Covid 19 Community Meeting Report

Attendees (via Zoom): 20th Congressional District, State Senate District 17, 30thAssembly District, Cal State Parks, US Forest Service, 5thDistrict Supervisor, Parks Management Company, Ventana Wilderness Alliance, Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, Big Sur Health Center, Esalen Institute, Big Sur Fire, Big Sur CERT, and the Community Association of Big Sur  Big Sur Chamber of Commerce:• Kirk Gafill reports that County Health Director Moreno is not connecting the surge of new COVID cases to tourists or other members of the traveling public.• That there is a great challenge in preventing the spread of infection occurring among dense living conditions where masks, hand washing and social distancing is hard to maintain.• Business in the community still remains off by about 20% off historic summer norms and that hospitality is working under the constraint of limited seating.• Barring any roll backs by the state, its anticipated visitor volume to maintain at least through Labor Day. Big Sur Health Center:Butch Kronlund for Executive Director Sharen Carey, reportsfor the Big Sur Health Center:• There are currently 9 positive cases of COVID-19 with an additional 5 symptomatic patients waiting on test results.• The Health Center has performed 27 new COVID tests this week bringing the total to 304 tests. Test results are available in from 3 to 7 days. • The majority of symptomatic patients present themselveswith a sore throat and a fever. USFS, LPNF Monterey District Ranger Tim Short reports:• Good news regarding recent COVID-19 impacts to staffing, all personnel have cleared quarantine and are back to work. Currently no C-19 cases among Monterey District personnel.• Tim thanked Butch for spearheading the effort to get the Cal Trans message boards operational. (Butch added that thanks for his excellent idea and Colleen Courtney’s outreach (on behalf of Senator Monning) to Cal Trans, we have electric signage at 3 locations with the message, No Campfires, Strictly Enforced. In addition, Sarah Hardgrave on behalf of Supervisor Adams announced that Adams is deploying funds to rent an electric message board for the Nacimiento Road with the same message. She is also requesting that Supervisor Lopez participate by placing a duplicate sign with the same message on the eastern entry point at Fort Hunter Leggit.)• Dick Ravich enquired about the status of the Community Fuel Break Project. Tim reported that some of the fuel work has already been completed and that further work, specifically on the North Coast Ridge Road was slated to begin.• In context with general discussion around the impacts of visitation to the Coastside dispersed camping areas, Butch read excerpts from a letter he received from Big Sur Fire Captain Marcus Foster regarding observations from Saturday evenings campfire patrol:  Marcus reports that on Prewitt Ridge on Saturday night, there were as many as 300 vehicles and 1000 people, over crowding available dispersed camping locations. This resulted in visitors driving their vehicles into closed areas with brush and high grass.  The roads were in extremely poor condition due to overuse as well as people trying to access these locations in 2 wheeldrive vehicles. After physically extinguishing multiple fires and preventing many more from being lit, Marcus and Trey made their way down the Nacimiento Road where many more people were illegally camping on the side of the Road. On the Highway heading north, the Patrol stopped and handed out educational materials regarding the County Ordinance banning roadside camping until they ran out of brochures. Then they were paged out to an illegal campfire in fron of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and shortly thereafter they went south to the Los Burros Road to respond to yet another set of illegal campfires called in by a concerned resident.  Encountering belligerent defiance, the pair called for back up from the Sheriff’s Department. It was reported that Deputy Villasenor used his loudspeaker to restore order.• This report from Marcus spurred a deep discussion around what each elected representative is doing to address the overuse, illegal campfire and the roadside camping issue, Rick Aldinger posed the rhetorical question “Where are we going with this? Do we expect our volunteers out there with their safety at risk?”• Sarah offered that missing in the discussion is input and buy-in from both Cal Trans and The California Coastal Commission. Butch to reach out to both and urged each elected to do so as well.• Katie reported that Congressman Panetta has met with USFS Chief Christainsen and relayed the data sets provided by CABS of the overuse of the Coastside dispersed camping areas of the Monterey District. The Chief did not commit to more funding to address these problems but Panetta is committed to continue to engage and elevate our concerns.• Colleen added that Senator Monning is very concerned over these reports and instructed Colleen to reach out to CHP Commander Foster and Cal Trans regarding the message boards.• CERT Leader Martha Karstens suggested that the LPNF close the Monterey District due to fire danger. BSF Chief Harris agreed thatclosing the Forest was a good short termsolution to the problem of inability to enforce the fire restrictions.• In response, PMC CEO Nathan Koontz reminded everyone of the negative impact of closing the Forest will have on the other Public Lands.• BSF Chief Matt Harris offered that it is in the County’s power to add teeth to existing State and Federal regulations, syncing up language and fine structures across jurisdictions, simplifying the Agency and Public’s understanding of what constitutes illegal activity and the penalties for engaging in that activity.