About 35 people gathered on Zoom to discuss how and when to re-open Big Bear business and restart the economy. The first meeting of the pandemic response plan committee was held May 1.
The ad hoc committee’s task is to review and refine a draft plan submitted by City Manager Frank Rush outlining how to re-open. The ultimate decision will be made by the City Council and is dependent on the state and county rules and regulations.
“We need to get this right,” Rush told the committee.
Councilman Randy Putz said the committee brings a variety of perspectives to the discussion. Any plan that is put in place needs to be sustainable and something the community is able to live with, as this virus will be something we are living with for some time, Putz said. The plan also needs to be simple, he said. A complicated plan is tougher to implement and easier to ignore he said.
Jo Ann Cecil of Destination Big Bear representing the vacation rental industry said private home rentals are low risk. She noted that guests renting homes arrive and stay there, only venturing out to grocery stores and restaurants, if and when they open.
Oliver Deubel, general manager of Frontier Lodge, said his company, which is part of a large hotel management company, is taking a conservative approach. He agreed the guidelines need to be clear so they are easy to understand. It’s easier to open a little at a time than open up too much or too soon and have to turn back, Deubel said.
With so many beliefs and fears sweeping the country, the state, the county and even Big Bear, the inconsistency is a challenge in moving forward with a plan, said Wade Reeser, president and COO of Big Bear Mountain Resort. Reeser said he is concerned that if this committee and the Valley’s decision makers don’t make a decision soon, the ability to control the opening and keep people safe is lost. People will just start opening businesses, doing what they need to do to survive, Reeser said.
Dallas Goldsmith agrees that the plan is time sensitive. Without putting the guidelines in place quickly, businesses are opening on their own. Goldsmith, who is co-owner of Goldsmiths Sports, said not everyone will be satisfied with the plan, but the decision makers need to be confident their decision is doing what’s necessary to keep people safe and preserve the Valley’s tourism.
Goldsmith said the issue with Orange County beaches is the prime example why Big Bear needs to act now. We don’t want to be on the national news and have the governor step in because the Big Bear leaders didn’t act, Goldsmith said.
Bringing a different perspective, Liz Harris said she represents the everyday person in Big Bear. She is a retired educator, is a former Big Bear business owner and former City Council member. Harris said about 25 percent of the Valley’s population are seniors — active seniors — but they are experiencing real anxiety with COVID-19 and its impacts.
Harris suggested identifying benchmarks that are understood as the trigger for opening or closing. She said while May is usually a slow month in Big Bear, she expects thousands to come to Big Bear who may not have done so in the past.
Signage and communication are vital to success of the plan, Harris said. And the message from all of Big Bear needs to be the same, Harris said. No mixed messages, she urged.
Harris also said now is the time to consider closing the Village L to vehicular traffic. That would allow businesses to expand their space , she said, and still allow for social distancing and making money.
Ron Peavy is also an at-large member and called the plan well thought out. He made note of several points that need review in the plan, adding that parents of students should also be considered as the parent return to work and students cannot return to the physical classroom. Mayor Rick Herrick suggested adding Mary Suzuki, superintendent of Bear Valley Unified, to the group.
Some local small business owners are a month from going out of business, said Ellen Clarke, executive director of the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce. Financial assistance hasn’t been easy to obtain, Clarke said.
Clarke said there is a disturbing movement among Big Bear business owners to defy the governor’s order and open now. The group is claiming state, county and city leaders do not have the right to force closure, Clarke said.
Clarke also made a plea for public restrooms to open. Last weekend when San Bernardino County allowed for passive recreation at parks and other areas, Big Bear saw an influx of visitors. People on the Alpine Pedal Path were defecating and urinating along the trail, Clarke said.
Any plan that is put in place needs to be fast, fair, safe and simple, Clarke said.
John Friel, CEO for Bear Valley Community Healthcare District, said he is concerned about a surge if Big Bear opens too quickly. With 30 beds and seven ventilators, the local hospital could reach capacity quickly, Friel said. That would be coupled with having adequate staff to care for patients as he would expect that staff members would be infected as well as has been seen in other larger hospitals.
Members of the public on the Zoom meeting also weighed in. Gregg Pilcher expressed concern for the supply chain. He volunteers with the food bank at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and hasn’t been able to get enough food at Stater Bros for those fed by the church. Pilcher said he checked with the market and its corporate office and it’s expected it will be three to four weeks before supplies will be stable.
Putz said his concern is that the capacity of the Valley in terms of supplies and the ability to sanitize consistently for example, could be a limiting factor in striking a balance between safety and Big Bear’s way of life. “We can’t stay this way forever,”Putz said.
During his daily briefing May 1, Newsom said the state may be days, not weeks from lifting more COVID-19 restrictions.
The committee is scheduled to hold its second meeting Monday, May 4, beginning at 9 a.m. The meeting will be held via Zoom.