“Proud of Our Community”
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council on Monday, March 30, enacted its newest emergency measure against the coronavirus pandemic, the suspension of all transient rentals. Anita Cereceda, now in her last week as Fort Myers Beach Mayor, discussed that, other matters, and the overall community mood on Tuesday morning, March 31.
Q: Why did the Town cancel public lodging and accommodations reservations?
It has been Council’s goal since our first emergency action over two weeks ago through yesterday to institute measures that protect Fort Myers Beach residents and visitors. As more Florida communities and counties, as well as others all across the country, take additional actions to quarantine their areas, those people look for places they can still go. Our hoteliers basically asked us what to do to prevent this influx, and through those conversations, we came up with this.
The real issue wasn’t even hotels, but short term rentals like with Airbnb, so we took action to protect our neighborhoods from that flow of people. Perhaps the most controversial element was prohibiting new rentals for 90 days, but we erred on the side of caution. When the new Council that takes office on April 6, they can change that at any time, so don’t get too stuck on that length.
Q: If coronavirus worsens, what additional steps can the Town still take, like closing the bridges, a “Shelter in Place” order, or a total business shutdown. What would trigger those?
All those are on the table, as our primary job is to save our citizens’ lives. There are not that many businesses still open here, but if that is where we need to go, we will. What we have found to this point, with all our new restrictions, is Fort Myers Beach residents are in extraordinary compliance. Even businesses still open are doing everything they can to protect their customers and employees.
Q: You sent two strongly-worded letters to Lee County Commissioners for their emergency meetings urging them to implement a “Shelter In Place” order, yet they have not. Your reaction?
I hoped Lee County Commissioners would react quickly and strongly, through sweeping legislation, to protect everybody in Lee County, as individual communities cannot take enough comprehensive actions separately. When Fort Myers Beach makes a bold move, as we increasingly have over the past 3 weeks, those decisions now impact Bonita Springs and Fort Myers, because people who can’t come here simply go there, so it becomes a situation of passing the problems on to your neighboring communities. Lee County feels they are doing a good job in getting out their message to “stay at home,” but they disappoint me.
Q: Empty streets, bars, restaurants and hotels on FMB in March, with record-setting temperatures and zero rainfall – is this like a Twilight Zone episode?
Worse! March and April I absolutely love on Fort Myers Beach! I love the energy and visitors, even though it takes me an hour to drive home after shopping at Publix! You feel the buzz in the community, but last night I took my beloved Stella for a walk around 8:30 and could literally hear a pin drop, so it is now sort-of eerie and spooky, but that shows our citizens are taking serious precautions to protect themselves.
Q: You are doing a voluntary “shelter in place” right now. Why?
First of all, I am not sick but actually feel great, if that puts anyone’s mind at ease! The truth is I come into contact with a lot of people daily, so if I came down with the virus, I would risk many others and am very cognizant of that. I can still do my job as Mayor but without putting another single person at risk. You can have the virus for 2 or 3 weeks before you know it, so that is why I self-quarantine now, because if anyone caught it from me and got critically ill or worse, I don’t know how I would live with myself.
That said, a part of my existence now is like the line from “A Streetcar Named Desire”: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers!” I also hear the Beatles song in my head: “I get by with a little help from my friends!” Since I am not shopping, friends almost daily leave on my porch meals, homemade spaghetti sauce, pickles and peppers, along with little treats like postcards and notes since I announced this on March 20.
I thought this important, because I could not ask others to endure measures unless I did myself. We are an island used to crises because of hurricanes, so that makes us a family who already knows how to have each other’s backs, and it is that resolve that will get us through this too. Isolation can be super difficult, but when you think of all the people you help, from those you love deeply to those you don’t even know, it becomes easy.
Q: What are you hearing overall from FMB residents?
The past few days, I am receiving messages from those who were originally critical of some of our emergency decisions, but now get it! By-in-large, the vast majority are encouraging and actually grateful, though there are always those who are angry, resentful and hurt, saying we went beyond our boundaries and are trampling on civil liberties, but that is understandable. The overwhelming number of messages are positive.
Q: What do miss most about life from just a few weeks ago?
I am a “touch” person, so I give people hugs and kisses and get those in return, so I really miss that! My buddies never knock at my door but just walk in my house, and we can’t do that. I miss going to breakfast with Ceel Spuhler and Miffie Greer and talking straight through lunch but now can’t go near them because it would break my heart if those two community treasures got sick from me. Interactions with people always fill me with hope and love, and I miss that. I miss my customers, too!
Q: You are now in your last week as FMB Mayor – what a Swan Song!
What a Swan Song indeed! I have three monumental moments in my service to this Town since its creation over 23 years ago: #1 is when we adopted the Comprehensive Plan, as I knew it would help people and shape policy for years to come. #2, I jump all the way to 2018 and the approval of Margaritaville, as that was so profound! That result came from several years of community input, discussion, planning, meetings and compromise, and we came through it all for the better. #3 is the last three weeks. I am blessed and honored to work with my four fellow Council members through the most trying of times, and from Day #1 have never been more proud of our community, so what better way to finish my term; not with hoopla and gifts, but serving my Town and guiding its citizens during some of the toughest times of their lives. That is the honor of my life, and there is no other way to say that!