In person visits to Seal Beach businesses part of local COVID enforcement

Patrons eat in a Main Street restaurant’s parklet even though current pandemic restrictions don’t allow outdoor dining. City officials have been “educating” Seal Beach businesses about the rules with letters and in person visits. Staff photo

An undated page on the Seal Beach city government website says the city is temporarily permitting the used of outdoor areas for dining.

Yet current state guidelines limit restaurants and bars in Orange County to only providing take-out service.

Meanwhile, city officials are physically visiting Main Street after City Hall business hours and on weekends to promote compliance with the rules. Both Mayor/District One Councilman Joe Kalmick and Community Development Director Les Johnson recently confirmed the in-person visits.

“Basically they are just, you know, walking Main Street,” Kalmick said.

Historically, Seal Beach code enforcement has been complaint-driven.

(The Sun emailed the city manager this week to seek further clarification of the rules. For the questions, see page 10.)

Kalmick said city staff members have been advising restaurant owners to take in or stack tables. (Sun staff members have seen people eating at tables outside various restaurants. Some restaurants have roped off their tented dining areas; others have not.) “The COVID-19 related educational outreach and engagement is being conducted city-wide,” wrote Community Development Director Les Johnson in a recent email to the Sun.

As the Sun reported last week, Seal Beach officials have been emphasizing enforcement by education rather than by punishment.

Seal Beach Mayor/District One Councilman Joe Kalmick recently said that while  last week’s article was accurate as far as it went, the article did not make clear that the city has been emphasizing “enforcement by education” since the rules were initially imposed early last year.

That’s consistent with what the SBPD spokesman (now) Lt. Nick Nicholas said about enforcement when the December 2020 regional shutdown was announced.

“Our enforcement posture since the beginning of this pandemic has been to educate the public first,” wrote Seal Beach Police Sgt. Nick Nicholas in a Dec. 8 email.

When the Sun asked last week if it was correct that the city was doing nothing new with its education/enforcement efforts, Johnson wrote that city staff was continuing to inform the public of the latest COIVD-19 related orders.

Some Seal Beach residents have expressed frustration that other cities are not enforcing the rules.

“We can’t be responsible for anything other than our own city,” Kalmick said.

What do city officials do if they see the rules being broken? According to Johnson, the response depends on the circumstances.

“This could result in an immediate in-person conversation, a future site visit or written correspondence,” Johnson wrote.

Asked how often officials contact a business before sending a formal letter, Johnson wrote “As previously noted, this is addressed on a case-by-case basis as deemed appropriate.”

What if a restaurant patron orders food to go and then eats on a public bench? “The current State order temporarily halts restaurant outdoor dining.  Use of a bench on a public sidewalk is not in conflict with the State order but does require compliance with all applicable CDC guidelines,” Johnson wrote.

In recent phone interview, Kalmick said that there was a legitimate question about why the city allows people to sit on benches. However, Kalmick doesn’t want to remove the city benches.

Enforcement, however, remains a concern. Kalmick pointed out that the sidewalks are already narrow. Participants in the Main Street Javatinis coffee klatch gather in front of the business in folded chairs (and  a city bench).

“We don’t want to cause them any more grief than they’re already suffering,” Kalmick said, referring to local businesses. However, he said the city has to do the right thing and  is keeping the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 from spreading.

Last week, the city website reported as of Jan. 5 that there had been 591 COVID-19 cases and eight deaths in Seal Beach.

At the skilled nursing facility, there were 158 cases among patients, 120 among healthcare workers at the skilled nursing facility. and 32 deaths.

Twenty-eight COVID cases had been reported since New Year’s Day.

This week, as of 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 12, the city reported a total of 708 cases and 12 deaths in Seal Beach.

The numbers for the skilled nursing facility had not changed.