Council can still take action
To the editor:
On May 12, the Sanibel City Council voted to reopen hotels and short-term rentals to visitors. This despite the fact that 90 percent of letters from residents urged the council to wait to reopen to allow time to assess the impact of reopening on the rest of the state.
We analyzed the 249 letters sent to the council addressing this issue. We discovered an organized campaign by a group of hotel and vacation rental owners who instructed their non-resident owners and visitors to write letters urging the council to reopen. These form letters – describing the date the owner discovered the island, their favorite businesses, weddings of their children, et cetera – were read for three hours, until the mayor finally put an end to reading letters. As a result, of the 110 letters read into the record, only 46 were from residents. Moreover, our analysis found that only 25 percent of the people who wrote to support reopening were actually residents or local businesses. Yet the accommodations were reopened.
In addition to our concern that this letter-writing campaign unduly pressured the council and eclipsed the voices of residents, we are concerned the council’s decision was made in a way that did not prioritize the legitimate health concerns of residents.
First, the council did not reopen gradually. Instead, it reopened at 50 percent occupancy rather than at 25 percent, as the restaurants have done. This is important because we are a destination, which means large numbers of well-meaning visitors may unwittingly endanger the health of our at-risk residents.
Second, it tasked accommodation owners, many of whom are small business operators, to screen out visitors from virus hot spots without guidelines or oversight, resulting in confusion and a lack of accountability.
Third, most importantly, the council voted down a proposal to require masks on a temporary basis. Yet masks are one of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure the safety of residents and visitors alike. In response to a post on the Sanibel Island Facebook page, 296 of 300 respondents said they would gladly wear masks during their visits to Sanibel.
Sanibel’s accommodations opened on May 16 without simple safeguards. But the council can still take action to protect residents and visitors. We respectfully request the council to call a special meeting to pass a temporary ordinance that requires the wearing of face masks when inside business establishments or in places where it is not possible to practice social distancing. And we urge the council to improve transparency in public comment and prioritize the views of residents and local businesses, to include requiring full name and address of residency on all written communications with the council.