City Manager Clarifies Installation of Fencing at Ninth Street Park

Yesterday, the City installed a fence at Alvarez Ninth Street Park to prevent visitors from accessing the beach. The fence was determined to be the best approach to blocking off the area to large gatherings of people. I want to explain why we did that and why it’s important.

During the last few weeks, there have been incidents where folks have not followed the State and County shelter at home orders. Groups have gathered in various places in Benicia to socialize in large numbers. Locations have included the point and pier at the bottom of First Street, Ninth Street Park, other waterfront parks, etc. To help manage this activity, we closed off parking but left the areas open for pedestrians to walk through or otherwise exercise as permitted by the orders.

We still had large gatherings, but they were fewer and people generally dispersed when approached by law enforcement. Based on the generally compliant behavior and improving weather, we decided to open some of the parking areas to provide more access. We left barricades in place for areas such as the beach at Ninth Street Park to indicate no access to that specific area.

The compliant behavior changed this week. On Tuesday, Police Officers responded to a call at Ninth Street Park where a group of 100-200 people had assembled at the beach there. They had simply ignored the barricades and walked out to the beach area. When the PD responded and asked for people to disperse, the crowd became belligerent, refused to comply, and indicated the PD would have to use force to remove them. It’s been the Police Department’s goal to not make arrests and certainly not end up in physical altercations but rather seek and obtain compliance through dialogue and education. And as I said, that has been working until now.

After discussing the issue with the Police Chief, the Parks & Community Services Director and other staff the next morning, we decided that the best way to control access to the beach was to install a fence and reinstate the parking restrictions at the park. We moved quickly and I understand that installing the fence may have seemed arbitrary and sudden.

What I hope you take away from this message is that we at the City are doing our very best to ensure your safety by following the shelter at home orders and doing so with some flexibility. We are following both the County’s and State’s changes closely so that if more access is allowed, we can quickly respond. In its recent order, the State said that it will review regulations related to gatherings at least every 21 days starting on May 25, 2020, so we may have a change around June 15th. I can’t promise that will happen but, again, we want to reopen more activities as soon as possible.

We care about the Benicia community and the health of our citizens and are listening to your questions and concerns. Thank you for reading this post.

Lorie Tinfow
City Manager