What happens when you close beach parking but not the beach?

Seemed like an opportune time for me to offer an opinion from a long-time friend who, like me, shares a history and connection to St Johns County’s north beaches.  I grew up on Vilano Beach, owned land and a home there, and owned two homes in Ponte Vedra Beach.  I feel as qualified as most to comment about how those public beaches are being managed.

In the 1970’s I was a sworn St Johns County deputy sheriff and I spent untold hours of aggressive patrol along Vilano Road and SR-A1A, north to the County line.  I’ve responded to a suicide, a couple of criminal homicides, a bombing that led to an arson arrest, three or four forcible rapes, and literally hundreds of burglaries of homes and automobiles along the 22.4 miles of highway.

As many changes as I can recite that have occurred in that area, I find it amazing how the county would ignore the lessons learned and act to prohibit vehicles on the beach, prohibit the use of parking lots built specifically for that purpose, yet our new 33-year-old County Manager, Hunter Conrad, refuses to stop the source of the contamination, the PEOPLE who are carrying this pandemic.

Those high-risk people, individuals and small groups of ten or fewer (so long as they keep their “social distance”) continue to be allowed to congregate there.  Sadly, Historic City News announced the first St Johns County COVID-19 novel coronavirus-related death today, more confirmed cases of the disease invoking quarantine, and cautioned the risk of transmission of this life-threatening virus.

The scene driving up A1A north to Mickler’s Landing today, looks the same as it did to me as a young deputy 45-years ago.  Cars with nowhere to legally park are abandoned on the shoulder of the highway; blocking or trespassing on private property and state-owned right-of-way.  They attract thieves and create a motor vehicle hazard for others sharing the road.  They are subject to ticketing.  They are subject to towing.  But the county manager essentially created the problem when he closed the legal parking lots.

Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said any lessening of the spread will help our health systems remain functional.

“Even if we are not headed to zero transmission, any cases that we can prevent and any transmissions that we can avoid are going to have an enormous impact,” she said. “Not only on the individuals who end up not getting sick, but all of the people that they would have ended up infecting. … and so, the more that we can minimize it, the better.”

When we close the beach to pedestrians as well as vehicles, we will make progress in our effort to flatten the epidemic curve, rather than allowing it to rise exponentially.