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California

After 6-week closure, Laguna Beach to reopen beaches on weekday mornings

Laguna Beach closed all city beaches and adjacent parks on March 24. The city now plans to reopen the shoreline on weekday mornings.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Laguna Beach will reopen city beaches for several hours on weekday mornings beginning Monday, allowing water activities and walking or jogging along the shore.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday evening to approve reopening the city’s beaches from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Visitors will not be permitted to sunbathe or lounge on the sand. Officials also reopened city trails, with the exception of the trail at the end of Alta Laguna Boulevard, which in the past has drawn significant crowds.

“I think the opening we’re discussing is moving in the right direction,” Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said. “People keep talking about the safety valve. Let’s open it slowly and progressively, and I think if we do that, we have the best chance of avoiding a real problem.”

The decision comes after thousands of cooped-up Californians converged on Orange County beaches over the weekend amid the region’s first heat wave of the year and after more than a month of stay-at-home orders meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

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Though Laguna’s beaches were closed last weekend, several South Laguna residents who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting raised issue with the swarm of visitors that descended on county-operated beaches in the city. This was also an issue in other cities, like Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, where the sand remains open for public access.

Since adjacent counties have completely closed their beaches, Orange County has been inundated with people from Los Angeles and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire, County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said last week.

“When you take a look at the folks that are coming down, they’re not only not adhering to safer-at-home policies in their own communities, they’re not even staying in their own counties,” she said.

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Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen had sought to avoid the swarm of visitors in his town when he asked the Orange County Board of Supervisors last week to close the county beaches in advance of the hot weather. However, the board opted to leave the beaches open with parking restrictions.

Despite the reduced parking, thousands gathered along county beaches over the weekend, prompting outrage from some coastal residents.

Carl Chicka, who lives in West Newport Beach, said there was a “conga line” of cars in his neighborhood, and fistfights nearly broke out as cars snapped up spaces.

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“You sense the pent-up ire in the people who were looking for parking and circling literally for hours,” he said. “It was a very aggressive sense of energy.”

City leaders in Newport Beach debated closing their beaches during a meeting Tuesday night. But after hours of discussion, the council decided against it.

But visitors will find even less parking and more police and lifeguard presence in Newport Beach. Mayor Will O’Neill said the city needs to seize more educational and enforcement opportunities, but “we truly can trust the vast majority of people to do the right thing.”

“We clearly have to remind some people to do the right thing and for the people who don’t want to do the right thing, then they ought to be acquainted with our Newport Beach Police Department,” he said.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday criticized Californians who defied the statewide stay-at-home order and flocked to beaches over the weekend. He vowed to increase statewide enforcement of the order, if necessary.

“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off,” Newsom said. “The only thing that will set us back is people stopping to practice physical distancing and appropriate social distancing. That’s the only thing that’s going to slow down our ability to reopen this economy.”


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