By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
[Editor’s note: Because reaction to the coronavirus by state, county and city officials is changing rapidly, some of the information in this article may be out of date.]
The COVID-19 outbreak has changed life as we knew it. Across the country, shelter in place orders and self-quarantines keep people inside, hunkering down and stockpiling food and essential supplies in hopes to make it through these weeks of “flattening the curve” without being one of the unlucky few to catch the virus and suffer its symptoms. As of March 25, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reported that La Mesa had zero cases of COVID-19, but like everywhere else, businesses, residents and city government are reacting to this new reality as best they can.
Message of gratitude
La Mesa residents have found a variety of activities to help them cope during the quarantine. For Molly Robb, it was a “chalk your walk” project her family and neighbors created.
“It’s basically having your sidewalk decorated so neighbors can get exercise and still interact, while being in quarantine,” she said, adding that she was inspired to do the project from a viral post she saw online. “I took that idea and wanted to do a more inclusive project. I began taping off areas, and kids started coloring.”
The chalk mural, which depicts a stained glass heart with the words “La Mesa Strong! Thank you hospital, grocery, truckers, tradesmen, 1st responders, teachers, essential staff” took three days to complete “because I wanted to get all the neighbors involved,” Robb said.
“It’s an activity that we’re able to keep our distance and still get some fresh air,” she said, adding that it was hurried because of the rain.
“The piece is gone now,” she said. “It was washed away last night. I’m not disappointed or discouraged. I have a new blank slate. All of this is temporary, the chalk, quarantine. What lasts is our love for our community and our perseverance. I already have a plan for what I’m going to do next, I definitely I have a lot of time. I want to thank my family, neighbors, especially my wonderful neighbor Tina, to help me finish.”
On March 20, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to stay at home except for essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, food banks, convenience stores, banks, laundromats and restaurants offering takeout and delivery.
While some of the more upscale La Mesa restaurants like Farmer’s Table and BO-beau kitchen + garden opted to temporarily close down during the outbreak, others have stayed open to offer takeout and delivery.
For longtime La Mesa Village staple Johnny B’s, offering delivery was a brand new service for customers.
“I just activated Doordash this past week and it’s been pretty good, but there’s no barometer I can use because it’s a whole new way of looking at things,” said Johnny B’s owner John Bedlion, adding that when things get back to normal he will look to see if it is still worth offering delivery. Johnny B’s never offered delivery before because the restaurant was often too busy to add extra orders.
Overall, Bedlion said, customers have still been supportive of his business.
“The response has been pretty damn good. I’m pleasantly surprised,” he said. “That being said, I’m still very cautious. But the customers have been wonderful to our servers and generous with their tips.”
In addition to takeout meals, Johnny B’s is also taking advantage of a temporary rule allowing restaurants to serve takeout alcoholic beverages.
“The cocktail thing took us by surprise,” Bedlion said. “Over the weekend we sold more that I thought we would. It’s not flying off the shelf, but it’s another opportunity to make some more money, which is great.”
Despite the community support, the quarantine has still had an effect on Johnny B’s staff.
“I’ve cut hours. I had to,” Bedlion said, adding that he offered his senior employees the most opportunity and that he is currently employing two people per shift. “It’s really just a crap shoot. I’m trying to give them as many hours as I can and they can still go collect unemployment. Most of them are very happy that that’s happening.”
For customers and employee safety, Bedlion said he is wiping everything down in the restaurant every time someone comes and leaves.
“We’re taking all the precautions we can take,” he said.
Although Johnny B’s is doing relatively well during the quarantine, Bedlion recognizes that his decades long presence in the Village that has built him a loyal customer base is a major factor.
“It’s tough times for everyone, we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “Some small businesses are suffering worse than we are — they’re closed. I’m not closed. I’m lucky.”
With traditional brick and mortar retail businesses closed during the stay stay-at-home order, some local online businesses are finding luck and seeing an uptick in customers.
