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I have lived in Long Beach my entire life. It’s a city I love — a vibrant, diverse, welcoming community. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Robert Garcia, Governor Newsom, and countless other officials, California has “flattened the curve.”

The recent warm weather and sunny days has lulled many Southern Californians into a false sense of security. But one thing remains clear: COVID-19 remains an imminent threat — social distancing, stay at home orders, and closed businesses are all here to stay, likely through the summer.

Nevertheless, people are getting restless. The beaches are beckoning, friends have returned home, and you can only watch “Tiger King” so many times. I propose that our leaders come up with innovative plans to balance pressing public safety concerns with preserving the Long Beach lifestyle we all love. Perhaps we can have our cake and it eat too.

I believe that deliberate and well-executed social gatherings will increase public safety by giving the public an outlet to place their pent-up energy, like parents allowing their teenager to throw a party under their supervision rather than turning a blind eye when they go out of town. To do this, we must be willing to think outside the box, while keeping in mind that the health and safety of our community.

Move Restaurants and Bars Outside

Restaurants and bars are not just businesses. They are cultural institutions and community sanctuaries. But they are struggling, badly. Opening up packed restaurants and bars is simply not feasible.

However, through careful planning, imagine a summer where people go out to eat with their families at parks, beaches, and closed-off, palm tree-lined streets. Restaurants prepare meals in their kitchens, then serve patrons seated in arrangements that utilize large public spaces to honor social distancing requirements.

Bars too can open. If the city is willing to loosen open container laws, bartenders can serve drinks on sidewalks or beaches. Customers can grab their drinks and walk with family or friends within a defined area, like Pine Avenue or Marine Stadium. The city can hire local musicians to provide a festive atmosphere, simultaneously fostering community and supporting our active artist community.

There are some challenges. Servers and chefs must wear masks, tables will need to be thoroughly disinfected, and I still am working on solving the bathroom situation. There will be some awkwardness as well. Tables will be spaced strangely apart and “family style” meals should probably be avoided. But these are small concessions to make in exchange for life under cotton candy skies surrounded by community.

Drive-in Movies, Yoga in the Park, and Retail Street Fairs

Many people in my generation have never been to a drive-in movie. Now is the time to see what we’ve been missing. People can pay online for designated parking spots and have concessions delivered to their vehicle via an online app.

Organized workouts and races are other ways for our community to come together. Workout professionals could run classes in public spaces saving livelihoods and stimulating restless bodies. Races could raise money for homeless shelters and food banks that serve our most vulnerable neighbors.

Retail stores can move into public spaces as well. Artist markets and street fairs offer great models to build upon.

I hope that these suggestions start a conversation on how our leaders can community build and bolster mental health, while strictly adhering to necessary public health measures. Now is the time for leaders to lay out a plan for a unique summer: one that underscores Long Beach’s bold progressiveness, care for one another, and commitment to community.

Izak Epstein is a Long Beach resident.

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