Fort Bragg's Coastal Trail reopened last week to the gorgeous weather that has visited the Mendocino Coast during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The trail — literally Fort Bragg's front yard — has been closed since March 26th, when local and state governments shut down state, county and city parks to keep suburbanites and city dwellers from bugging out to the countryside to avoid the lockdown. Coast people, many of whom practice social distancing as a way of life, had to give up, not a vacation, but a big part of what there is to do around here.
Hard to feel sorry for coast dwellers at any time, of course, but it's been a surprisingly oppressive tease — locked down on warm, sunny, windless days that you rarely get one of on the Mendocino Coast, packed with the blossoms of the earliest spring in a century, the almanacs say.
That all changed April 14, the day after the Fort Bragg city council decided that, though the parking lots would remain closed, city parks, including the coastal trail, could reopen.
The decision wasn't a no-brainer. About the only thing people get more upset about than being locked down these days, is other people not being locked down. Many feared (and still do) that re-opening the coastal trail would trigger a flood of uncaring, underdressed, COVID-carrying Bay Areans (aka Brightlighters in Boontling) wandering the aisles of local grocery stores and haunting local gas stations.
Others protest increasingly the undeniably vast increase in government power almost overnight — something that even feels a little like oppression.
The Mendocino Coast's cultural petri dish has not spawned anti-lockdown protests or any other kind. But people are restless. And scared.
So a walk on the Coastal Trail sounds like just the thing to some. It's a different walk — the parking lots are closed; no public bathrooms. Distancing is not difficult on a 30-foot-wide walking track. Masks are required.
A week after the trail opened, Fort Bragg Police Chief John Naulty said things are good so far.
"The Trail has not been an issue," he wrote in an email Tuesday. "People are policing themselves."
The re-opening didn’t go without incident, though; "The parking lots are closed, however, this Sunday someone took down the parking lot barricades at the Glass Beach parking lot twice."
Before the opening, Naulty cautioned that people handling themselves was the key to keeping the trail open.
"It seems to be working for now," he said this week. "We will see if we begin to have changes with the [Health Officer’s] Executive Order this Friday on allowing a 10 mile travel to recreation. At that point if we have problems we will be forced to close the Trail."
Keeping what limited public space there is functioning and — key these days — clean, is a big part of local government's COVID-19 role, as is tracking, testing and caring for especially vulnerable and underserved people like those without shelter and people recently released from California's COVID-stricken state prisons.
So far, two inmates — known anyway — who were released from state prisons specifically because the institutions had COVID-19 outbreaks ended up in Mendocino County over the past two weeks, before anyone in the public health sphere knew about it. One former inmate in the Ukiah area tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the county's fifth known case, and is in quarantine. The other tested negative at Mendocino Coast Clinics on April 17.
Neither Naulty nor Mendocino County Sheirff Matt Kendall — nor anyone — was pleased that the state had allowed potentially infected people to go where they pleased with no notification. Especially because, also last week, a man convicted of violent assault escaped for a time from Parlin Forks Conservation Camp, a fenceless woodland prison camp 15 miles east of Fort Bragg where, it has been repeatedly promised by the California Department of Corrections, only non-violent offenders would be held. Last year, another prisoner escaped, that time all the way to Vallejo. It turned out he was a violent criminal.
Naulty wasn't asked about the Parlin Forks incident, but the released state prison inmate was on his mind.
"The (case of the) inmate here was lucky for us — not a problem (though) I was disappointed that County Health initially did not provide us with any assistance until I called them. Susan Convery of the Health Department and Lucresha Renteria of Mendocino Clinics set up (having) the person tested, which came back negative. The State person dropped the ball by not notifying us of the release and potential virus."
Naulty confirmed there definitely was an outbreak in the prison the inmate came from.
Another crucial element of local COVID-19 response is addressing needs of people without shelters to shelter in.
That response has taken many forms, even within Mendocino County. A homeless camp south of Ukiah near the airport with dozens of people continues to be an unsolved, potentially life and death problem for both Mendocino County and Ukiah city governments.
In Fort Bragg, partly because of ongoing efforts by city government and community organizations, churches and individuals, there is no large homeless camp, and many of the smaller locations are known and visited regularly.
Since COVID-19, local officials and groups have focused on moving the most vulnerable, mostly older homeless people into motel rooms. The police department has played an active role in those efforts and, Naulty said, with some bumps in the road but no wrecks, so far so good.
At its April 20 special meeting, one of a series of emergency sessions convened online, the Fort Bragg city council started to address the financial tsunami approaching local governments across the country: tax revenues turned off like a spigot, or at least reduced more suddenly and drastically than anyone has ever seen.
The council's first pass at cuts picked out an unfilled sergeant's position and a Community Service Officer in the police department, along with several other fulltime city jobs and all seasonal workers. City Finance Director Victor Damiano is saying to expect recession for years to come.
Walks on the trail any time we can get them will be much appreciated in coming weeks.