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San Diego beaches remain open as Gov. Newsom clamps down on Orange County

People walk along La Jolla Shores on Thursday. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that San Diego County beaches would be allowed to remain open.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego residents can continue to swim and enjoy other activities at many local beaches after Gov. Gavin Newsom declined to restrict shoreline access across the entire state to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Newsom announced Thursday that a state ban on beach activity would apply only to Orange County, where large crowds gathered along the coast last weekend.

“It should be acknowledged, San Diego and L.A. and others have done an outstanding job, and we want to just focus on where there’s a problem,” Newsom said at a news briefing Thursday.

“The conditions last week, the images we saw on a few of our beaches, were disturbing,” he added, referring to reports of crowds in Huntington Beach and other locations.

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Huntington Beach and Dana Point have voted to seek injunctions, and the Orange County sheriff has said he doesn’t plan to arrest beachgoers.

The announcement comes as San Diego County cautiously loosened restrictions on recreation this week, reopening many local parks and beaches.

However, the region faces a key test when residents return to the shore this weekend, the first since the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life for so many. Los Angeles County continues to keep all of its beaches closed.

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Health officials in San Diego County on Thursday announced 132 new COVID-19 cases and four additional deaths, bringing the region’s totals to 3,564 confirmed cases and 124 deaths.

As the virus continues to claim lives, officials said, beachgoers should remain cautious and engage only in activities such as jogging, walking, swimming and surfing. Loitering, gathering in groups and sunbathing are strictly prohibited.

Potentially reducing temptation, coastal areas are expected to be cloudy this weekend, with daytime highs reaching only into the low 70s, according to the National Weather Service.

Thank you, San Diegans, for doing the right thing on our beaches,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Thursday at a news conference. “You’ve been a great example for not only California but the rest of the nation. Our continued success is in your hands. This weekend is going to be an important weekend for us to do the right thing.”

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Face coverings are required in public throughout the county starting Friday.

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit urged residents not to get complacent and specifically asked people to stop congregating at Sunset Cliffs, a popular spot to view bioluminescent phytoplankton visible in the surf.

Video and photos show an algae bloom in the South Bay producing a neon-blue light along the shoreline at night in Hermosa Beach.

“You will see quite a robust police presence tonight and throughout the weekend,” Nisleit said.

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Lifeguards and police officers are expected to cite violators.

If residents don’t follow the guidelines, state and county officials have the authority to close the beaches again, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.

“We cannot lose our focus, and we cannot lose our commitment,” Fletcher said. “Any of the public health modifications that have been made can be dialed back in an instant, and that’s what we want to avoid.”

County officials also announced on Thursday that families living together will be allowed to resume boating and recreating at local parks. While parking lots at beaches will remain closed, lots at local parks can now reopen at half capacity.

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Officials also said that golf courses that have submitted social-distancing and sanitation plans can open as soon as Friday. Golfers must maintain a six-foot physical distance from one another, and carts will not be allowed.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey expressed concerns that the beach ban in Orange County could affect San Diego.

“I’m definitely pleased that the state isn’t taking a heavy-handed approach with our county,” he said, “but I am disappointed that they are shutting down beaches in Orange County, because that might create some compression and have a spillover effect on our beaches.”

Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss said Thursday he wasn’t too concerned about people showing up from out of town.

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“The majority of San Diego County is open, so [beachgoers] are not likely to overrun any one place,” Weiss said.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear was not as optimistic. She said her city has already seen growing crowds at its recently reopened Moonlight Beach.

“We are having a problem with compliance day after day,” she said. “People are not following the guidelines. They’re bringing chairs, trying to hang out on the beaches.”

When Newsom ordered a temporary ‘hard close’ of Orange County beaches, he touched a nerve in a state where a day at the beach is akin to a birthright.

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Concerns that the governor would close all beaches throughout the state started on Wednesday night after a memo from the California Police Chiefs Assn. was leaked to a reporter.

The situation remained unclear until Newsom’s news conference Thursday.

Del Mar’s City Council will meet Friday afternoon to discuss when to reopen the city’s beaches.

“I’m leaning toward opening,” said Del Mar Councilman Dave Druker, although he worried that Del Mar could get crowds if its neighbors remain closed.

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Solana Beach has said it will open next week. Carlsbad’s beach, parks and trails are closed, but the City Council will meet Friday to discuss plans for a phased reopening. Torrey Pines State Beach, immediately south of Del Mar, is closed until further notice, as are other state beaches.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond criticized Newsom for the situation.

“The governor is governing with temper tantrums, fear and retractions,” Desmond said. “I’m glad how it turned out, leaving San Diego beaches open, but it was unfortunate.”

Simth and Winkley write for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Staff writers Philip Diehl, Gustavo Solis and Gary Robbins contributed to this report.


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