With the summer beach crowds looming, the City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to establish penalties for those who walk on the jetties that are being rebuilt by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Work on 15 jetties in Long Beach is expected to be completed next year, and is part of a $230 million coastal protection project that the council approved in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy. The project began in March and jetties at Edwards and Riverside boulevards were completed last month.
City officials, however, said that beachgoers have been climbing onto the rock structures, which are now larger, wider and flatter.
“Unfortunately, people have been climbing and walking on the new, larger jetties, putting themselves in harms’ way, risking slipping and falling onto the rocks and or into the ocean, as well as placing our first responders and lifeguards at risk,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said.
The new law allows the city to regulate the use of the jetties and prohibits people from standing on the rocks at any time. Under the ordinance, violators could face fines ranging from $100 to $500, and up to 15 days in jail.
“The city is also providing signage prohibiting all climbing and walking on the jetties,” Schnirman said. “Obviously, this is at the urging of our Police Department, our lifeguards and all of our first responders.”
“Unfortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers is in control of our beach at this time,” said Police Commissioner Mike Tangney. “Right now, we tell people to get off the jetties with no authority. This would give us the authority.”
Tangney added that officers would initially give people a warning and inform them about the penalties.
Sandy decimated the city’s shoreline — the beach lost 294,000 cubic yards of sand — and officials contend that the project is crucial, saying that the new jetties will help protect against erosion.
Though sections of the beach are closed during the construction — where large cranes unload and position stones weighing as much as 15 tons — council President Len Torres said officials have received numerous calls about people climbing onto the jetties.
“It is dangerous for people to walk onto these jetties,” Torres said. “Anything could happen — you fall into that water and of course the currents out there are very strong and the chances of surviving are very slim.”
Work is currently underway at New York Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard beaches, and each jetty takes about a month to complete. City officials emphasized that all beaches will be open this summer, though certain areas will be closed during construction. Work will not take place over the weekends during the summer.
Councilwoman Chumi Diamond lauded the administration for taking “swift action.”
“I recently met with a number of the first responders, including the lifeguards, and they specifically stated that they were concerned, given that while it looks like a complete flat surface, there are grooves and holes in between the different rocks,” Diamond said. “There was a real concern that someone … would really be injured.”
Some local fisherman said they weren’t thrilled about the restriction.
“I’m not saying it’s a silly thing — people shouldn’t be on the jetty,” said Brandon Balabus, 33, a lifelong resident who fishes from the jetties, mostly in the fall. “But to have a law like that and risk being put in jail when I’m out there doing it for a good reason — and safely and cautiously, with proper equipment — I feel like this is one of those things where someone does something stupid and we all have to pay for it.”
Others said that more needed to be done to educate the public about the dangers of standing on the rock structures. Last year, a woman who was standing on or near the jetty at Lincoln Boulevard beach and taking photos was caught by a wave, pulled into the water and slammed into the rocks, before she was rescued by nearby surfers and other beachgoers.
“I mostly see teenage kids up there on the rocks,” said Sam Pinto, president of the Eastholme Civic Association, who wrote a guest column in the Herald last month urging people to stay off the jetties. “It would be nice if this new law was more focused on educating people to respect the rocks and the water compared to the focus being on a stiff penalty and jail time.”
In his column, Pinto wrote that a fall from the slippery rocks could lead to serious injury.
“It’s more dangerous to swim along our jetties because of the risk of rip currents and unsteady water from the rock formations,” he wrote. “Trying to enter and exit the water from the rocks is a recipe for disaster. The force of a wave crashing a person into the rocks can break bones and lead to drowning.”