In the wake of a weekend heatwave – and a rise in reported COVID-19 cases province-wide – some White Rock councillors were questioning city staff closely Monday night about how effectively social distancing is being managed on the city’s popular waterfront strip.
Concerns were voiced at council’s July 27 meeting about the waterfront in general and four restaurants – which council and staff did not name – perceived as coping poorly with social distancing protocols.
Coun. David Chesney also pin-pointed a side issue – that some pedestrians are stepping into traffic lanes on Marine Drive to skirt accumulations of restaurant patrons on the sidewalk.
“This is a recipe for disaster – it’s only a matter of time before somebody, perhaps a little child, gets clipped, so I think urgency is paramount,” he said.
“Overcrowding seems to be prevalent, still, in B.C. and even in White Rock,” Coun. Scott Kristjanson noted.
“I’ve noticed on many occasions when I go driving by or walking by the restaurants and the line-ups are very tight and not physically socially distancing,” he said.
“We were told that if that persisted that they would be spoken to and possibly (the city would) take away their licenses or something.”
Kristjanson further wondered whether restaurants are being reminded that they “need to ensure physical distancing in their line-ups.”
But planning and development services manager Carl Izaak – who also manages business licences and bylaw enforcement for the city – responded that “those conversations are happening.”
“I do know that, in the restaurant industry, we are hearing that maintaining staff to keep (up with) the current levels of customers … can be a challenge for them. Having that additional staff, which we’ve been requesting – to have people out reminding their own patrons to keep distancing – can be a challenge for some of them.”
Izaak said staff is continuing to work with restaurants to ensure that they have a “safe atmosphere” and that the White Rock BIA is also reaching out to businesses to suggest options for them such as providing digital menus for smart phones in place of traditional ‘menu boxes’ outside premises, to avoid people “bunching-up” on the sidewalk.
“When do you think we’ll actually see these measures taking effect?” Kristjanson asked. “Because I’d hate to see another weekend like the one we just saw, where everyone is crowding.”
Isaak responded that consultation with the restaurants on the issue was happening before the July 25-26 weekend, and follow-ups are ongoing.
But Coun. David Chesney was not satisfied that this was all the city can do.
“Are we going to rely solely on the BIA to convince these people – four constant offenders?” he asked.
“Why can they not, at the very least, get some kind of markings on their sidewalks to spread those people out?”
Izaak responded that there are problems finding the right kind of stickers to adhere to floors and sidewalks that are receiving a lot of traffic, adding that some fish-and-chip restaurants have taken to using orange traffic cones to mark off correct social distancing.
“It could be that those customers are then moving them…I think we can probably look to our colleagues in engineering to see what might be acceptable in terms of more semi-permanent markings, rather than stickers, which do tend to leave,” Izaak said.
“Once we have a few of those options for restaurants in terms of marking up the city sidewalk, because it is our property generally where people are lining up, we would maybe approach those who don’t have something more permanent in place, to make that work.”
Chesney stressed the urgency of finding a solution.
“We have a very serious side-problem to that, and I’ve seen it all weekend long,” he said. “People walking along the sidewalk, they come to a large crowd of people and without looking or thinking they step onto the road to go around that gathering of people.
“If it takes a spray can to make some marks on the sidewalk, whatever it is, I hope your department is able to address this and address it immediately.”
“I think we’ve probably got five more big weekends before even school is supposed to go back in,” Mayor Darryl Walker observed.
“It would be nice if we could make sure that we reiterate our concerns to our business owners, and certainly we’ll talk to the BIA about that as well.”