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Manhattan Beach Mayor On Why Reopening Beaches Is Good For Human Health

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Southern California passed a milestone yesterday. Los Angeles County reopened its beaches. Yesterday's move affects beaches along a stretch of coastline of several cities, including, of course, the city of Los Angeles, although Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer has also kept some limits in effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARBARA FERRER: Group sports and activities like picnicking and sunbathing are not allowed at this time, and the parking lots, bike paths, piers and boardwalks remain closed. Chairs, umbrellas and coolers are also not allowed.

INSKEEP: Los Angeles County is also taking some other steps, like relaxing some controls on retailers and manufacturers, although a broad stay-at-home order remains in effect. The cities affected include Manhattan Beach, Calif., where the mayor is Richard Montgomery, who's on the line. Mayor, welcome to the program.

RICHARD MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: How was the beach yesterday?

MONTGOMERY: Beautiful, beautiful. We have almost two miles of coastline here, and over the last six weeks, there's been no one on it except the lifeguard - drives a lonely truck back and forth. But imagine that water being clear, no one around to bother us. A beautiful day here in Southern California.

INSKEEP: I believe that the order was lifted at 6 o'clock in the morning. Did you go out early?

MONTGOMERY: I was actually there at 6:30 for Round 1 and after 1 o'clock to see how bad the crowds would be or if the crowd would show up. And luckily, there was no big crowds showing up here on the middle of the week. The weekends may be different. But the only people there that we saw in conjunction with the lifeguards and our police department that was back and forth were less than 300 people.

INSKEEP: Over the course of two miles - so not crowded at all, I guess.

MONTGOMERY: Correct.

INSKEEP: So you found it to be a proper scene. Now, why would it be that the beaches would be a kind of first step for Southern California, for California generally, which has been locked down so intensively?

MONTGOMERY: I think it's two things, Steve. It's, one, it's our culture. Southern California here, the beach is where people go to not just recreate but just take a peace of mind off. We've been locked down for six weeks so to not be able to go anywhere - and parks were part of that lockdown. Now parks are open but beaches - it's part of what our makeup is. And so people want to go relax and clear their minds. They walk for miles on the beach. Instantly, people - I saw residents were starting to smile again.

INSKEEP: But the fact that you went out looking for crowds does point to the danger here, I suppose. Orange County, Calif., also in Southern California, opened its beaches last month, if I'm not mistaken, and then the governor had to shut them down again because thousands of people packed the beaches. Why do you think your beach will end up different?

MONTGOMERY: The difference here is they were impacted by everyone going to those beaches. Here, with 23 miles of coastline open, we won't be impacted like Orange County was. We're so spread out. They can pick any beach from Zuma to the north, Long Beach to the south, Manhattan Beach in the middle. They won't see the influx of people or the crowds that Governor Newsom and our health department are so worried about.

INSKEEP: What other economic activities or social activities, for that matter, are now allowed and taking place in Manhattan Beach under these changes to the orders?

MONTGOMERY: We're seeing two things happen, really. Our department stores, retail stores can sell. They just have to deliver from the curbside. Our restaurants have always had the opportunity to do takeout only. We're seeing opening up things like our botanical gardens, our jewelry stores, our gift card places. Things a lot of huge crowds go to, we're starting to see resurgence. Even the florist - the florist, for Mother's Day, got a big input there. So we're seeing small signs of recovery. But we're all waiting for that next step to come down in maybe two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, where the governor says, OK, we've all done well. We've seen decline and the COVID-19 rates down. We're going to open up a little more. That's what we're all pressing for.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Mayor - as people reopen, which, obviously, people really need to do, it's clear from listening to public health officials that there will be additional cases of COVID-19. There may be spikes from time to time. That's going to happen. That's a kind of trade-off that seems to be inevitable until there's a vaccine. Are people in Manhattan Beach ready for that, and do you think it is the right moment to make that trade-off?

MONTGOMERY: I think our residents are more than ready. We've had 71 cases reported, Steve. I personally know of 14 to 16 residents that have recovered that don't show in that number. And unfortunately, we had two deaths out of 35,000 residents. The numbers are low. I wish they were lower. But our residents understand the risk here. They want to be outside and active.

Understand the risk of what we're doing - it has to be a balanced approach between open versus staying inside and staying at home. I think six weeks is a lot to ask for people to stay in their home, safer at home. We're an easygoing beach city. So the closure of beaches and our Strand Walkway is a stark reminder to our public of just how serious the situation is for everyone. But the more aggressive we act as a city and state, the sooner we can come this to an end and get back to what we love about Manhattan Beach and our state.

INSKEEP: Mayor Richard Montgomery of Manhattan Beach, Calif., thanks so much.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you, sir. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.