (before signs were installed setting out the current rules).

This is why last Wednesday Chief Abell expressed frustration with Council at their attempts to expand the face mask requirements to the greenbelt and Ocean Avenue.  As he said last Wednesday, after speaking with police chiefs in other jurisdictions,

"The majority of (other communities' police forces) are warning, educating but not putting their work force out there to be the facial covering police.  With all the other issues that we have, my first and foremost concern for our community is to protect them.  I'm talking about criminal activity and all those things that people are taking advantage of out there.  Let's not forget that.  I'm frustrated right now because I'm more concerned about the safety of our community and I don't want to put our people at risk and now add to that burden by going out and citing people for not having masks.  I strongly encourage we utilize the county recommendations at this point that strongly encourage people to wear (the facial coverings)."

The Chief is right, of course.  And his comments immediately shut down any further discussion by Council to expand the mandatory face mask protocol outdoors.

So how did Manhattan Beach find itself in a predicament where an outdoor-focused community which views our outdoor spaces as critical to our emotional, mental and physical well-being is denied access to almost all outdoor public venues?  As noted, other communities, including the ones immediately to the north and south of us, did not feel the need for such draconian measures.

It could very well be due to the susceptibility of some on Council to what popular liberal comedian and TV host Bill Maher refers to as the mainstream media's reporting on the pandemic, the "daily drumbeat of depression and terror" which, at some point, "veers into panic porn."  

Sure coronavirus is a serious disease but some news outlets, even the NY Times, have used language comparing the pandemic to the apocalypse, to which Maher responds that he's been riding out this "apocalypse" by "sitting at home smoking delivery weed and binge-watching a show about a gay zookeeper." We know why the media tends to sensationalize, of course - to get readers to click on and buy (mostly on-line) subscriptions.  But it's up to City Council to have a more balanced viewpoint, perspective not panic.  Sadly, perspective, for the most part, has been lacking at City Hall.

So as we look at perhaps opening more public spaces to the public (what a concept!), should masks be mandatory?  Not according to an on-line poll where 65% of Manhattan Beach residents voted for only requiring facial coverings "in essential businesses, not outdoor spaces."

Masks are actually quite common in Asian countries like Japan (believe me, I know) but, unfortunately, the evidence is not clear-cut that they are effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19.  The biggest reason?  Breathing air with viral droplets simply isn’t how you get sick in the vast majority of cases.  Rather, it’s direct contact with a sick person or touching something a sick person recently touched.

In fact, even the rules on masks have changed - first the CDC and WHO recommended against them, now they're for them.

Regardless, I believe that use of masks in outdoor venues should be encouraged but not mandatory, mainly for the reasons Chief Abell cited.  However, if mandatory masks are the only way we can get a majority of City Council to accept the opening of our parks and the Strand, then I say go for it (sorry, Chief). 

But I would once again emphasize that nearby communities don't make facial coverings mandatory and they don't seem to be having a problem with rampant infections.  At least their infection rates are lower than ours.

 

This entry was posted under Smell The Coffee, Manhattan Beach, and Lifestyle.