Pandemic’s unexpected impact on Catalina

Photo by Andrew Ficke

Mayor says island likely changed forever

While the pandemic has brought its share of misery to Catalina Island, officials say there are some positive trends that could perhaps remain long after life returns to normal.

In an interview this week, Mayor Anni Marshall said while the city’s budget continues to suffer because of the conditions wrought by COVID, there have been some positive developments for the island.

“City finances are still not good,” she acknowledged, but considering how bad it could be, Marshall nevertheless said, “many people are pretty positive about what’s going on.”

First of all, she said, island residents seem happy about seeing more children than usual visiting the island.

“People are working from home,” she said, and many children are attending school via distance learning “so visitors are bringing their children with them.”

Also, visitors are coming in small or family groups which also include children. “It’s so nice to see more children on the island,” said Marshall.

Unquestionably, said Marshall, island businesses are “being as creative as I’ve ever seen them,” as small establishments, especially those that serve food, have had to be creative to survive.

The mayor said city officials have been totally engaged with the island’s business community and are being as flexible as possible in working with them.

Further inland, said Marshall, “I heard that interior island tours are going OK as well.”

Local residents, said Marshall, have been “really good about staying home and staying safe,” noting that islanders have generally been compliant about wearing face masks, and adhering to other safety protocols as well.

Local law enforcement has enforced mask wearing but generally only cited people who flagrantly refuse to comply, said Marshall.

She said Catalina residents, and tourists, have totally embraced local restaurants’ move to dining on the beach. “They’ve put lights up and are working very hard,” to please diners.

“I think it’s working out really well,” she said, even if islanders are sympathetic to workers who have no choice but to carry heavy trays up and down stairs and move furniture around every night.

In fact, Marshall said beach dining is so popular that it might survive even after the pandemic is long gone. “I think the city would look very favorably on that.”

While restaurants have found a way to survive, Marshall looks forward to the day when local establishments can increase their interior occupancy. “It’s hard for them to survive at 25 percent.”

Also, Marshall said a hotel promotion that offers a third night free for guests who stay for two seems to be contributing to the mini pandemic boom. As a result, she said the city is benefiting from enhanced transient occupancy tax (TOT) collections. “We’re pretty happy with that,” she added.

Make no mistake, however, Catalina is in for a long haul before the island returns to its former splendor. “Winter is coming and it’s going to be tough,” she said, noting that city officials were working with restaurants to install more heaters on the beach and other such measures in preparation for the colder temperatures.

Despite making the best of it, Marshall said the island is likely looking at a multi-year rebound.

“Until the boats are full, and the cruise ships return,” said Marshall, businesses won’t fully be able to return to normal.

Moreover, the mayor predicted that “we could still be 3-5 years out.” The good news, however, is that the family-friendly trend is bringing many new, and younger visitors to the island, bringing with them new vigor to the island.

When life does return to normal on Catalina, said Marshall “we could also end up with a new and different clientele that we’ve never had before.”

Pandemic’s unexpected impact on Catalina