San Diego weighing policy to re-open city, waterways

Protocols could open the door to allow boating, fishing and paddling. Timetable for re-opening, however, remains up in the air.

Update: April 30, 2020, 7:45 p.m. – Recreational boating will be allowed in San Diego County as of May 1. Boating activities will be restricted to members of the same household. Online story to come shortly, with a full story in The Log’s May 15-28 issue.

Editor’s Note: Some water activities, such as kayaking and paddleboarding, have resumed, according to news reports. There is also a campaign to re-open San Diego Bay for business. A follow-up story will be published online soon.

SAN DIEGO—The COVID-19 pandemic certainly has some people talking as if it’s the end of times. A growing number of people are feeling antsy and stir crazy. Some are even saying the light at the end of the tunnel has turned itself off. Where is the bottom of the Coronavirus pit?

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope, though, as a few places are showing signs of coming back to life. Two public boat launch ramps in Ventura County re-opened on April 24. And the San Diego region appears to be considering a series of new protocols to allow some outdoor activities to resume.

Could boating, fishing and other outdoor activities come back in May, just a few weeks after San Diego County said many of these recreational events were off limits?

An agency known as the San Diego Regional Aquatic Lifesaving Emergency Response Taskforce, or SDR ALERT, met on April 21 and developed a plan to re-open San Diego’s beaches and waterways. The plan details protocols for San Diego’s coastal agencies, such as the Port of San Diego, to implement; the protocols would have to be consistent with federal and state guidelines.

“The [SDR ALERT] document sets forth how best to enable access to public beaches while still maintaining mandated levels of public health and safety. The protocol was established through a comprehensive, lifeguard-driven approach intended to be utilized throughout San Diego’s coastal region,” a copy of the recommended protocols, obtained by The Log, stated. “It provides a consistent plan to address both local conditions and operational capabilities that will be adopted by Mayors, City Managers, and public officials across San Diego County.”

SDR ALERT’s recommended protocols, however, did not come with a suggested date for the re-opening of waterways and other public spaces. The document, instead, only outlined the conditions that must put into place once the public to allowed to resume activities such as boating, fishing and paddle boarding.

Every agency within San Diego County must include a plan of social distancing and sanitation before public settings, such as parks or waterways, are allowed to re-open.

“All public parks and recreation areas, including public beaches, where social distancing requirements cannot be effectively implemented shall be closed to the public,” members of the SD ALERT team stated in their document of recommended protocols.

Beaches would be re-opened to the public so long as proper lifeguard staffing measures are in place.

San Diego’s beaches and bay shorelines would be re-opened to the public for walking or running activities only. Social gatherings and idle activities such as standing, sitting or lying down would be prohibited.

The ocean, San Diego Bay and Mission Bay areas would be re-opened to boating, fishing, swimming, surfing and paddling activities.

“Social distancing and face covering recommended on vessels,” the recommended protocols stated about recreational activities in San Diego and Mission bays.

Parking would be allowed for vessel trailers at boat launch lots only. Only one-third of parking spaces would be available at South Shores, De Anza and Dana landings. Fiesta Island at Mission Bay, piers, boardwalks and coastal parking lots will remain closed.

“Beach accesses and stairways that cannot be transited while maintaining social distance will be controlled or closed,” the recommended protocols stated. “Face covering is recommended when reasonable. When using the beach, please swim near a lifeguard.”

The second phase of SD ALERT’s recommended protocols is “Responsible Public Use.” The execution date of this phase has not yet been determined.

This phase would allow for all water uses at San Diego and Mission bays to resume, plus the opening of Fiesta Island, piers, boardwalks and coastal parking lots. Recreational activities would be allowed at these places assuming all public agencies are in compliance with federal, state, and local distancing orders.

Representatives from the Imperial Beach Lifeguards, Coronado Lifeguards, California State Lifeguards, San Diego Harbor Police Department, City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s Lifeguard Division, Solana Beach Lifeguards, Encinitas Lifeguards, Carlsbad Fire Department Lifeguards, Oceanside Lifeguards, Camp Pendleton Lifeguards, and United States Coast Guard attended the April 21 SDR ALERT meeting.

SDR ALERT recommended its protocols be implemented by: the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, Del Mar, Imperial Beach, National City, Oceanside and Solana Beach; the Port of San Diego; California State Parks; and, California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The recommended protocols are consistent with California’s and San Diego County’s public health orders.

The Log will continue to monitor the decision-making of all public agencies in Southern California and report on each development as they become available.

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