AVALON—The Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the Catalina Island economy. Visitor traffic to Avalon was down 73 percent and city revenues down 53 percent this June compared to June last year, according to city officials. The city of Avalon, organizations and businesses have been trying to adapt to the new and constantly changing climate brought by Covid-19.
The Catalina Island Conservancy has joined a growing trend of transitioning activities too large to occur in person online. The Conservancy is now offering its popular Level 1 Naturalist Training online.
“With Naturalist Training going online, we have the ability to support the eco-tourism of the Island by continuing to offer training to frontline business staff and guides, as well as to connect with people who love Catalina wherever they are,” said Conservancy Outreach and Interpretation Specialist Hillary Holt in a released statement.
The free training was traditionally held as an in-person session once a month to provide knowledge of the island’s natural and cultural history. The training touches on Catalina Island’s geologic formation through its history of land ownership and allows participants to gain a deeper understanding of the island’s plants and animals.
The online training features two approximately 30-minute videos, which include recovery stories of the Catalina Island fox and the American Bald eagle; resource guides and a live Zoom meeting with Conservancy education staff.
“Even though we are maintaining our distance, it is important for us to share important conservation and environmental messages to the Catalina Naturalist community,” Holt said in a released statement.
Registration is now open and can be completed at bit.ly/3iSX71A. Participants must select a Zoom meeting date to register. Upcoming dates include Aug. 12 at 5:30 p.m. and Aug. 19 at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, the city of Avalon and local businesses are trying to adapt to state and county health orders while still welcoming visitors, many of which have been boaters. Private boat traffic in June was just about on par with the numbers from 2019 hitting 6,500 this year compared to 6,864 last year. Cross channel traffic in June was 22,000 compared to 76,797 in June 2019.
In an effort to help local businesses and provide safer dining options for visitors, the city is allowing restaurants to apply for a temporary permit to offer dining on the beach.
At the June 2 City Council meeting, councilmembers directed staff to explore options for outdoor dining to help restaurants suffering from Covid-19 restrictions. On July 1, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state would prohibit indoor dining in Los Angeles County until July 23, which was further extended on July 13, when Gov. Newsom ordered indoor dining across the state to close until counties are able to meet standards set out by the state.
After receiving the July 1 order and in anticipation of a busy weekend, the city allowed interested restaurants to offer beach dining over the July 4 weekend and it has continued since with protocols in place.
The city worked with Jim Luttjohann, president and CEO of Love Catalina, the island’s tourism authority, to come up with guidelines and protocols for dining on the beach and to spread the word to the city’s restaurants that the option was available to them.
The guidelines allow restaurants to set up tables and chairs on the upper sandy beach park areas along Crescent Avenue between the “Serpentine Wall” and upper sandy area from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. The guidelines also allow restaurants to set up booths for easy, fast pick-up in the area behind the fountain between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Restaurants interested in offering beach dining are required to obtain a special permit from the city, obtain additional insurance, gather and dispose of all of their own trash and adhere to all of the Los Angeles County Health Department and ABC guidelines.
Restaurants with permits or permits pending include Steve’s Steakhouse, Maggie’s Blue Rose, Luau Larry’s NDMK, El Galleon, Coyote Joe’s, Toyon Grill, Mi Casita and the M. Locations include South Beach Middle Beach and Step Beach.
All of the special permits are temporary and can be revoked at any time.
“This is a temporary solution, temporary,” City Manager/City Clerk Denis Raddee said at the July 7 City Council meeting. “If the Governor extends it and says oh it’s going to be for another six months, we’ll be back here in three weeks to figure out what we’re going to do.”
The owner of Steve’s Steakhouse echoed the thought in a public comment, noting they don’t want to offer beach dining long-term because it is very labor intensive.
The idea was thrown out to do what some other cities have done and close down some of the city streets to allow restaurants to use the street space for seating. However, public safety officials said they would lose emergency access and did not support the idea.
It is unclear how long the city will allow restaurants to offer beach dining and when restaurants will be allowed to offer indoor dining again.