Covid Community Meeting Notes, 8/12

COVID-19 Community Response Group Meeting Notes
August 12, 2020 
Attendees (via Zoom):

20th Congressional District, State Senate District 17, 30th Assembly District, CA State Parks, US Forest Service, 5th District 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, Rick Aldinger reports:

  • Overall business in Big Sur continues to be down 20-25%. Is erratic at times during the month of August.
  • Diana made the observation that all the public spaces along Highway 1 from Pt. Lobos south seemed to be at “record breaking levels” of visitation. Day Use like we have never seen before due to COVID-19 and the reduced capacity for guests at the State Parks.
  • Diana posed a request from Monterey County to step in and provide some short-term resources i.e. portable restroom facilities and additional trash pick-up to help with the unprecedented numbers of Day Use Visitors.
  • Diana and Rick reached out to Brent Marshall, Superintendent of State Parks for the Monterey District, to re-evaluate opening up Day Use Parking at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and JP Burns to relieve some pressure from the Highway 1 turn-outs and and to local businesses re: bathrooms and trash.
  • Marcos Ortega, California State Parks Big Sur Sector Supervisor, commented that State Parks is operating on State and County guidelines regarding responsible management of Park resources and their mission is to provide a responsible place for people to recreate safely.
  • Rick respects the State Parks decision but is hoping for a broader discussion with this group of Stakeholders on strategies to help with the impact of visitors during COVID-19.
  • Diana offered that this pattern of visitation is not unique to Big Sur, happening everywhere and we have a responsibility to accommodate Day Use Visitors.
  • Colleen Courtney, with Senator Monning’s Office, asked the question of what does it look like to accommodate this unprecedented influx of people? Rick and Diana responded: lack of facilities, lack of resources and lack of space.
  • Butch clarified that there are different conditions and jurisdictions in Big Sur that have variations of the same challenges. In the case of State Parks, they are attempting to limit the number of people to congregate in any one place. Again, following State and County guidelines during COVID-19. This is why JP Burns parking lot and the Day Use Parking Lots are closed or limited to protect the public and State Park employees.
  • Butch went on to say that there is a wider and more comprehensive discussion that needs to happen with the community and our jurisdictional partners on what constitutes capacity for Big Sur. The BSLUP and Coast Highway Management Plan reference numbers for capacity which are currently unknowable at any given time because we do not have the mechanism in place to measure traffic.  Yet. CABS is currently pursuing acquiring an encroachment permit with Cal Trans to install a vehicle counter just north of Mal Paso Creek Bridge. 

USFSLPNF Monterey District Ranger Tim Short reports:

  • The USFS has implemented COVID-19 Emergency Road Closure on the following roads to the public: South Coast Ridge Road, Central Coast (Cone Peak) Road, Los Burros (Willow Creek) Road, and Plaskett Ridge Road. This temporary closure is in effect until October 19th.
  • In response to the public’s lack of respect for signage and at the request of Congressman Panetta’s Office and support from the wider Stakeholder group, gates, barricades and signage has been authorized for installation closing the above roads to the public. Residents, property owners and emergency responders will have access.
  • Tim referenced the two visitor caused fires on Plaskett Ridge Road, this last June, as well as illegal campfires, destruction of road systems through over use, resource destruction, sanitation issues, no social distancing or masks being worn, and the inability of first responders being able respond as the catalyst to close these roads.
  • Tim made clear that the intent of this order is not to stop hikers and backpackers from accessing the coast side trail system.
  • Hal Latta said, what is the time frame for the gate installation and is there some way to expedite the process? Tim indicated that Forest Supervisor, Kevin Elliott, as well as the Regional Forester are taking a personal interest in expediting the procurement process. But there is no definite timeline yet.
  • Butch reiterated that Community Association of Big Sur’s offer to provide a “bridge loan” to get the gates installed asap still stands. Tim thanked Butch for the support and offer and to stay tuned.
  • Tim wanted it to be known that beyond the forest order restriction topic, that the Forest Service as an agency has a broad mission and is working on many other projects such as fuel breaks, fire preparedness and community protection; rehabilitation of the Pine Ridge trail system as well as seeking additional fire cover and resources for preparedness to prevent and respond to the next wildfire.
  • Sharen Carey used the example of the 2017 Pfeiffer Bridge collapse and the By-Pass Trail construction and how it was expedited with the partnership of State Parks, the Big Sur community volunteers and our elected officials to get the trail built quickly. Maybe this could be the model for the gates and barricades to be installed much quicker than the Federal Process.
  • Martha Karstens offered that CERT members volunteered to augment Forest Service personnel to support the road closures. These CERT volunteers are residents on the south coast.

