Another surreal month is behind us, and an unknown future is ahead of us. I hope and pray that this scourge has not impacted the health of you or your loved ones. The economic impact, however, will undoubtedly impact every one of us, likely for many years to come.
The Harbor Department has been very active in response to the coronavirus and the various health orders issued by the County and State. As an example, as some of the regional launch ramps started to close, we received an inordinate amount of calls, and envisioned an overcrowding of our launch ramp. As a result, and in response to the fairly strict stay at home orders in effect at the time, we closed the launch ramp on April 3. On April 20, the health orders were more relaxed, and recognized that the citizenry needed to get out in the fresh air as long as non-family “gathering” was prohibited. Therefore, on April 24, we reopened the launch ramp, but only during the daylight hours. That first weekend, we staffed the ramp to communicate the non-gathering and social distancing protocols, and experienced no problems at the ramp at all. As a result, on April 30, we reopened the launch ramp as a 24-hour/7-day ramp. The protocols are still in place, and we will continue to monitor the launch ramp and trailer parking area to ensure compliance, but I firmly believe that our boaters understand what we need to do to stop the spread of the virus, and will do all they can to that end.
The beaches surrounding the Harbor, namely Silver Strand, Hollywood and Kiddie beaches, did start to get out of control last weekend. We had never closed those beaches, although we did close the beach parking lots three weeks ago. That worked very well until most of the news organizations told all of Southern California that although Los Angeles beaches were closed, Ventura beaches were still open. That, combined with the mid-summer temperatures, led to a huge influx of people on our beaches, which we started to see a week ago Wednesday.
As a result, a committee of the County CEO, Ventura and State law enforcement agencies, and directors overseeing open space in the County, agreed that we must implement a “soft closure” of the County beaches, which we did that Thursday night. Soft closure is defined as allowing “active” use of the beach, including surfing, walking, jogging, swimming, surf fishing, etc., but prohibited sunbathing, lounging, tarps, umbrellas, coolers, chairs, blankets, and all gathering (other than individuals from the same household).
Despite extensive signage and messaging, since the “word” was already out, Friday was a challenging day. However, by Saturday a team of County Sheriffs, Oxnard Police, Harbor Department, Code Compliance and California Highway Patrol had turned the beaches around, and by Saturday afternoon and into Sunday, serenity on the beaches had been restored. The soft closure of all Ventura beaches will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.
Although the calendar says we are entering the summer, it is hard to imagine that this will be a summer even approaching normalcy. Cherished summer events and programs are already being cancelled, such as music festivals, fairs, summer aquatic and educational programs, planned vacations and the like. We can take solace in the fact that we still live at the best harbor in the best county in the best state in the best country in the world, and that won’t change. We are now able to get out and enjoy the waterfront and the sunshine, and we should relish that.
I do not envy those health and government agencies which must make difficult decisions, balancing public health with economic health. The debate throughout the country will probably get worse before it gets better, but we should all recognize how difficult these decisions are and no one has a crystal ball.
The “business” side of the Harbor currently involves working with the lessees to try to mitigate the financial impact created by this pandemic, and working to develop and refine plans to (hopefully) reopen Harbor businesses in the near future, while protecting employees and patrons. I urge that you all recognize and patronize the Harbor restaurants which have remained open for pick-up and delivery service, and the Harbor Market, which is a quick and convenient alternative to large, crowded grocery stores, and also offers a great take-out prepared food menu.
Despite the alternative work arrangements, we are moving forward on two important developments – the Hyatt Hotel and Peninsula Yacht Anchorage Marina on the peninsula. The hotel developer is still very interested in the development despite significant banking and financing challenges. We have lost a couple of months due to the virus, but we are finalizing the respective leases and the two joint agreements, and should have them to the Board in July or August. I am still planning to see construction this fall, but that depends on the severity of the continued impact of the virus.
Please continue to abide by the “Stay Well at Home” orders, continue to practice social distancing, and know that the County is doing all it can to reopen the Harbor and County at large, while protecting public health. We will get through this together and come out stronger.
As always, live every day to the fullest.
Mark Sandoval, Harbor Director
Ventura County Harbor Department
Editor’s Note: this story was published on May 1, 2020.