To gate or not to gate?
That is the question the Long Beach City Council is now wrestling with as fall inches quietly toward winter, and the gates and other barriers installed at entrances to the boardwalk this summer to limit crowds are still standing — and residents are voicing their displeasure.
The gates, they say, are an eyesore, and not the best of messages to send out about Long Beach.
The boardwalk was closed altogether from March to May, as the coronavirus pandemic raged, amid concerns about the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the city and the boardwalk’s potential to spread the virus as walkers, runners and bicyclists interacted. After it reopened, city officials were forced to restrict its use after two unsettling incidents. One weekend in June, some 800 young people celebrating a graduation gathered on the boardwalk. The following weekend, another crowd was estimated at 1,200, and over the course of the weekend, 17 people had to be rescued from the ocean.
On July 23, the city decided that the beach would close at 8 p.m., and the boardwalk an hour later. A team of special summer patrols reminded people of the rules, and gates and wooden sawhorses were put in place at boardwalk entrances.
In the aftermath of the boisterous gatherings, residents accepted the barriers. But as summer wound down, the complaints began, and they have made their way to the City Council.
“Could you commit to keeping the boardwalk entrances open during the winter?” one woman asked at a council meeting last week, “When I need fresh air, I find the boardwalk closed. When I saw that, I cried.”
Roy Lester, a former president of the Long Beach Board of Education and a frequent critic of some city policies, added, “Nobody wants thousands of kids on the boardwalk. But that can happen anywhere.” Thegates should come down, he said.
Rich Berrios, an assistant city corporation counsel, said the behavior of young people on the beach during the summer “was shocking and crazy,” and that Long Beach had received a call from an alarmed Gov. Andrew Cuomo. For the time being, Berrios and council members said, the restricted hours would remain in effect.
The gates, however, are another matter.
At Laurelton Boulevard, there is a large metal one. On other blocks, there are less-obtrusive, snow fence-style gates.
On the boardwalk one afternoon last week, joggers and strollers said they didn’t like the gate at Laurelton. “It’s an eyesore,” said David Moskowitz, who was sitting on a bench. “But we’re in uncharted waters here” with the coronavirus pandemic, he acknowledged.
Ian Danbury, chairman of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the gates, particularly at Laurelton, did not sit well with him. “My opinion is we don’t need that big ugly structure,” he said. “It’s a total waste of money. They don’t give the right impression. The money could be spent better somewhere else.”
Joey Naham, who lives in Long Beach and is chairman of the Green Party of Nassau County, noted that the pandemic infection rate in New York state remained at a remarkably low 1 percent. But, he noted, that rate could potentially rise.
So, Naham said, the gates are a useful precaution, because they keep people from congregating at all hours on the boardwalk and beach.
Jim Hennessy, a former president of the City Council, said the Laurelton gate was particularly offensive. “We don’t want to dissuade people from coming to Long Beach,” he said.
Council President John Bendo said that no decision had been made about the future of any of the boardwalk entrance barriers. “They were in response to the kids back during the summer,” he said. “We’ve been playing around since with what works best. We’ll take input” on which way to go. “But no determination has been made yet.”