Monterey County Sheriff Department, Commander Ray Tongol reports:

  • There was a patrol this last Friday and Saturday along the highway for illegal roadside camping. A combined 127 illegal campers were contacted and 7 were cited who refused to leave.
  • Commander Tongol observed that the Sheriff’s Department is seeing large numbers of illegal roadside camping all along the coast as well as south Monterey County.
  • There will be continued enforcement this weekend looping in CHP in the morning.
  • Butch expressed his appreciation for this increase level of enforcement but that CABS patrol on early Sunday morning showed a total of 106 illegal roadside campers from Mal Paso the San Luis Obispo County Line. This indicates that more needs to be done.
  • Butch went on to say that a $200 fine is not a deterrent and is frankly comparable to camping at a private or State campground for the weekend. Who would not take a chance to be along the coast.
  • The need to increase the fine for illegal behaviors is paramount if we are going to get anywhere with folks breaking the law. Commander Tongol totally agrees that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors has the power to change the fine structure and that enforcement must be done in a collaborative approach with all agencies. These agencies Include CHP, State Parks, Forest Service, Fish & Game and the Sheriff’s Department.
  • Yuri Anderson, with Supervisor Adams Office, said we are moving within the office to increase these fines for illegal roadside camping and parking. Yuri also said Supervisor Adams office is trying to move this conversation to support Commander Tongol and give the Sheriff’s Department more teeth in enforcement.

Big Sur Fire, Chief Matt Harris reports:

  • Matt stated that we are not seeing the international visitor at this time but the visitors we are seeing are from California, Oregon and Nevada for the most part and expressed his disappointment that some display a lack of respect for authority and a disregard for the road closures.
  • Big Sur Fire was on patrol, on South Coast Ridge Road, this last Saturday and responded to two drug overdoses, saving one man’s life in the field while managing a helicopter LZ cluttered with tents and vehicles that needed to be moved.
  • Matt emphasized that gates to these closed roads cannot be installed fast enough. In combination with Uniformed Personnel and Significant Fines for disobeying Forest Orders. With all of these steps we will see a change in visitor behavior.
  • Butch offered that he and Matt have been talking about the idea of Monterey County empowering Big Sur Fire in ways that allow them some ticket writing authority. This may be a step forward for providing more boots-on-the-ground for enforcement. Matt then offered that it is up to Monterey County to augment Big Sur Fire’s Charter to allow this increase in scope of what Big Sur Fire can do to serve the community.

Ventana Wilderness Alliance,Rich Popchak reporting for Mike Splain:

  • Over the past week volunteers donated 49.5 hours on four outings in the backcountry. Volunteer Wilderness Rangers made 65 visitor contacts, removed 35 pounds of trash, and removed 4 inappropriate fire rings.
  • Contract crews hired by the US Forest Service and guided by a VWA volunteer continue work on the Pine Ridge Trail. Preparations continue on updated signage and facilities at the Big Sur Station trailhead to launch the Self-registration system when the US Forest Service determines the time is right to open the trail to visitors. The Self-registration system is the gateway to a permanent Permit System.

