Update: This story has been updated Thursday July 2 at 5 p.m. to reflect new beach parking lot closures in San Francisco.
As coronavirus infections increase rapidly around California, the state has announced parking lot closures for state beaches in the Bay Area for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend. Though the beaches themselves remain open, the remote location of most Bay Area state beaches means that closing the parking lots severely limits access.
Sonoma Coast State Park, a 16-mile stretch of dunes, coves, and sandy beaches between the mouth of the Russian River and Bodega Head, has 903 people total who live within walking distance, according to a database built by UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. According to the UCLA site, 110 people live within walking distance of the mile-long Pescadero State Beach on the San Mateo Coast.
In a news conference Wednesday to announce the restrictions, Governor Gavin Newsom said the closures were part of an “immediate action to slow the spread of the virus in those areas.” He added that the state was also considering modifying access at popular state parks where “we’ve seen increased activity where people simply aren’t able to practice social distancing.”
California State Parks Information Officer Adeline Yee said the Northern California measures were to “reduce overcrowding.”
“The Fourth of July weekend (July 3-5) is one of the most highly visited weekends in the State Park System,” Yee wrote in an email on Thursday. “In an effort to help reduce the density of visitors and State Parks’ employees over this popular holiday weekend, California State Parks is implementing temporary measures.”
On Thursday, San Francisco announced that it would also close its beach parking lots “to limit the potential for large gatherings and reduce the spread of the virus.” The beaches themselves remain open, and the parking lot closures include Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, Fort Funston, and Crissy Field.
Health experts have generally said that outdoor visits are safe, so long as people wear masks and maintain distance from each other, but that increased visitor traffic does increase risk for park staff. While many Southern California beaches have closed entirely for the weekend, most Bay Area beaches not run by California State Parks, including county beaches in Sonoma and both Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, remain open. A July 1 web update for the national parks stated that they would continue to increase access.
“But of course if they have the reason to, they have the right to change course and close parking lots as needed,” said Laine Hendricks, the public information officer for Marin County. “We do give local agencies the authority to close parking or provide other limitations if there should be instances of crowding.”
Hendricks said Marin County could respond by temporarily closing roads or other access points if crowds show up. She said Marin has joined other Bay Area health agencies in encouraging residents to stay home, or close to it, over the weekend. San Mateo County Parks Public Information Officer Carla Schoof said that San Mateo, likewise, hopes residents will stay close to home, but has kept county parks open while preparing for record visits this weekend.
“We were pretty much gearing up for the last couple of weeks, anticipating ongoing high visitation,” Schoof said. “We’re asking anybody going out to outdoor spaces this weekend to plan ahead. Check and make sure you know what’s open, whether park or beach itself or parking lots or restrooms or picnic areas. Because as we see, things can change rapidly.”
Schoof echoed other park managers in pleading with visitors to pick up their own trash. With park staff taking on additional work to keep the parks safe, there’s less time for cleaning up litter.
Sonoma County Parks Deputy Director Melanie Parker said by email that the county health agency was also unlikely to issue blanket closures. She said that while Sonoma County Parks campgrounds opened on July 1, campers will still need to help reduce risks by bringing sanitizer, and wearing masks outside their own campsite.