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Navigating the Reopening

By Andrea Stuart | Photo by Manny Espinoza

As cities start reopening during the pandemic, the balance between personal freedoms and community responsibility is in the forefront of many people’s minds. Carmel-by-the-Sea Chief of Police Paul Tomasi, City Administrator Chip Rerig, and Assistant City Administrator Maxine Gullo have been considering this balance as they develop strategies to keep their community active and thriving.


65˚: What did the city closure look like from your perspective?


Paul Tomasi (PT): The first month wasn’t too bad. As the weeks went on, people appeared to be struggling with the shelter-in-place restrictions, frustration was apparent, and some people were crumbling. The police got more involved as complaints came in and have been focused on education more than punishing violators. We have stressed from the beginning that this is a social responsibility. You have to care about your neighbors to follow these rules. You can’t put the violations on the law enforcement and the court system. My goal as a police officer, and one shared by my department, is to build relationships based on trust. This is done through face-to-face communication and programs. People consider it a human right to be able to walk around and hug one another. The question is how do we support the community while protecting it? We have been pretty successful so far by leading with compassion and education.


Chip Rerig (CR): We closed City functions to protect our staff around March 17, and issued an emergency declaration immediately after the Governor [issued his]. At first, people saw it as a break, and they were sheltering in place. Then fatigue set in. There was a cry to open elements of the business world. We were instrumental [in getting] construction, gardening, and similar businesses back open. We helped implement protocols to make that happen. COMMUNITY | CITY OF CARMEL


65˚: How do you keep the public informed about what’s going on?


PT: I attend two to three meetings a week with the county regarding the developments. We were up to three vlogs on our website per week. Officers and code enforcement also go out [on foot]. I spend hours returning phone calls and emails. Keeping up communication and responding to questions has been a focus of our City. People need to be acknowledged.


MG: It is a shared responsibility by our team to stay continuously up-to-date with state and county orders as it relates to COVID-19. The police chief is focused on the health and safety of this community, the city administrator focused on our residents and commercial businesses, and I focus on making it a safe work environment for our workforce and visitors. We will continue to keep the public informed via vlogs and the Friday Letter that the community has indicated they prefer. Plus, we intend to continue to collaborate with our partners, such as the Chamber of Commerce, CRA, and Restaurant District that allows for the city’s message to go out via different forums.


65˚: What have been your biggest concerns through all of this?


PT: Mental illness, crime, drug activity, and drinking. The reopening is helping with tensions. However, a lot more people are getting COVID-19 because the county has loosened the restrictions. Although we’re still asking people to wear masks, there are groups that don't want to follow the order. This is a challenge for law enforcement, as there are a growing number of people who just don't want to follow the Governor's orders. Our officers are out, working more like concierges, trying to provide information and educating people on the ever-changing rules and regulations


65˚: How is Carmel treating summer tourism?


MG: The State of California indicates to avoid traveling long distances for vacation or pleasure as much as possible. Therefore, the city is not marketing at this time. Several tourism and local community organizations have banded together with Visit Carmel to sponsor banners and signs meant to promote responsible visitation to our village. Twenty banners have been installed down Ocean Avenue that encourage everyone to wear a face covering, keep six feet apart (social distance), and wash hands frequently.


CR: We thank our business and residential partners, and especially the Carmel Chamber of Commerce and our destination marketing organization, Visit Carmel.


65˚: What does the future look like for Carmel?


PT: We have to think about the long-term impact of living with a pandemic. The longer we social distance, the more we have to consider mental health. Everyone in our department is trained in dealing with critical incident training [mental illness, specifically]. Police have developed into more than just police-, we are also educators and social workers, helping people through crises. This is more important now than ever, as this pandemic is challenging the mental health of everyone. We’re capable of communicating with people who are having mental health challenges. We spend time with them. We work with them. We also have resources that we call upon, with county social workers and the Monterey Crisis Center, to provide further assistance. In Carmel-bythe-Sea, 40 percent of properties are seasonal residents, but the other 60 percent pretty much know one another, and they communicate with us. So, if someone is in trouble, we find out, we respond, and we help. We are a conduit of care.


MG: I know things will be different for everyone moving forward; however, I am confident that our village will come back thriving in the new normal. The leadership of the City Council, City Administrator, and our dedicated village will continue to work together to preserve the quality of life unique to this community during this unprecedented time into the future.


CR: We are talking about the long-term plans going a year or more out. We’re learning from cities and states that opened prematurely. We have industry leaders who are drafting protocols for COVID 19-safe hotel stays and restaurant seating. We will have to reestablish what is essential. We’re also relying on programs like Seniors Helping Seniors, the Carmel Foundation, and food delivery programs. We do welfare checks to ensure that at-risk residents are okay. Neighbors look out for each other, and the City is part of that equation. The question we should all be asking is, “What can I do to help my neighbor?”

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