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Mixed Emotions In North Coast Communities Over Bay Area Daytrippers Seeking Escape From Shelter-In-Place

FORT BRAGG (KPIX 5) -- It's hard to blame anyone for wanting to get out of the Bay Area for a day amid the ongoing stay-at-home order. While people are supposed to be staying put, some are getting out to places like Fort Bragg and that is creating a rift among North Coast locals.

"They're trickling in," said Roger Larson, owner of the Cleone Grocery near Fort Bragg. "There's been out-of-towners coming in and I noticed it the past week."

Despite efforts to keep crowds out, day-trippers came rolling up the coast last weekend, leaving Fort Bragg residents with mixed emotions.

"Well it's kind of split down the middle," said Hawk Stever regarding opinions in and around Fort Bragg. "Half of us need the tourism -- it's the only way we're going to keep the money coming -- but half of us want to stay safe. We all want to stay safe."

"Unless you're traveling through or maybe looking for a news story you shouldn't be here," said former mayor and current Fort Bragg city council member Lindy Peters. "That's the way they feel."

Peters says the community is proud to be virus-free and a lot of people think restless visitors from the Bay Area could threaten that status.

"Yeah, there's people that don't want people coming here. Period," Peters said.

"We depend on people from out of town," said Suhail Ahmad, owner of the Surf Motel and Gardens. "If you look around here, you will hardly see anybody staying here."

Ahmad spoke for the other side of this divide. He says the local economy needs outsiders to visit and stay in town.

"This town depends totally on tourists," Ahmad says. "That's a lot of jobs and, right now, there are not jobs."

It is tricky business, trying to manage the reopening of a community that depends on dollars from outside the immediate area. Even some of the business owners who think people should be allowed to visit worry about too many people.

"If they did open things up this whole place would be crowded," Larson said of the areas around the beaches. "It would be packed. Do we want that?"

"And so you've got this sort of dichotomy of views," Peters said. He has been trying to bridge divides while assisting those struggling in the economic downturn.

Locals here do understand the desire among Bay Area residents to get away. They do offer one word of caution, however. There isn't much open on the Mendocino Coast for those who do pass through.

"I've got family in the Bay Area," Stevers said. "What are they supposed to do? They're kind of stuck down there but they can't come up here and support themselves because so much stuff is closed, you know?"

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