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California

Laguna officials close beaches amid coronavirus pandemic

Main Beach
An aerial photo taken of Main Beach around 3 p.m. March 21, 2020, shows people in the water and relaxing on the sand despite the governor’s order to stay home.
(City of Laguna Beach)

As the numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths continue to rise statewide, Laguna Beach city officials took action over the weekend to close beaches and block trail access to county wilderness parks in an effort to force the public to practice social distancing.

The weekend was marked by growing alarm from public officials in the Orange County coastal city as many people — encouraged by the warm weather — flocked to Laguna’s beaches, parks and trails rather than staying home.

Laguna Beach Councilwoman Toni Iseman said she received roughly a dozen emails in an hour over the weekend from residents “beside themselves about the public disregard for the rules of social distancing.”

Late Sunday, the Laguna Beach Police Employees’ Assn. released a statement pressing the City Council to close all city beaches and parks immediately. The council held an emergency closed session several hours later, where it voted to shutter city-operated beaches and parks by Monday night.

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Though many residents have been complying with social distancing, city officials said the increased number of people visiting public areas created greater opportunities for the spread of the coronavirus.

Laguna’s decision marks an unprecedented ramping up of restrictions put in place by Gov. Gavin Newsom last week, which called for Californians to stay home but permitted people to go outside as long as they practiced social distancing. This involves keeping a space of 6 feet between people and avoiding crowds.

In a letter to Newsom over the weekend, Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen requested that the governor revise his stay-at-home order to specify that people should remain in their own communities unless out on essential businesses. Though it’s a common-sense rule that people should be permitted to go outside for walks, “it does not mean that people have to travel miles to a beach or a park to get outside,” Whalen wrote.

“As a small coastal city in a heavily populated county, we are finding that many people from inland cities are coming to our beaches and parks when the weather is good,” he wrote. “We lack the resources among our first responders to enforce social distancing with these crowds.”

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It is unclear whether city leaders consulted with the California Coastal Commission, which oversees public access to the state’s beaches, before their vote. Some cities have faced enforcement action in the past by the state if they institute measures that impede coastal access.

A spokesperson for the coastal commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

“I can’t imagine the coastal commission would choose to come down on the wrong side of something like this,” Iseman said. “It’s a matter of public safety.”

People crowding beaches and parks was an issue across Southern California over the weekend.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday admonished residents for failing to practice social distancing and announced the closure of city golf courses, group sports facilities and some beach parking lots, but stopped short of closing the beaches entirely. In Santa Monica, the city also decided to close its beach parking lots.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia also announced the closure of the city’s public basketball, tennis and volleyball courts, as well as its dog parks, playgrounds and skate parks.

Nguyen writes for Times Community News.


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