CA. State ParksBig Sur Sector Supervisor Marcos Ortega reports:

  • State Parks is directing staff to open up JP Burns Day Use Parking area.
  • Marcos has reached out to Yuri Anderson, at Supervisor Adams Office, and Cal Trans to work on a solution for the turn-outs north and south of JP Burns because of health and safety issues. Marcos is requesting an area be restricted for emergency vehicles.
  • State Parks continues to monitor Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the limited Day Use parking. Marcos appreciated everyone’s comments on this on-going challenge during COVID-19.
  • Marcos let Commander Tongol know that State Park Rangers have been working closely with his Sheriff’s Department exercising mutual aid.

Parks Management CompanyJeremy Waggoner reports:

  • All facilites under Parks Management are being challenged by excessive demand and capacities issues.
  • Day Use areas are heavily used on the weekends.

Fifth District Supervisor. Yuri Anderson for Supervisor Mary Adams reports.

  • Sarah has been sharing the Monterey County COVID-19 monitoring data the last couple of weeks. As Sarah has done, Yuri shared data of where Monterey County currently stands. The biggest change was with Nursing Homes and an increase to facilities being impacted by positive cases of COVID-19.
  • Board of Supervisors will be meeting next week and it is expected that the Monterey County Health Officer will give an update.

Big Sur Health Center, Sharen Carey, Executive Director, reports:

  • There are currently 11 positive cases of COVID-19; one new this week.
  • The Health Center has performed 37 new COVID tests this week bringing the total to 365 tests. There is a 2-5 day turn around on test results whether a test comes back positive or negative.

20th Congressional District, Katie Moon on behalf of Congressman Jimmy Panetta:

  • She received reports on Sunday regarding conditions on the South Coast and thanked Chief Harris and his team for keeping everyone safe and for their emergency response.
  • She also thanked Tim Short for requesting funding for Gates and Barricades. Congressman Panetta helped expedite the funding process as soon as possible.
  • Butch thanked Katie, Phil Deppert and Congressman Panetta for their help in expediting this funding.

17th State Senate DistrictColleen Courtney for Senator Bill Monning reports:

  • Through these Stakeholder weekly meetings, she has learned important information to share with Senator Monning i.e. Illegal roadside camping, illegal campfires and dispersed camping on the South Coast and what Big Sur Fire is doing to help mitigate these problems.
  • Senator Monning and his staff are here to support any specific ask by the Big Sur community. 

30th Assembly District. Dominic Dursa for Assembly Member Robert Rivas.

  • Dominic reported that he, Colleen and Katie are setting up a meeting this coming week to assess how their offices can best coordinate responding to these challenges in Big Sur. Dominic, Colleen and Katie will report back next week.

Community Emergency Response Team, Martha Karstens:

  • Hel Latta, Dick Ravich and Martha are going to meet to discuss CERT volunteering to assist agencies with enforcement. Next step after this meeting is to request to be activated by Monterey County CERT to perform this service.

Esalen Institute. Lacy Shannon:

  • Lacy was unable to attend.

Community Association of Big SurButch Kronlund. ED reports:

  • The Sunday morning illegal roadside camping sweep revealed 106 vehicles using Highway 1 turn outs, from Mal Paso Bridge to the SLO county line, to illegally camp.
  • Prewitt Ridge and Alms Ridge had a total of 19 illegal campfires and multiple sanitation and garbage incidence.
  • Butch offered that this is a strange time and that the only way we are going to get through this is to work collaboratively to find solutions.
  • He went on to cite Rick and Diana’s request that Monterey County take a leading role in gearing up for Labor Day Weekend by deploying some port-a-potties and additional trash pick-up at Big Sur businesses.
  • alHalHal suggested the potential for implementing a unified command task force that would include Sheriff, CHP, State Parks and the USFS to sweep the South Coast Ridges which would send out a powerful message about irresponsible behavior.
  • Commander Tongol indicated a willingness to participate and collaborate with all law enforcement agencies.
  • Butch asked who will initiate the Law Enforcement of a unified command discussion. Colleen Courtney said let’s wait on this conversation until the Legislative team meets next week.
  • Butch ended the meeting thanking everyone for their lively discussion on challenging issues our community is facing during this pandemic.