• Matt also offered: In light of the recent LAFCO report and the language contained within it regarding Big Sur Fire remaining volunteer, for the near term, there still exists alternatives that need to be explored as a greater community, which will undoubtedly help address the changing landscape of the entire Big Sur Coast, as it relates to public safety, response and enforcement.• District Ranger Tim Short has proposed a Visitor Use Management planning project for Fiscal Year 2021 as part of the Los Padres Forest program of work that is being considered by forest leadership.”• Butch reported that he met with Rob O’Keefe with the MCCVB and discussed specific messaging that would discourage the overuse issues on the South Coast as well as dispersed camping areas. MCCVB to use their social media tools to do so and encourage their counterparts in Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties to do the same. • Dominic Dursa suggested that Big Sur partner with other rural areas being heavily impacted by this sort of problem (Marin, Sonoma Coast, Yosemite etc) to brainstorm and provide a uniform message.• Butch suggested that a joint letter from Jimmy, Bill, Mary and Robert to Caroline Biteta at Visit California could be impactful. Fifth District Supervisor. Sarah Hardgrave for Supervisor Mary Adams reports.• Sarah screen shared the County Health Department dashboard showing where the County is in terms of the metrics driving our operational status under COVID.• 3 of 10 metrics are in the red.  These are: 14 day cumulative COVID incidence per 100k residents=297, Percent of Nursing Facilities with no new COVID cases in last 14 days=44% and 7 day average positivity rate of those tested=11.3%• The Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance requiring mask wearing in the unincorporated areas of the County, aligning with the local cities and the State of California. Ca. State Parks, Monterey District Superintendent Brent Marshall reports:• That the Forest Service and Parks worked continuously to address the arrival of COVID-19 at the shared housing located at the MAF.• Park Rangers have issued 130 citations for various activities this month.• Responded to 5 medical emergencies.• And an additional 3 Agency assists. Parks Management Company, Nathan Koontz reports:• PMC senior management is witnessing historic visitation numbers causing them to adapt on a weekly basis.• PMC is working to educate guests and visitors and policing without resorting to calling for law enforcement.• The company is focused on combating COVID-19 by increasing frequency of bathroom cleanings and trash pick-up.   Big Sur Fire, Chief Matt Harris reports:• Much of Matt’s comments were expressed during the dispersed camping discussion above.• Additionally, BSF continues to respond to the usual vehicle accident calls.• There remains 2 more weeks of new recruit training at which point the recruits will be paired with seasoned veterans on call outs. Community Emergency Response Team, Martha Karstens:• CERT is actively seeking grants to fund additional training for its volunteers. Ventana Wilderness Alliance, Rich Popchak reports:• Since the last stakeholder meeting there have been two Volunteer Wilderness Ranger patrols (Boronda Trail and Kirk Creek Trail to Vicente Flat). • These patrols resulted in 7 visitor contacts, 8 pounds of trash removed, 7 campsites cleaned, and 3 inappropriate sites removed. • Today marks the beginning of US Forest Service-funded contract crew work on Pine Ridge Trail. Seven hitches are scheduled between now and November. Each hitch will be a 12-person crew deployed for seven days.  Esalen Institute. Lacy Shannon:• Unable to attend. 30th Assembly District. Dominic Dursa for Assembly Member Robert Rivas.• Dominic announced that the Legislature is working on a $100 Billion relief package that has a fire mitigation component.  More on this next week.• In reference to the earlier discussion on meeting the visitation challenges Big Sur is experiencing, Dominic indicated that Assembly Member Rivas office has the ability to send out mass emails. He suggests that Agencies work together to craft a message.  17th State Senate District, Colleen Courtney for Senator Bill Monning reports:• Colleen made it very clear that the current problems with roadside camping and campfires is very concerning to Senator Monning. • And is looking to partner with Jimmy, Robert and Mary to see what other resources can be brought to bear on the situation. 20th Congressional District, Katie Moon and Phil Deppert on behalf of Congressman Jimmy Panetta.• Congressman Panetta is in Washington working on the next COVID-19 relief package.• He is also involved in the bi-partisan Replant Act that prioritizes a 10 year backlog of Forest restoration planting. Monterey County Sheriff Department, Deputy Villasenor:• Unable to attend.Community Association of Big Sur, Butch Kronlund. EDreports:• The Sunday morning illegal roadside camping sweep revealed 168 vehicles using Highway 1 turn outs, from Mal Paso Bridge to the SLO county line, to illegally camp.• In addition, in the first 4 miles of the Los Burros Road, 25 vehicles associated with illegal camping and campfires were documented.• Butch anticipates being able to share a new data collection tool at next Wednesday’s meeting for use in documenting overuse and measuring progress in mitigating that overuse. Post Meeting Update:• At the request of the stakeholder group, Cal Trans has activated the message boards at Rio Rd, 101 and 46 and Highway 1 and 46 to read: No Campfires / Strictly Enforced• Supervisor Adams and Lopez have designated funding to support similar message Boards at either end of the Nacimiento Road leading to the USFS camping areas.• At CABS request, SEE MONTEREY is using its social media apparatus to get the message below out: August marks the beginning of peak fire season in California. Please remember to not start campfires in un-designated areas, leave no trace and DO NOT camp illegally. Let’s protect the land, residents and majesty of Big Sur. Thanks to all for the swift response!

