Letter to the Editor: Council Reopens Accommodations Despite Health Concerns of Residents

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Santiva Chronicle publishes opinions and letters on topics that are important to Sanibel and Captiva. They may be submitted via e-mail at news@santivachronicle.com. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Santiva Chronicle.

To the Editor:

On May 12, Sanibel’s City Council voted to reopen hotels and short-term rentals to visitors. This despite the fact that 90% 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, etc.— 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% 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, they reopened at 50% occupancy rather than at 25%, 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, they 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 will open 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.

Sincerely,
Arlene Dillon
Mary Ganske
Sarah Peck
Jennifer Scuteri
The authors are all residents of Sanibel, Florida.

Comments (15)

  1. Excellent data analysis by Sanibel Residents! Journalists should be doing the same! This is a classic case of manipulation brought to light. Thank you.

  2. I concur completely that all people in our stores, restaurants, etc., were masks when out in public spaces.

  3. I agree with what Arlene Dillon, Mary Ganske, Sarah Peck & Jennifer Scuteri
    have written. It is unfortunate & unconscionable that our City Council has ignored the risks to residents & others of this premature re-opening of short term rentals.

  4. Bravo! Thank you for the clear articulation of what so many are thinking. We are moving off the island in the near future in part because of local decision-making that is not in keeping with the best interests of residents.

  5. Very disappointing our council took the road they did. There is time to make adjustments for better protection of residents and visitors. Hopefully you hear us.

  6. The Sanibel City Council is driven by island business interests not those if the residents. Remember that at election time.

  7. Merrill Taylor

    Thanks so much for enlightening everyone👍👍👍👍

  8. please provide with the vote count. who voted to reopen and who did not. thank yoy, jim weyant, sanibel resident.

  9. Well, after reading The Letter to the Editor regarding Council reopening Sanibel, written by 4 residents, I have so many concerns.
    It seems to me that the thought process has been less about the safety of the residents, and more politically based in perhaps, satisfying the Governor of Florida in his reopening desires.
    I think Coucil needs to do some rethinking and listen to those who live here on the Island, and who work hard at keeping Sanibel Island a safe and wonderful place!
    TIME TO RETHINK SOME DECISIONS COUNCIL!!!!

  10. It doesn’t make any sense to me why they are not required to wear masks in the stores there acting as the coronavirus doesn’t exist they’re not keeping anyone safe.

  11. Deborah J MacKelcan

    I had written one of the letters that did not get read after I had been notified that it would be, Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening listening to the entire Sanibel City Council Meeting. Not having realized that residents would be permitted to speak in person at the meeting I was taken by the comments from Arlene Dillon throughout this disturbing meeting and all her points were factual, based upon the information provided by researchers and medical experts and best mitigation practices and how important the stay safe stay home policy was keeping the COVID-19 cases in Sanibel down but it was rising. The lack of concern for the average age of Sanibel citizens stereotyping the old folks as “snowbirds” having already flown North was disrespectful and misinformed. Many of us are full time residents who wear masks, sometimes gloves too trying to do are best to not spread the virus unknowingly to others as well as protecting
    ourselves. Not requiring masks for employees at opening businesses, retail establishments and restaurants not to mention customers was the”last straw”. The conversations during the breaks or when the Council was deliberating the next steps was more than disheartening especially since they knew full well that they were not supporting the residents.
    Deborah MacKelcan

    • Arlene Dillon

      It is sad and disturbing to see that money and power wins hands down over citizens health. RLR Investments LLC, “doing business as Sundial Beach Resort has met the requirements for Motel Licensure to operate at 1451 Middle Gulf Drive” per the State of Florida (wow, that was fast!). This means that 227 condo units at the Sundial that are managed by RLR are now considered motel rooms, and 50% of them can be rented on a nightly basis right now. With Memorial Day Weekend looming over Sanibel, I wish all my fellow friends and neighbors the best, please wear your masks if you go out! As you know the Florida data in incomplete and just for the record, as of 5/19 Covid-19 deaths in Lee County are the 4th highest in the state, we have not “flattened the curve.” Be safe my friends!

  12. Carole Tomandl

    I love Sanibel! I own a timeshare and have been visiting Sanibel since 1979. I believe that the safety of permanent residents should be the primary concern of the Council. Masks are being worn all over the country. It is a minor imposition and in my opinion a necessity. Unfortunately one can be infected with this virus and remain asymptotic.

  13. Donald Klemen

    The cdc website shows only 12 Counties of the 60 in New York meet the 700/ 100,000 cases. In other cities, the downtown areas show much higher rates than the suburb’s, just as in New York. I know where we live, it’s easy to social distance and most follow the guidelines. Would it be reasonable to base rental on county of the state ? Some states are very large and a local outbreak doesn’t apply to the whole state. In Texas for instance, there are 8 counties not making the rule out of 300 counties. I also believe most renters would abide by the rules and are happy to visit the island and maintain social distance. You could require masks etc when shopping. The residences are also fairly isolated on sanibel. The common area for transmission would be the grocery or phamacys. The local stores will deliver, and I’m sure volunteers would also help those who don’t want to venture out. Anyway, I’m not sure opening rentals will hurt the local sanibel residents, and, refining the rule to county’s will also help the economy rebound faster. Sanibel’s businesses, island maintenance, and conservation activities are going to have a tough time the longer the island is shut down. High density public beach visits could still be limited.
    Most people want to protect the more vulnerable, and simple rules on social distance, disinfecting seem to work.

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