Virus War Brings Changes to Morro Bay

Coleman Beach

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

April 11, 2020

Barricades block the road leading to Morro Rock; a move the City said was necessary to stop people from congregating in beachside parking lots. Photo by Neil Farrell

As the Coronavirus war wages, changes to everyday life continue to be made by City, County and State officials, including something ordinarily sacrilegious — discouraging tourists from visiting this tourist town.

With the shelter-at-home orders issued by Gov. Gavin Newsome, and adopted by the County and City on March 19, much of the commerce on the Morro Bay Embarcadero has ground to a halt, and people’s freedom to go where they please and exercise their Freedom of Assembly Rights have been restricted. Estero Bay News sent questions to the City Manager about the actions that have been taken since our last edition on March 26.

The City on March 27 closed all beachside parking lots, mirroring a State Parks Department’s action, and cutting off vehicle access to Morro Strand Beach.

The public boat launch ramp was also closed, with a Harbor Department boat trailer blocking the ramp. A big tarp was thrown over the closed fish cleaning station at Tidelands Park.
Barricades have gone up closing Embarcadero near the power plant entrance, shutting off Coleman Drive for perhaps the first time since the Army Corps of Engineers was mining the Rock with dynamite in the 1960s.

City Manager Scott Collins said the parking lots were closed, “because social distancing measures were often not taking place at the Rock, especially during nice weather, and our local beaches were being used heavily as a get-outside destination, including people apparently treating the current situation as an opportunity to take a vacation.

“So, the closures were done to help encourage social distancing and send a strong message to would-be visitors to Morro Bay that now is not the time to come visit our town.”

Why close the launch ramp? Wouldn’t being on the ocean surrounded by water be good social distancing?

Harbor Director Eric Endersby replied, “Yes, being out on a boat with a single person or two is definitely distancing to the max, but all the travel to and from [especially inter-county folks from the Valley], an often crowded launch ramp and fish cleaning station, having to buy fuel, food, ice and beverages all increase everybody’s exposures unnecessarily.

“And besides, recreational fishing and boating are not considered ‘essential activities.’ And finally, if one really has the need for fresh fish, it is much cheaper, easier, far less prone to exposures and supporting our struggling fish market businesses by going to a fish market.”

Fishing season — rockfish and salmon — opened April 1.

Commercial fishermen are still allowed to use the launch ramp because Collins said commercial fishing is listed as an essential business under the shelter-at-home orders. Fishers and the dockworkers must still maintain social distancing (stay 6-feet away from others), Collins added.

They shut the parking lots, and the beach itself could be next.

“So long as people follow social distancing on the beaches [as we saw last weekend after the parking lot closures went into effect], then we can keep them open,” Collins said. “But we leave available the option to take further measures if we don’t see compliance.”

The Coronavirus also has the City actually discouraging tourism.

“People should be sticking close to their hometowns,” Collins said. “The more people travel around, the more potential to catch and/or spread the virus.”

The City Council authorized $1,000 fines for non-compliance with the directives. What behavior might draw a fine?

“This is primarily aimed at non-essential businesses that may be operating,” Collins said, “or essential businesses not operating within social distancing requirements during the ‘Shelter at Home’ order issued by the State and SLO County. The primary goal is to help educate and gain voluntary compliance.

“Prior to any fine being issued, the City would first provide a written warning, and if the issue isn’t resolved within 24 hours, fines of $1,000 could be issued.”

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