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Surfers ignore barriers, protesters confront police on Orange County beaches

A surfer walks past a barrier to the sand in Newport Beach on Saturday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Surfers hopped fences. Walkers strolled with their dogs. Parking lots became a venue for policy debate. That was the scene Saturday along the Orange County coast amid growing debate about beach closures intended to reduce the threat of the coronavirus.

The actions are in defiance of orders issued Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for a “hard close” of all state and local beaches, a mandate that singled out the sandy stretches of Orange County over the previous weekend’s crowds, which flooded the coastline seeking relief from a spring heat wave.

At the north side of the Newport Beach pier, a group of about 70 was in the parking lot, wanting to get out on the sand. American flags were seen alongside red MAGA hats.

At noon, they started walking across the beach to the ocean. Newport Beach police officers advised them to turn back, and a helicopter from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department flew over, announcing the closure over a loudspeaker.

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As a few people went into the water, lifeguards in a boat just beyond the surf line informed them that the beach was closed.

Eventually, the crowd dispersed, but half a dozen stood their ground and debated their case with police officers not far from the water. Bill Beukers was among them. He and his wife had driven down from Lancaster, and uncertain how the conversation would go, she filmed the exchange while the couple’s children bodysurfed.

Beukers, 48, said afterward that he was willing to get arrested and that the discussion had less to do with the beach than the constitutionality of the closure.

“Where do we go from here?” he recalled asking the officers. “What side of history do you want to be on? Someone has to stand their ground. We’re on a slippery slope, and we might end up where we might not want to be.”

He cited the 2nd Amendment and Rosa Parks, and in the end, the parties shook hands and the police departed.

A day after demonstrators congregated at the intersection of Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach to rally against stay-at-home orders, another organized protest took place Saturday in Laguna Beach.

At the start of the day, an orange netted barrier was put up around the town’s beach access points.

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Those barriers did not hold, as protesters made their way onto the sand and continued the demonstration in the afternoon.

The Laguna Beach City Council recently voted to allow active use of its beaches from 6 to 10 a.m. on weekdays only. Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said there had been overwhelming support for the phased opening plan, but he backed Newsom’s right to close the beach.

“I think it’s unfortunate because whether I agree or not with what the governor said, I think he has the legal right to do that, and I think the courts have determined that,” Dicterow said in reaction to the protest. “He created a path for us to go forward. He said to submit a plan, so we submitted a plan, and we’re waiting to see how the governor will react. I’m hopeful and optimistic that our plan will meet with his approval, and we’ll be able to open the beaches.”

Huntington Beach police began closing the city’s beaches in the morning, said spokeswoman Angela Bennett.

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A motorcycle officer was seen redirecting cyclists off the beach path toward the sidewalk. The beaches and water were eventually cleared in their entirety.

“We worked in conjunction with marine safety, who were the lifeguards out in the water who were working to get people in from the water,” Bennett said. “It’s completely clear.”

Bennett noted that gathering protesters had been compliant, adding that no citations had been handed out.

“We want to make sure that people are considering public health in following the orders that have been in place since March, but we also want to ensure that people have the right to express themselves, as well, from the Constitution,” Bennett said. “We are not having any issues with people, or if we do have issues, we educate them, we ask them to voluntarily comply, and they have done that.”

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Dozens of people demonstrated in front of the pier late Saturday morning. Protesters held up signs that included, “Expose the Deep State,” “Take off your mask,” and a surfboard that had the words “Gavin Don’t Surf” written on it.

Steve Hubbell, 58, of Huntington Beach brought the message-bearing surfboard. He said he felt no animosity toward law enforcement officers who acted to close the beach, saying they were just doing their jobs.

The lifelong surfer did feel targeted, however, by Newsom’s directive to close Orange County’s beaches, and he suggested that bias factored into the governor’s decision-making.

“The rest of the beaches are closed from the other municipalities … but this municipality chose not to close their beaches, so I think he is targeting us a little bit,” Hubbell said.


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