Short-term rentals, more open June 29

06/24/2020

After receiving a greenlight from the state to move ahead with reopening, Marin announced last week that by June 29, short-term rentals and campgrounds can resume operation, restaurants can offer indoor seating, and barber shops, nail salons and gyms can open their doors. Despite the new allowances, some business owners in West Marin remain hesitant.

A variance issued by the state last week allowed Marin to move into the new phase, which is part of the second step of four Governor Gavin Newsom created to track the loosening of the state’s shelter order. Marin qualified after proving that hospitalizations are stable, that there is adequate testing and contract tracing, and that protections are in place for essential workers and vulnerable populations. 

The majority of California’s 58 counties applied and received the variance to proceed with reopening before Marin, even though case numbers statewide continue to climb. Marin, ranked 11th as far as high case rates, held back. 

“The first shelter order was highly restrictive, and I think what we are doing as we reopen is offering more choices. That includes the choice for business owners not to reopen or for customers to continue to avoid or not shop, especially taking into account their own risk profile,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the county’s public health officer. 

Marin Recovers, the county program that hosts working groups corresponding to 16 business sectors, last Friday released guidance for many of the industries that are allowed to re-open on June 29. All businesses planning to resume must submit a site-specific plan to the county beforehand. 

Of particular importance to West Marin, short-term rentals, inns and hotels will soon be able to operate once more. 

In the past four months, the Tomales Bay Resort has only filled six of its 34 hotel rooms, providing temporary shelter to locals experiencing homelessness and several essential workers—some of the only uses the county allowed. But now, according to manager John Elliott, the hotel is planning a full re-opening on Monday. 

Mr. Elliot said that just he and his assistant manager, who live at the resort, have been working since March; now he plans to hire a full seasonal staff, including up to 10 cleaners, many of whom are returning from furlough. The resort did not receive any federal assistance, though it applied. 

The most inconvenient part of the rules, Mr. Elliott said, is the recommendation that each room sit for 24 to 72 hours after a guest leaves and before cleaning staff enter. That will make it impossible to reach full capacity. 

A number of other best practices will make running a hotel during a pandemic a Herculean effort. Guests must be screened for Covid-19 symptoms upon arrival and are required to wear masks except in their rooms, large meeting spaces must remain closed and front desks must be redesigned for adequate physical distancing. All reusable collateral—magazines, menus, coupons—must be removed from guest rooms and guests should enter through propped-open doors. Cleaning requirements are stringent: cleaners must wear masks and gloves and even eyewear while they work, place dirty linens in sealed, disposable bags for laundering, and clean and disinfect equipment between use by different employees.

Not all rental businesses plan to return yet. 

Donna Clavaud, who operates an Airbnb in Tomales, said she is unsure whether to reopen her space. 

“I’ve been inundated by inquiries despite the restrictions, and people are just dying to get out here,” she said. 

In addition to the county’s recommendations, Ms. Clavaud said she’s established her own best practices. “I’m just very nervous,” she said. “Why would I want to bring people here who might not observe the facial coverings order, even if it’s state mandated? What if people don’t observe my in-house Covid-19 best practices? It would be a disservice to the community.”

Scott Miller, who runs a cleaning company out of Dillon Beach with his wife, Stephanie, said he refused to clean for the short-term renters who have stayed open over the past several months against the county’s shelter order. They now plan to start cleaning again, but are erring on the side of caution. They will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control that say that indoor spaces unoccupied for at least seven days “need only routine cleaning,” and not disinfection. 

“[The county says] not to shake the laundry, and to put all the dirty laundry in a sealed plastic bag. Now the guests are safe, but the people putting it in the bag are the ones at risk,” Mr. Miller said.

Restaurants will also be allowed to expand from outdoor to indoor dining under a set of new guidelines. 

Tables must be at least six feet apart, and there must be tape marking six feet of distance in any area where customers may form a line. There can only be 10 people per table. Restaurant employees must wear masks at all times, but customers are allowed to take theirs off while eating and drinking. 

There are a variety of recommendations to increase sanitation: bathrooms must be cleaned and disinfected every hour, self-service buffets or beverage stations are prohibited, menus must be disinfected between use, condiment containers have to be disposable or sanitized between diners, customers have to pack their own leftovers, and contactless payment systems are encouraged. The county also suggests that restaurants limit the number of employees assigned to a given party and offer outdoor seating when possible. 

Tony Miceli, who opened the Two Bird Café in the San Geronimo Valley in 1980, said he decided to close when the pandemic started. He stayed closed for 10 weeks. But on June 10, he reopened for take-out and outdoor dining, and now plans to open indoors and also to open his five motel rooms. 

“I just wasn’t sure how bad it really was, and so I decided to shelter-in-place,” he said. Of his 20 staffers, the majority obtained unemployment; he also received a Small Business Administration loan and plans to start using the funds for payroll this week. He has to rehire three positions, after former employees moved away or found other work in the interim. 

Everyone, he said, was happy to come back to work. 

“We have all our protocols in line, and I feel confident,” he said. “That’s kind of what it’s all about: confidence. Last weekend, some people came for brunch, and then came back for dinner. They are very supportive and want to make sure that we do our best to help us survive. It’s a confidence thing: If you feel confident that your health is strong and you can come out, then you do. If you don’t, you don’t. It’s personal.”

Other restaurant owners reported that they had adequate business with their to-go services and outdoor seating, and did not plan to bring customers inside anytime soon. 

“Someday,” said Dan Thompson, the owner of Inverness Park Market and Taproom. “[The Taproom] is quite small, and we’d just be able to fit a few people in there, and that would make me uncomfortable. I’m waiting to see how this opening up is going to play out. I have no desire to open up until it would be safe for my crew, and I’m not feeling that yet.” 

The other industries that received protocols for re-opening in Marin on Monday are hair and nail salons, and gyms. 

The Point Reyes Barber Shop is set to open next week, with appointments available Sunday, Monday and Thursday. The owner, Dan Morrissey, will be screening customers for symptoms before entering, checking temperatures, and asking for clean hands, clean hair and masks. Haircuts are $24, plus a fee of $2 for personal protective equipment; beard trims are $13, alongside the same fee. 

Also allowable beginning Monday are campgrounds and R.V. parks, picnic areas and outdoor vehicle gatherings, like drive-in movies. Guidelines are impending.