Orange County beach ban results in mostly empty sands on Saturday
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to close Orange County beaches to slow the spread of the coronavirus appeared Saturday to have the desired effect, as only a few people by early afternoon had ventured onto the sand or into the surf.
Newsom closed the beaches over the objections of Orange County officials after large crowds hit the sands last weekend. But on Saturday Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, which was jammed with hundreds of rowdy protesters on Friday, were mostly deserted.
Temperatures are cooler this weekend and it remained unclear how aggressively the closure would be enforced.
Los Angeles County beaches are closed, but many in San Diego and Ventura counties remain open. Some leaders worried that the Orange County closure would send more beachgoers their way.
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.”
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said his department did not plan to cite people simply getting out for beach exercise on Saturday. He said most beachgoers have acted responsibly.
“As long as people are social distancing and doing what they’re expected to do, the sheriff does not have interest in criminalizing people enjoying the beach,” department spokeswoman Carrie Braun said.
Newport Beach will increase its police presence on the beach and roll out barricades and electronic signs to make sure people are aware of the closure, officials said. The Huntington Beach Police Department also said its officers were seeking “voluntary compliance” from the public.
Legal battles are brewing in Orange County, where city leaders in Dana Point and Huntington Beach voted during emergency meetings Thursday night to approve filing for an injunction to block Newsom’s directive to close their beaches.
The Center for American Liberty, a conservative nonprofit run by attorney and Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon, on Friday announced a similar legal action filed on behalf of San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson, Dana Point City Councilman Joseph Muller and Mission Viejo City Councilman Gregory Raths, who participated in their individual capacities as residents of Orange County.
On Friday afternoon, Orange County Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott rejected a request from the two cities seeking a temporary restraining order to keep beaches open. He set a hearing for May 11 to consider the cities’ request for an injunction.
The Newport Beach City Council on Saturday voted to back the litigation by the other beach cities and approved an amicus brief the city filed Friday in support of the action.
Newport Beach said in a statement that before Newsom’s closure order, its police, fire and lifeguard departments had crafted a plan to keep beaches open safely this weekend. The governor’s office “had not sought the City’s perspective on beach safety or the weekend plan before issuing the directive,” the statement said.
“Newport Beach will continue to work diligently and do everything possible to safely reopen the City’s beaches,” the statement said.
Orange County reported 99 additional cases of the coronavirus and two related deaths Saturday, bringing its total to 2,636 cases and 52 deaths. The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 rose to 202, with 58 patients in intensive care units.
San Diego County
“Thank you, San Diegans, for doing the right thing on our beaches,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Thursday at a press event. “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.”
Lifeguards and police officers are expected to cite those in violation. Face coverings are required in public throughout the county.
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.
“You will see quite a robust police presence tonight and throughout the weekend,” Nisleit said.
If San Diegans 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 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.
Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss said Thursday he wasn’t too concerned about people showing up from out of town.
“The majority of San Diego County is open, so [beachgoers] are not likely to overrun any one place,” Weiss said.
However, 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.”
San Diego had reported 3,711 cases of the coronavirus and 134 deaths, as of Friday.
Los Angeles County
Beaches remain closed amid growing signs that the reduction in tourism and tax revenue from the closures, as well as a decline in travel and the shutdown of bars, restaurants and other recreational draws, have hit some communities hard.
Santa Monica officials are mulling a plan for restructuring operations as the beach city faces a deficit estimated at $224 million over the next two fiscal years.
The proposal includes cutting staff, eliminating many citywide events and programs, consolidating some departments and reducing the frequency of in-person services, as well as facility access and hours at libraries and public spaces, the city said Friday in a news release. The City Council will consider the plan at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
“The path ahead will be painful, and fraught with shared sacrifices to stop cuts in services and prevent further layoffs,” Lane Dilg, interim city manager, said in a statement.
Santa Monica’s previous city manager, Rick Cole, resigned last month, citing divisions over cuts necessitated by the huge budget shortfall.
Families are also struggling. An estimated 2 million L.A. County residents experience food insecurity on an ongoing basis, more than any other county in the U.S., and officials worry the figure could increase in the coming months due to job losses associated with the pandemic, county officials said Saturday in a news release.
The county is allocating $3 million to the L.A. Regional Food Bank, which has been managing food distribution events throughout the area since mid-March. Residents can find more information on the county’s website.
More than 24,200 cases of the coronavirus and 1,174 related deaths had been recorded in L.A. County as of Friday.
The city of Port Hueneme, experimenting with a “soft reopening,” has reopened its beach (and a parking lot) to walking, running, biking and solo surfing and paddleboarding, but said it would discourage sunbathing or any “stationary presence” on the sand. Its pier, restrooms, playground and street parking remain closed.
The county had reported 544 cases of the coronavirus and 18 related deaths, as of Friday.
Meanwhile, some Northern California counties are taking steps toward easing stay-at-home rules, despite Newsom’s urging to keep them in place for now.
Modoc County, which has fewer than 9,000 residents and reported zero cases of the coronavirus, was the first to relax restrictions. The remote county bordering Oregon and Nevada permitted businesses, schools and churches to reopen starting Friday, as long as people stay six feet apart.
Yuba and Sutter counties announced Friday that they will also loosen some rules starting Monday.
In what officials are calling the initial phase of reopening, some businesses deemed low risk will be permitted to operate provided they make modifications to address infection prevention. They include restaurants, retail stores, shopping malls, gyms, and hair and nail salons.
Schools, churches, bars, nightclubs, museums, concert venues and theaters will remain closed, and social gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited.
“COVID-19 is dangerous and scary but it is not the only health issue,” Dr. Phuong Luu, the Yuba-Sutter health officer, said in a statement. “We cannot wait for a vaccine without seeing extreme economic damage done to our community.”
People will also be allowed to use athletic fields, playgrounds and libraries, provided they maintain social distancing. All residents will be required to wear face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible.
In a news release, administrative officers for both counties “acknowledged the shift in emphasis to a risk-based order conflicts with the Governor’s emphasis on ‘essential vs. non-essential’ activities.” They recommended that businesses deemed nonessential by the governor’s order seek private legal advice when considering whether to reopen.
“The intent of the order is to comply with both the Governor’s order and President Trump’s ‘Opening up America Again’ guidelines,” Luu said.
Yuba County has reported 19 cases of the coronavirus and one death. Sutter County has reported 31 cases and two deaths.
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