Coronavirus’s impacts on everything from beaches to trash dominate Pacific Beach Town Council meeting

Shomit, Emma, Hodaya and Rachel Azolay go for a walk on the sand May 5 in Pacific Beach.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Holding a second virtual meeting in as many months due to the continuing prohibition on public gatherings to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Pacific Beach Town Council found the virus infecting every subject it discussed.

From boating to apartment owners to trash cans, the pandemic drove questions and answers as almost 95 people joined the May 20 meeting via Zoom or Facebook. Many residents sought guidance in navigating ever-changing rules and conditions.

Lifeguard Sgt. Rick Strobel talked about his department’s struggles in enforcing social distancing at beaches since their April 27 reopening for surfing, swimming, walking and jogging.

“For the most part, it’s working out pretty well,” he said. “For those of you that come down to the beach, you see the problem we have late in the afternoon. We just get overwhelmed with people on the boardwalk wanting to watch the sunset.”

Strobel warned that any mounting problems with issues such as vessels leased to groups or violations of beach protocols could lead to sweeping reactions by the city.

“All of these things — whether [party boats] or people lying on the beach or people going down the boardwalk — those are bad optics [to which] policymakers might say, ‘Hey, it’s not working and we ought to shut it down again,’” Strobel said.

Discover Pacific Beach Executive Director Sara Berns said that despite financial strains as a consequence of the pandemic, her organization is still maintaining its contract to collect trash four days a week from its 36 garbage cans in the community.

Berns responded to complaints about an increase in trash leading to spilling onto the sidewalk, saying it is a symptom of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think it’s just an overload, not necessarily a litter issue,” she said. ”People are probably getting takeout [with restaurant dine-in service closed], walking down to the beach, eating their taco or whatever it might be along the way ... and I think [the bins] are just overflowing.”

Jordan Beane, a representative of District 2 City Council member Jennifer Campbell, was asked about rumors that Campbell and other council members were drafting new legislation to regulate the short-term vacation rental industry.

“I haven’t been in those conversations, but those conversations are happening,” Beane said. “I can’t give you a time or anything like that, but I do know those conversations between all the stakeholders have been continuing.”

Town Council President Brian White said some short-term rental owners are brazenly flouting county orders on renting during the pandemic. He played video of county Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten stating that STVRs currently can rent only to essential workers.

“There are a lot of violations happening in Mission Beach,” White said. “A lot of large gatherings happening down there. ... That continues to be an issue as well for Pacific Beach.”

In light of the city’s extension until June 30 of a moratorium on evictions in an effort to prevent a rise in homelessness during the pandemic, Beane was asked whether the city had any relief for apartment owners who still have to pay the mortgage on their property.

“The city is running, at this point, a $63 million deficit and is looking to keep essential workers working,” Beane said. “I’m not sure how big of a pot the city has to spend on a vital program like that. It’s going to have to come from the state and, more importantly, from the federal government.”