The debate over whether to turn Marine Drive into a one-way route might be back on the table now that the province has lifted restrictions on indoor dining – according to one council member, at least.
Tuesday afternoon, Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the province’s four step restart plan.
Step one of the plan, which started May 25, allows indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants as long as there’s an existing WorkSafeBC safety plan in place. Restaurants are also to be mindful of table spacing and other COVID-19-related safety guidance, such as masks and physical distancing.
At its regular council meeting May 10, White Rock council voted to close the north lane of Marine Drive until the end of September. It was the second time council voted on the matter, resulting in a 6-1 decision.
The move was aimed at allowing waterfront restaurants more table space to offset a severe and continuing threat to the survival of the businesses as a result of provincial health orders banning inside dining. City staff recommended against the one-way option, citing safety concerns that included emergency vehicles not being able to access the area when it’s busy.
Tuesday, Coun. Helen Fathers said the lifting of dining restrictions makes the one-way plan worthy of another council discussion.
Fathers, who initially voted against the proposal, then changed her vote when the motion was reconsidered, described it as an agonizing decision. It was the first time she has changed her vote during her four terms as councillor, she said.
“There’s significant amount of risk involved, so it absolutely changes my mind,” Fathers said of the restrictions being lifted. “I don’t know if there’s going to be enough votes to redo the decision, but I think with the indoor dining, I think the conversation needs to be rehashed, definitely.”
Fathers said she’s received both negative and positive feedback from White Rock residents on the decision to turn Marine Drive into a one-way, but “overwhelmingly, it was negative.”
The decision to lift indoor dining restrictions doesn’t change much for White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, however.
“The intention with Marine Drive was not just about the lack of indoor dining, it really was designed to try and help the businesses climb back out of the hole that has been created by COVID,” Walker said Tuesday.
“The intention was to help facilitate putting the businesses back on their feet. My belief was, and certainly I believe that council’s direction was, that even if the indoor dining was reopened to whatever level, we will leave this in place for the period we agreed to.”
Walker said he does not yet have details of when Marine Drive will be turned into a one-way route, but expects it will be sometime in June.
Jan’s on the Beach owner Janet Wait said while she was happy the indoor dining restrictions were lifted, she was disappointed with the lack of notice.
Because restaurants were not given a heads-up, Wait was unable to prepare by stocking ingredients and meet staffing needs.
“People have things planned and we do our schedules two weeks in advance. You can say, can anybody come in tomorrow? We’re open… But people have lives, too, right,” Wait said.
Charlie Don’t Surf manager Kyle Grant was also grateful the restrictions were lifted. Grant said that Marine Drive seating, combined with indoor dining, brings Charlie’s up to 100 per cent of its pre-COVID-19 capacity.
Gradual reopening planned
Step two of the province’s four-part plan, beginning June 15, will allow for outdoor social gatherings of up to 50 people and play dates, but indoor gatherings will stay capped at five visitors or one additional household. Organized indoor gatherings up to 50 people will be allowed, while the province will begin to consult with various sectors about larger outdoor events. Masks will remain mandatory inside public spaces.
The third step, which is to start July 1, will see a “return to usual for indoor and outdoor personal gatherings.” July 1 is also when masks be recommended, rather than mandated.
Step four, the step we have all been waiting for, is expected to start Sept. 7.
If vaccination rates hit 70 per cent of eligible individuals, social gatherings will return to normal and large organized events can resume, as long as more than 70 per cent of B.C. is vaccinated, and if hospitalizations continue to drop.
The dates of each step is not set in stone. The dates will be pushed back depending on the number of COVID-19 cases, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 and the number of people who have received at least one dose of vaccine.