Kristel Boe is the owner of Art Beat San Diego (artbeatsandiego.com), which offers art classes, art parties and other art-related services. One of her products is a Mystery Art Box that contains materials and instructions to complete three unique art projects with various themes geared to different age groups and sells for $60. After Boe, an art teacher in La Mesa, offered her art boxes on social media to parents now dealing with an extended spring break, the business took off.
“I’ve had a wonderfully warm response from the community,” she said. “I sold 60 mystery art boxes in the first day. Nearing 100 Mystery Art Boxes sold in the week. It’s been wonderful delivering art boxes all over La Mesa and San Diego, and receiving emails and photos from parents thanking me for the service.”
Open restaurants and businesses in La Mesa
The La Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the La Mesa Village association have compiled information on their respective member restaurants and businesses that are open for takeout or delivery during the quarantine. Also, San Diego Restaurant Week and the California Restaurant Association have partnered to keep an up-to-date guide to restaurants that are still serving customers. Follow the links below to get important contact information, hours of operation and more.
- La Mesa Chamber of Commerce member restaurants: conta.cc/39cqCWi
- La Mesa Village Association restaurants and businesses: lamesavillageassociation.org. Follow the link under the COVID-19 Update.
- CA Restaurant Association: SanDiegoRestaurantWeek.com
The city reacts
On March 13, Mayor Mark Arapostathis formally declared a state of emergency in the city.
“In order to ensure that the City of La Mesa is eligible to receive any available and necessary disaster relief funds, we have declared a formal state of emergency,” he wrote in a statement. Mayor Arapostathis also stressed following state guidelines of social distancing six feet apart.
“The most important guidance is that if you are sick please stay home. Thank you for your cooperation and assistance in keeping our community healthy and safe,” the statement concluded.
In the days following, the city also took other unprecedented actions. On March 17, the city announced that effective March 18 at noon, City Hall and other city facilities were closed to the public until further notice. Essential services are provided by appointment only.
To make an appointment, email or call:
Planning: firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-667-1348
Building: email@example.com or 619-667-1176
Code Compliance: 619-667-1189
Engineering: firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-667-1166
Cashier: email@example.com or 619-667-1111
Also on March 17, City Manager Greg Humora issued an executive order limiting evictions in the city. The order is in effect through May 31, unless extended.
Other actions the city has taken include suspending parking enforcement for street sweeping and allowing free 5-minute parking in the Village for residents and visitors to pick up takeout orders from restaurants.
On March 24, the city announced it would waive all second quarter fees for Downtown Village parking permits, as well as this:
“Some San Diego County cities have beaches. The city of La Mesa has the Secret Stairs.
The Secret Stairs are our beaches and they are being heavily used at the moment.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to practice proper social distancing while using the stairs.
Therefore, the city will be temporarily closing the Secret Stairs.”
To receive up-to-date information from the city of La Mesa, visit bit.ly/3bpFUZe.
A hospital in need
Across the country, hospitals are running out of needed supplies to safely handle the coronavirus outbreak. Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa is no exception, although is meeting the community’s needs in terms of hospital bed capacity.
“Sharp Grossmont Hospital has long managed San Diego’s busiest emergency room and our staff is meeting the added challenge of the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure patients have the care they need,” said Sharp Grossmont communications director Bruce Hartman. “The capacity issue has seen some relief since elective and non-emergent procedures have been cancelled, allowing staff to backfill other areas where they are needed.”
The hospital is asking the public to donate any of the following common items, new or used:
- Disposable facemasks
- N95 masks, sometimes called respirators
- Eye protection including face shields and safety goggles
- Disposable gowns
- Disposable gloves, especially non-latex
- Disposable surgical caps
- Disposable foot covers
- Wipes: bleach or antimicrobial
- Hand sanitizer
- More specialized items the hospital needs:
- PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators) and PAPR hoods
- Nasal testing swabs
- Viral testing kits
Items can be dropped off at Sharp’s Brier Patch Campus adjacent to the hospital, at 9000 Wakarusa Ave., La Mesa, between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday–Friday.
Also, Sharp created content on its website for the community to get the latest updates on Covid-19, FAQs, visitor restrictions, health information, etc. Visit sharp.com/services/coronavirus.cfm.
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.