As a heat wave bears down on Southern California, San Clemente plans to reopen city-owned beaches this weekend.
The beaches, along with coastal waters and trails, had been closed since April 8 in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Orange County public health officials had reported 43 COVID-19 patients in San Clemente as of Thursday.
San Clemente’s City Council voted Tuesday night to begin the process of reopening the city’s beaches, which will be available for active use only, such as walking, running, swimming and surfing, officials said. Sunbathers are not welcome.
“You can’t bring your beach chair or your umbrella, set up for the day and spend the afternoon there,” said Erik Sund, assistant city manager.
Representatives of the city and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department will be posted at the beaches to ensure that people follow the rules and maintain social distancing, he said.
Officials remain concerned that the reopening could lead to an influx of out-of-town visitors, which contributed to the city’s decision to close its beaches in the first place.
After San Diego County elected to shut down its shores, every stretch of sand south of San Clemente to the border of Mexico became off-limits to the public. The nearby cities of Laguna Beach and Seal Beach had also chosen to close their beaches, as did Los Angeles County to the north.
That made San Clemente’s beaches a magnet for travelers, prompting residents to complain about crowds, Sund said.
Beach closures in neighboring cities and adjacent counties remain in place, although other stretches of Orange County’s shoreline are open.
But San Clemente — along with all of Orange County — is trying to discourage out-of-town visitors by keeping public parking lots closed, and the City Council also voted to put in place additional parking and beach-access restrictions.
“If someone from another city is wanting to come to our beach, it is going to be very difficult for them to find parking,” Sund said. “And if they come here and think they can spend the day here, they’re quickly going to learn that is not something we are going to allow on the beach currently.”
The city could not say exactly when beaches would reopen this weekend because it is still working through the logistics of parking and other restrictions.
“Everyone’s looking at trying to ease back into whatever the new normal will be, as opposed to diving back in,” Sund said. “We’re trying to do it right and not rush.”
He said that the city also has been in contact with state officials about possibly reopening San Clemente State Park and San Onofre State Beach and expects a determination to be made on those areas soon.
“Obviously, it poses some logistic challenges for [the state] if we open up,” he said. “One of our boundaries is San Onofre State Beach, and you can’t just draw a line in the sand — no pun intended.”
He said that city officials will monitor the effects of the beach reopening and make adjustments if needed.
“At the end of the day, the council is very much wanting to see the curve go down related to COVID-19,” he said. “But it’s also recognizing that residents who live in a coastal community choose to live here for the recreational opportunities a coastal community offers and trying to find that balance.”
Earlier this week, Orange County officials debated but ultimately decided against closing all of the county’s beaches for two weeks over concerns about the possibility of crowds in the wake of a heat wave that’s forecast to peak Friday and Saturday.