Fines, Enforcement Possible for Those Who Visit Beaches, Parks: SD Mayor

“We need to spend time looking out after each other, not dealing with groups of people that aren’t taking this as seriously as they should,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said

San Diego has cracked down on closing all city beaches and parks to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and, according to city officials, those who defy the orders will be subject to “enforcement,” which could include a hefty fine.

“We are still encouraging people to go outdoors – go outdoors close to home,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a news briefing Monday evening. “It’s time to protect each other. Physical distancing is the key to defeating this virus.”

NBC 7's Lauren Coronado dropped by local beaches and parks to see if people were staying home as told by local officials.

Over the weekend, San Diegans crowded city beaches and other public spaces despite California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines to stay home. Californians had been encouraged to get outside when they needed fresh air and exercise, as long as they followed social distancing guidelines.

In San Diego, officials closed Fiesta Island Sunday after crowds gathered there. Officers could be seen throughout the day turning people away from beach parking lots.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said the public order would be amended to include beach closures because so many people were going to San Diego’s beaches. And, if those rules couldn’t be followed, there would be consequences.

“Not following the order is a misdemeanor subject to a $1,000 fine,” Wooten said.

On Monday, city beaches, parks, lakes, boardwalks, bays, trails and other open spaces in San Diego – and throughout California – were ordered to close, per state health guidelines and the local public health order as a way to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. The cities of Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar in San Diego’s North County followed suit.

Faulconer reminded the public of the possible penalties if people continued to defy the orders.

“Things are changing by the day in the fight against the coronavirus. We have to be flexible. We also have to be firm,” the mayor said. “We need to spend time looking out after each other, not dealing with groups of people that aren’t taking this as seriously as they should.”

“Officers can and will fine individuals who do not comply with these rules,” he added.

Faulconer said he is uniting with the San Diego Police Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and San Diego Lifeguards on the closures and enforcement, and giving the chiefs of each agency authority to enforce as they see fit.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has shut down all city beaches and parks after people showed up at local hot spots in groups amid the pandemic. Residents who violate the order no face a $1,000 fine.

Faulconer said the closures are not an action the city and law enforcement “take lightly.”

“The actions of a few, can cost the lives of many,” Faulconer said. “It is simply irresponsible to congregate, and it is unfair to other San Diegans who are staying home.”

The mayor said San Diegans can still go outdoors, but those outings need to be close to home, like a walk around one’s neighborhood, while maintaining social distance from others.

The mayor said the SDPD, SDFD and San Diego Lifeguards had been trying to take an educational approach to letting the public know that it wasn’t a good idea to visit local beaches and parks. But now, that approach is ending, and enforcement is starting.

While there was a stay-at-home order across California, it didn't appear so last weekend. NBC 7's Gaby Rodriguez has more.

“The advice of our public health officials is clear; this action is necessary,” said Faulconer. “Everyone should comply with state directives and practice social distancing. This is how we will beat the virus and flatten the curve.”

Standing alongside the mayor and other agency chiefs, SDPD Chief David Nisleit said Monday that police officers will continue to enforce parking lot closures, and will continue with education first, but move to enforcement if people don’t comply.

“Working together we will defeat this virus and get back to normalcy much quicker than if we continue to spread the virus,” Nisleit said.

SDFD Chief Colin Stowell agreed, and said firefighters and lifeguards are unified in the city’s goal to get people to stop gathering to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is to ensure the safety of San Diegans, as well as first responders,” said Stowell.  “We are here to help you. Stay at home to help us do that.”

San Diego Lifeguard Division Chief James Gartland urged locals to “take this seriously.”

“In order to stop the virus from spreading, we need to practice social distancing,” Gartland said. “And stay close to home and get your exercise there. Help us, help you.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff Bill Gore said the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is also urging locals to stay home and follow state and local public orders, which include Newsom’s Executive Order N-33-20 and the Amended Health Officer Order and Emergency Regulations Addenda.

“It is imperative we all comply with these orders,” Gore said in a press release. “They were not created to follow when convenient. Not following these orders puts everyone's lives at risk. While law enforcement has been given the tools to enforce these orders, we hope that citizens will cooperate and self-regulate.”

Gore said that violations of either order are both misdemeanors and “punishable by a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment not to exceed six months or both.”

The city of San Diego said the beach closures also include the water, so surfers should also be following the rules.

NBC 7 spotted joggers, surfers, and cyclists exercising at local beaches Tuesday morning. Many said they just needed to get outside and connect with nature during these stressful times.

Just after 10 a.m. Tuesday, lifeguards could be heard making announcements over a loudspeaker to surfers in the water near Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, telling them to get our, per the mayor’s orders.

Moments later, an SDPD patrol car drove down the Mission Beach boardwalk, telling people to go home.

Jogger Laura Lapointe said the move to close beaches and parks feels “a little extreme.”

“It feels kind of like we’re living in this police state. I understand the reasoning behind it for everyone’s safety, but personally, it is challenging,” she told NBC 7. “To think of having that taken away feels very emotionally challenging, so I both understand the reasoning for it, but I find it difficult.”

Surfer Bart Jezuit said some surfers will break the rules and not think twice about it.

“Rules are meant to be broken but it’s not like we’re endangering anybody,” Jezuit told NBC 7. “It’s something to keep us from going crazy inside the house; it’s our outlet.”

Grant Anderson was surfing Tuesday morning and said he’s following the social distancing rules in the water.

“The way I look at it, in the water, you’re keeping your 6-foot distance,” he explained. “And I’m by myself – not a gathering of 10 people – so, if we want to get in the water, I mean might as well. It’s not really hurting anyone.”

Anderson said if the enforcement of the fines kicks in, he might not head to the water.

“But, for the most part, if there’s some swell might as well get out because we can’t do anything else,” he added.

“I just feel that I need some connection to outside,” local Sahar Mohseni said, looking out at the water Tuesday. “Connection to the ocean.”

NBC 7 reached out to the San Diego District Attorney’s office and City Attorney’s office Monday to see if there had been any charges or fines – so far – issued to local residents for violating the stay at home order.

“We have not received any cases of violations [of the stay-at-home order],” said Tanya Sierra with the DA’s office.

Hilary Nemchik, of the City Attorney’s office, also said they had no cases as of Monday.

More information on the recent state order, including what’s closed, what’s open and which industries are exempt by the state can be found on the California COVID-19 response website.

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