4 thoughts on “Covid 19 Community Meeting Report

  1. This Post was Co-Written by a group of Concerned Citizens of Big Sur :::

    What data is Dr. Moreno’s statement that tourists are not connected with bringing Covid-19 to Monterey County based on? Monterey County cases have been rising exponentially since we welcomed the masses. How exactly does Dr. Moreno know the tourists and travelers are not spreading Covid-19? Kirk, you do agree that our priority and focus as a community should be saving as many lives as we can first, then on solutions regarding money, right?

    We are curious Kirk, how do you feel about the Business Liability Protection in Senate Republican’s Covid-19 relief bill?

    Kirk, when you speak of infections spreading due to dense living conditions, are you referring to staff housing at the Big Sur businesses that have employees testing positive? Are people getting Covid from the home itself? It is being reported that July has been California’s worst month of the global pandemic as death tolls and Covid cases surge. Monterey County is on the governor’s watch list, why are our numbers rising if the millions of tourists coming here are not bringing it or spreading it? Do you think the comet NEOWISE has something to do with the recent surge in cases, here in Big Sur specifically? What safety measures are in place to protect the tourists and visitors from contracting Covid-19? Our local cases are surging and according to Dr. Moreno, the tourists are not bringing Covid here, therefore, what is the business community doing to protect the tourists from contracting Covid-19 from Big Sur employees?

    What exactly is the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce doing to protect our community, the people who serve the tourists, beyond reporting about visitation statistics, which are at historic levels?

    How can community members access the weekly Covid-19 Community Response Group Meeting or submit questions for our leaders? We would like to know more about solutions to slow the spread and safety measures currently in place.

    Thank You

    Concerned Citizens of Big Sur.

  2. Don’t CLOSE down the entire back-country of Monterey’s Section of Los Padres National Forest to local and visiting recreational backpackers and hikers … they are NOT the problem. Close and Gate the Car Camping Rds., its the Car Campers that are the problem! Not just on Prewitt, Plaskett and Willow, but along Hwy 1 too … and heck while your at it, why don’t you also CLOSE down Hwy 1 since its having both management and enforcement problems too!

  3. WELL SAID!! Unfortunately, it does not take a scientist to observe that this Pandemic is driven by the Business sector. And THAT is sad, very sad.

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