The City, Galveston Police Department and Galveston Island Beach Patrol spent Friday and planned to work over the weekend to get ready to reopen some of the coast Monday morning, a step that many residents have been waiting for.
But a partial reopening, even limited to hours before 9 am, made some city leaders worry that the fragile balance between reopening businesses and keeping people safe might have cracked.
The Galveston City Council made the decision at a virtual meeting Thursday in a 4-to-3 vote to reopen the beach seven days a week from 6 am to 9 am only for people who exercise or move – not sit or lie down – starting Monday.
Galveston City and Park Supervisory Board officials are getting ready for change by asking full-time beach patrol forces, police officers and city marshals to patrol the beach Monday morning to enforce social distance and ensure people leave the beach at 9 am, said patrol chief Peter Davis.
“Because it’s 6am to 9am, I don’t think we will see many people,” Davis said. “I’m a little daunted about the weekend.”
Even with the beach closed, patrols have contact with 200 people a day, Davis said.
HOW THEY WILL DO IT
This city does not open all access points.
To help city and beach patrols manage the crowd, park board crews will only open access points on ramps leading to the beach, not stairs, Davis said. There are about nine ramps along the sea wall, he said.
The barricades in the West End will not be removed because vehicle access is still not permitted, but people will be able to walk around the barricades, Davis said.
The beach patrol will have at least eight people every day, four in the morning and four in the afternoon, Davis said.
The city plans to send four city marshals to the beach Monday morning, spokesman Marissa Barnett said.
On Friday, the Galveston Police Department was unsure how many officers would be sent to the beach, a spokesman for Sgt. Said Xavier Hancock.
Mayor Jim Yarbrough believes that reopening the coast now, even in part, is a bad decision by the city council, he said.
“You don’t get a second chance at this,” Yarbrough said. “They ignored management in the most important decision I had to make in the six years since I became mayor.”
Yarbrough wants to wait to make a decision on the coast until Monday, when Governor Greg Abbott is expected to release plans to reopen the country’s economy, and until the city hears news from the Texas Public Lands Office, which governs the beaches of the state.
The land office has some concerns about maintaining access to all Texans, officials said during a meeting Thursday.
The land office confirmed that it was aware of Galveston’s decision on Thursday, but did not offer further comments or answer questions on Friday.
HOW IT AFFECTED THE PLAN
But Yarbrough was also worried that the move would undermine the cautious balance being carried out by the city management as it made plans to reopen, he said.
“The biggest thing is the credibility hit for the city and management,” Yarbrough said. “None of these actions have ever been intended to injure Galveston residents; it gives us the best chance of minimal deployment and minimal problems. “
Yarbrough is worried that other businesses might want to reopen full capacity earlier if the beach reopens sooner than planned.
Galveston closed the beach on March 29 because of fears that people outside the city would flock to the beach, increasingly spreading disease and making contact with the island’s first responders.
Opening the beach will be a welcome change for island hotels, said Willis Gandhi, president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association.
He was in the vicinity of 20 percent occupancy on his Best Western Plus, 8502 Seawall Blvd., he said. Guests are important workers, he said.
But once the beach opens, he hopes to get more business, he said.
“I think it should be done slowly,” Gandhi said. “The last thing we need is 100,00 people coming to Galveston.”
“Business in Galveston relies on open beaches,” said Nick Gaido, president of Gaido Seafood Restaurant, 3828 Seawall Blvd.
While saving lives must be a priority, in the end some small risks need to be taken to get the business running again, Gaido said.
The beach must be reopened with a slow and measurable approach, he said.
“When the beach is open, Galveston is open for business and tourists,” Gaido said. “Without those places, food and lodging aren’t enough to bring people here.”
need for more guards
Reopening the coast meant Davis needed to speed up the schedule expected to bring seasonal guards.
Beach patrols only operate with staff throughout the year, but when the beach reopens, patrols need to bring seasonal guards to the tower, Davis said.
The process of recruiting and training guards is a minimum of three weeks, he said.
The patrol has about 30 seasoned trained guards from spring break, but needs to approach 120 for summer troops and there is no guarantee that all spring break guards will return, Davis said.
“We need to train many coast guards very quickly,” Davis said. “I think we can do that in June.”
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