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Newsom teases announcement in ‘days, not weeks’ on reopening California

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Under mounting pressure to lift the state’s stay-at-home order, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday said that he will make an announcement as early as next week on his plans to begin to ease restrictions on Californians to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“I just want folks to know we’re getting very close to making really meaningful augmentations to that stay-at-home order,” Newsom said at his daily news conference on coronavirus efforts. “I want to say many days, not weeks, as long as we continue to be prudent and thoughtful.”

The governor has described the next phase of his stay-at-home order as allowing some lower-risk businesses to reopen in communities across California, including retail locations, manufacturing sites and small businesses.

“The only thing that’s gonna hold us back is the spread of this virus,” Newsom said. “And the only thing that is sure to advance the spread of the virus is thousands of people congregating together. Practicing social distancing or physical distance, we can avoid that.”

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Newsom made the comments after Orange County officials called his decision to close their beaches government overreach and launched lawsuits against the administration.

The governor said he shuttered the coastline in an effort to prevent a repeat of last weekend when crowds amassed on local beaches, drawing concerns of increasing the spread of coronavirus. Newsom’s squabble with local authorities quickly spiraled into a more heated debate over the governor’s use of his executive powers to protect public health.

Opposition to Newsom’s order began the day before he made a formal announcement on Thursday. Word spread among law enforcement officials in California that Newsom’s administration planned to close beaches across the state. The governor ultimately chose to limit the action to Orange County, which inspired immediate lawsuits seeking to keep the beaches open.

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The Huntington Beach City Council voted Thursday night to file an injunction against the governor’s order. The Center for American Liberty, a conservative nonprofit run by attorney and Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon, announced a similar suit Friday morning.

“Orange County residents have been very outspoken about their opposition to the governor’s overreaches regarding COVID-19 nearly two months into this situation, and his increasing disregard for Californians’ civil liberties,” Dhillon said in a written statement. “Banning people from beaches doesn’t advance public health; it advances only the governor’s ego.”

On Friday, Newsom said the lawsuits were expected.

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“All I can say is, it doesn’t surprise me,” Newsom said. “And we’ll see, forgive me for saying this, we’ll see what happens.”

Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta also criticized Newsom’s decision in a statement on Thursday.

“Our experience here locally has been that most people are being responsible and complying with social distancing, and given that Orange County has among the lowest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in California, the state’s action today seems to prioritize politics over data,” Semeta said.

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Newsom’s announcement Thursday followed reports that he would take broader action. On Wednesday evening, a California Police Chiefs Assn. memo sent to local police chiefs said the governor intended to make an announcement on Thursday about closures of all state and local beaches. A law enforcement source confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that authorities were briefed on the plans, which they were told might also include the closure of some parks.

On Thursday, Newsom said the memo to the police chiefs “never got to me,” and he denied rescinding plans for an order to close beaches statewide.

“So, we’ve been consistent,” Newsom said. “I can’t square what others may have said, but this is what we’ve said.”

Aimee Faucett, chief of staff for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said the Newsom administration told the mayor’s office Wednesday night that he would be announcing the closure of all California beaches. She tweeted that they got word the closure would be limited to Orange County shortly before Newsom made the announcement on Thursday.

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Faulconer also was relieved to hear that San Diego beaches will remain open.

The mayor joined with other San Diego County leaders and health officials to enact a multiphase plan for beach access countywide. Currently, beachgoers are allowed to surf and swim in the water, as well as jog or stroll on the beach. But they have to keep moving: Sitting down or sunbathing is not permitted.

“I’m glad they reversed course. We put together a plan that is working,” Faulconer told The Times in a telephone interview. “This is consistent. It’s countywide. And, most important, people bought into it. People are doing the right thing.”

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In addition to conceding on Friday the difficulty in keeping Californians patient, Newsom also acknowledged another reality: The state’s finances are in a precarious condition.

The governor said that his revised state budget, which he will present to the Legislature on May 14, will project both a near-term and a longer-term deficit — a sharp turnaround from the economic projections he made in January.

“We just went like that, billions in surplus [and now] in just weeks, tens of billions in deficit,” Newsom said.

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City and county governments across the state have already begun to request help from the state for additional funding to pay for public health and safety programs. Newsom said California will need additional federal assistance beyond what was provided last month, even as his administration has yet to spend the $9.5 billion the state received from the initial allocation.

“I can assure you this: We are not going to be in a position, even as the nation’s fifth largest economy, to provide for the needs of all the cities and the counties without federal support,” Newsom said.


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