City manager Frank Rush is weighing all the options. He's trying to find a balance that takes all sides into consideration while he develops a plan for re-opening the city amid a pandemic.
Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in mid March, which not only asked residents to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also closed all but nonessential businesses. That included businesses in Big Bear.
San Bernardino County's public health officer issued a similar order. Rush's plan will require relaxation of the governor and county's restrictions. For going on six weeks, communities around California have been abiding by the governor's order and similar local and regional restrictions. Until recently.
In the past week or two, communities have held protests of sorts pleading for an end to the stay-at-home orders. Ventura County, which has the lowest number of confirmed cases, has relaxed restrictions opening beaches and other recreation sites.
On April 22, Newsom in his daily briefing, made the first move toward relaxing restrictions by allowing scheduled surgeries to take place in the state. People around the state were hoping for more relaxation, including Rush. Rush said the first move made by Newsom is encouraging, but "we're not there yet," Rush said.
San Bernardino County relaxed restrictions on passive recreation effective April 25. Rush will deliver a plan to the Big Bear Lake City Council on Monday, April 27, that will outline the framework for relaxing restrictions in the city. All decisions will be dependent on the governor and county health officer. Rush said he is hoping to convince the state and regional leaders to allow some flexibility to local jurisdictions to make local decisions.
In his staff report for the April 27 meeting, Rush notes that the city of Big Bear Lake does not have the authority on its own to relax any restrictions. But it is his opinion that now is the time for the city to take the initial steps toward economic and social recovery. Rush stated he is expecting some adjustments in late April or early May coming from the governor and county,
Rush’s plan, as presented in the staff report for the April 27 City Council meeting, it is noted that the first adjustment would be eliminating the stay-at-home order for the city, while encouraging most venerable segment of the population to take precautions. Physical distancing and face covering requirements will remain in place and group gatherings will be prohibited or limited in nature. Each phase assumes that a low incidence of COVID-19 in Big Bear continues and the local healthcare system continues adequate capacity.
Each phase also calls for a courtesy checkpoint at all entrances to Big Bear Valley manned by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputies or California Highway Patrol officers. The checkpoint would not be to prevent visitors from entering the Valley but to provide explanations regarding physical distancing, face coverings and proper hygiene. Those entering the Valley would be asked if they have face coverings and provided with information regarding the critical need to act responsibly to keep the community safe. Inappropriate behavior would be discouraged at the checkpoints.
Phase I for community opening would occur in early May. No distinction of types of business activities is made, but all businesses would be allowed to operate with the exception of lodging and vacation rentals. Businesses and churches could operate at 25 percent of capacity or occupancy. Restaurants could continue take-out and delivery, but could open for seating at 25 percent. Guests would be allowed at every fourth table and patrons must wash their hands upon entering. Face coverings would be required for staff and guests, who could remove them when eating.
Phase II allowing for limited overnight visits would occur in mid May. The assumption is that Phase I was successful. It would build upon Phase I. Businesses and churches would be allowed to increase capacity to 50 percent. Restaurants could seat guests at every other table.
Professionally, locally managed lodging and vacation rentals would be permitted to operate at 50 percent capacity. Guests must be members of the same household or family unit and must adhere to all physical distancing and face covering guidelines and limits on group gatherings.
Lodging managers would be required to register with the city of Big Bear Lake providing a mobile phone contact prior to operations. Self-managed vacation rental homes would not be allowed to operate at this phase.
Phase III would happen in early June or later to allow for expanded overnight visits. It assumes Phases I and II were successful. Businesses and churches would remain at 50 percent capacity, including restaurants. The difference in this phase is to allow for maximum occupancy for lodging facilities, but the requirements for physical distancing, limitations on group gatherings and required face coverings remain in place.
Rush’s plan also calls for forming an ad hoc committee to “review, refine, adjust and improve upon” the proposal. The proposed nine-member committee would include two City Council members, a member of the lodging industry, a member of the vacation renal industry, a member of the restaurant industry, a member of the recreation industry, a member of the retail industry and two at-large members. All committee members must be residents of the city of Big Bear Lake. Rush, Ellen Clarke of the Chamber of Commerce, John Friel of Bear Valley Community Healthcare District, and Michael Perry of Visit Big Bear would staff the committee meetings, which would be held via Zoom and abide by Ralph M. Brown act regulations.
The City Council will review Rush’s plan at the April 27 regular meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. The public can participate via Zoom by logging on at https://zoom.us/j/358089628 or by phone at 669-900-6833. Meeting ID is 358 089 628. The meeting can be viewed live on Spectrum Cable Channel 182 and online at www.citybigbearlake.com.
Any decisions made by the City Council are applicable to the city of Big Bear Lake only. Any businesses, churches or lodging facilities in the unincorporated areas of Big Bear are under the jurisdiction of San Bernardino County. Governor Newsom or the county public health officer will decide relaxation or adjustments to orders.
Newsom said on Friday that he is asking all local jurisdictions that have made adjustments to relax the stay-at-home order to consider the impact of the decision. He said he is hoping to see other indicators move toward green in reopening the state. “You do your part,” Newsom said, and the state and his office will continue to do its part to move forward to loosen restrictions and get the economy back on track and get Californians back to work.