The reaction to a photo of wall-to-wall tourists on Fisherman’s Wharf posted to Reddit on Saturday, Aug. 8, and spread widely on social media was intense and swift. Most visitors were wearing face coverings but the photo made it appear as if there was no physical distancing. Frustrated residents contacted Monterey officials demanding action and a special City Council meeting was called for Wednesday, Aug. 19 to discuss crowd management at the wharf.
“I’m sorry to say I feel my city government seems to care more about money than health,” resident Nancy Runyon wrote in a letter ahead of the meeting. (The meeting took place after the Weekly’s deadline.) “The Reddit photo of the crowded wharf that circulated everywhere says it all.”
Monterey officials have been at the forefront of shelter-in-place and face-covering enforcement all summer. The city was the first in the county to enact an urgency ordinance, implementing administrative fines for failures to wear face coverings, and from citation reports it’s worked – most people are complying when asked. Nevertheless, complaints from residents have increased as weekend visitors have continued to flock there.
“The Reddit photo of the crowded wharf says it all.”
When the heatwave hit the weekend of Aug. 15, Monterey limited beach access and limited parking at the wharf by 50 percent. Fisherman’s Wharf Association President Mary Alice Cerrito Fettis says the move worked, with business owners reporting slower but steady business. Her message to City Council was to stick with what works through Labor Day weekend, with a request not to implement restrictions on the wharf itself. She called the idea of limiting the number of visitors entering “fruitless,” because some visitors pass through to go sailing, fishing or board whale watching boats, meaning they’re on the water, not the wharf.
Frustration continues to mount in neighboring Pacific Grove as well, which passed its own mask urgency ordinance on Aug. 5, similar to Monterey’s. But residents say city officials are not enforcing it. As an explanation, officials have cited staff furloughs due to revenue losses stemming from the Covid-19 shutdown and police busy with other priorities, and sometimes officers are overmatched by large numbers of tourists making enforcement difficult.
Another sore spot is the mounds of trash being left by visitors every weekend. “We’re talking diapers, coolers, tents,” P.G. Councilmember Jenny McAdams says. “It’s never been to this level.”
With Labor Day weekend approaching, a coordinated effort among beach cities on Monterey Bay, from Santa Cruz to Carmel, to limit access is underway. A meeting that included county officials, mayors and city managers took place on Aug. 18, with a joint announcement expected by Thursday, Aug. 20.
In Carmel, City Administrator Chip Rerig says he will ask the Carmel City Council on Sept. 1 to close down Carmel Beach for four days at Labor Day. That city also recently implemented urgency ordinances requiring masks in the city and for SIP violations at the beach. According to Rerig, on Aug. 15-16, Carmel Police issued about a dozen citations to offending beachgoers.