|All of us at the City of Big Bear Lake recognize the unprecedented threat facing our community (and every community in California, the United States, and the world), and we are all working hard to keep our community safe and hopefully return to normal as soon as possible. The City’s actions have been and continue to be aimed at promoting the health and safety of our residents, and rely heavily on the recommendations of public health officials. In short, although the City is also working hard on strategies to mitigate the severe economic impacts associated with the COVID-19 emergency, these concerns are secondary to the need to keep our community safe.
The City continues to receive suggestions that we should close the mountain and completely prohibit individuals who do not live in Big Bear Valley from entering our community. While that suggestion is understandable during this unprecedented emergency, it is far more complicated than one might initially realize, and the City wants to make sure everyone in our community understands the complexities of this issue.
First, a recap of actions already taken by the City (and the County) to keep our community safe:
· since March 19, both the City and Visit Big Bear have actively encouraged visitors to postpone their trips to our community, and area lodging and vacation rental managers implemented flexible policies in order to keep visitors away,
· since March 20, the City has implemented the Governor’s “shelter in place” order, with only limited exceptions for essential business activities and isolated outdoor exercise,
· since March 22, after receiving clarification from State and County officials and legal advice, the City has prohibited lodging facilities and vacation rentals from operating in Big Bear Lake, with only very limited exceptions,
· since March 23, City enforcement staff have investigated every single complaint alleging unauthorized use of a lodging facility or vacation rental, and have resolved these complaints either by forcing the visitors to leave immediately or by verifying that the owner’s family is using the home,
· since March 19, City officials have engaged in direct communication with Visit Big Bear and representatives for the vacation rental management companies to secure cooperation, and all parties have been extremely cooperative and genuinely concerned for our community
· since March 24 City officials have sent multiple individual communications directly to the owners of all self-managed vacation rental units (those managed through online platforms) to advise them that vacation rentals are temporarily prohibited and that online advertising should be suspended through at least April 30, and City officials have also engaged each owner directly through online platforms,
· since March 25, City officials have been in direct communications with AirBnB officials, who have sent separate communications to their owners to prevent bookings through at least April 30, and
· since April 5, in anticipation of significant snowfall this week, the City has indicated that all City-owned parking facilities, City parks, and on-street parking facilities are closed, and that snow play activities are not permitted anywhere in the City other than the person’s own property, with appropriate enforcement personnel available to respond accordingly.
The City and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (under contract with the City for law enforcement services – they are essentially our Police Department) continue to monitor activities throughout the City and the entire valley, and there are very few individuals here that are not residents or second home owners in our community. Thankfully, the entire community appears to be acting responsibly, adhering to the restrictions in place, and heeding the recommendations of public health officials. The City greatly appreciates everyone’s cooperation, and urges your continued diligence. Together, with everyone’s cooperation, we will keep our community safe and we will get through this!
City officials have and continue to consider the possibility of closing the boundaries of the City of Big Bear Lake or “closing the mountain”, but it’s not as simple of a decision as one may initially perceive. At this time, based on current circumstances in our City, in the valley, in our County, and in our State, such a decision is unlikely to be implemented anytime soon. Here are a few reasons why:
· It is sometimes noted that fires or snow events have closed the Big Bear Valley in the past, however, it’s important to note that the COVID-19 event is unlike any other natural or man-made disaster that any community has ever experienced. This event is literally affecting every single community and every single person at the same time, no one knows exactly how it will all end, nor when it will end. A fire event or a snow event is imminent or immediate, is reasonably predictable, has a somewhat predictable duration, does not affect every community and every person at the same time, and is completely apparent to all. If the City or the mountain is “closed”, what does that mean, how long does it last, who receives special exceptions, and if anyone leaves should they be allowed to return?
· The City of Big Bear Lake has jurisdiction over approximately 6.5 square miles, a little more than 5,000 permanent residents, and just shy of 10,000 housing units. The City limits include only a fraction of all of the land area, permanent residents, and housing units in the valley. The City does not have authority over Big Bear City, Fawnskin, Sugarloaf, or other unincorporated areas, and does not control the 3 State highways leading into the valley. The City could certainly take action to restrict access into and out of the City limits of Big Bear Lake, however, that would not apply to other areas in the valley, and the City may then be in a position to not allow others in the valley to enter the City limits – which is where most of the shopping and services exist – and the City would not want to prevent our neighbors from accessing essential goods and services in any way. Any decision to limit access into or out of the entire Big Bear Valley would require coordination and agreement by all parties, including the City, the County, and all of the other local government entities serving the valley. It can certainly be done, but, again, the COVID-19 event is unlike any other event that may have necessitated this action in the past, with no reliable prediction of the end date.
· It’s also important to note that many of our residents are actively traveling out of the City and the valley to other communities down the hill, including for purchase of essential goods and services, and none of those communities have limited the ability for our residents to visit their communities. What does that say about our community if we believe it’s appropriate for us to travel to other communities (who have the same fears and concerns that we all have), but that we need to take action to directly prohibit others from entering our community? Not only are we all in this together in the City of Big Bear Lake and the Big Bear Valley, we’re all in this together as Californians and as Americans.
· If we ultimately evolve to “closing the mountain”, it will require the allocation of significant resources to control the 3 primary entrance points to the Big Bear Valley. These resources will likely be provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff, the California Highway Patrol, or perhaps even the National Guard. These resources are already stretched thin, will continue to be stretched thin, and their ranks may also be impacted by COVID-19. Such an operation would require that each vehicle entering or leaving present some proof of residency or property ownership, and this process will be time consuming and require personal interaction. Additionally, who receives special exceptions? How long is all of this going to last? Are we willing to implement this for weeks or months? Do we prohibit our residents and property owners from leaving and returning? What about your family members who may need to come and go?
· Finally, if the reason for this action is to limit the spread of COVID-19 into Big Bear Lake or the Big Bear Valley, then it seems prudent that we would not allow our residents to leave and then return, as they could potentially bring the virus back with them. The risk of an individual bringing the virus to our community is identical whether that individual originated in another community or originated in our community, left, acquired the virus, and returned to our community. The reality is that COVID-19 is already in our community, and the most effective way to prevent community transmission is by following the recommendations and restrictions already in place.
With all that said, the COVID-19 emergency remains very fluid and circumstances are constantly evolving. The City of Big Bear Lake and/or the entire Big Bear Valley may ultimately be forced to take action to close the City or close the entire valley, and City officials will work closely and cooperatively with State, County, and other local government leaders if this ultimately becomes necessary. Such an action may be more likely to occur if there is a significant outbreak of COVID-19 here in our community, and the State or County must take action to isolate us from others in order to protect them, at which point it is possible that the National Guard may be deployed.
Thankfully, there continue to be relatively few cases in Big Bear Lake and the entire valley, and all of us are working hard to keep this number as low as possible. At this point in time, the City believes the cumulative effect of all of the actions already taken, and everyone’s continued diligence in limiting interactions to the maximum extent practical, practicing effective social distancing, and proper personal hygiene are sufficient to promote the health and safety of our residents.
Again, thank you to everyone for continuing to act responsibly!