Beaches in two Orange County cities cleared to reopen after standoff with Newsom

Days after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Orange County beaches to close to stem the spread of the coronavirus, state officials announced Monday that two beach cities will be permitted to reopen their stretches of coastline this week — with certain limitations.

Laguna Beach and San Clemente last week submitted plans to Sacramento that would allow the public to immediately access the coastline for active recreation such as swimming, surfing and running on the sand. The plans, approved Monday, include a range of measures to avoid overcrowding and to allow safe physical distancing.

“We appreciate the governor’s willingness to work with us to provide a responsible, gradual approach to reopening all beaches in Laguna Beach for active recreation,” Mayor Bob Whalen said in a prepared statement. “This will allow people the opportunity to walk, jog, swim and surf and get some fresh air and exercise on a limited basis, but not congregate or gather in large groups.”


News of the reopening comes less than a week after Newsom ordered a “hard closure” of all Orange County beaches. The order came after an April heat wave sent thousands to the sand in some beach communities. Newsom called the images circulating of people congregating on Orange County’s shores “disturbing.”

“My job as governor is to keep you safe,” he said Thursday. “And when our health folks tell me they can’t promise that if we promote another weekend like what we had, then I have to make this adjustment. I hope it’s only a very short-term adjustment.”

The move prompted a legal showdown between cities and the state, as well as outrage from the public. Some have argued that the governor was targeting Orange County based on photographs that they say did not show the full scope of what was happening on the beach.

That led Laguna Beach city officials to submit a four-phase plan to the state to eventually reopen their beaches entirely. Under Phase 1, which begins Tuesday, the public will be permitted to use the beach for active purposes on weekdays only from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Under San Clemente’s plan, the city will allow only active usage of the beach and keep restrooms and parking lots closed. Prior to the governor’s mandatory closure, San Clemente had reopened its beaches for active use only — a situation that officials say was working well.

State officials said they also are working with other Orange County cities that are developing plans to restore beach access. It is not clear what other cities have submitted plans.

Temperatures are expected to peak Thursday, when it could reach nearly 100 degrees in downtown Los Angeles and break decades-old records.

On Tuesday, Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett plans to put forth a proposal to reopen all of the county’s 42 miles of coastline for active recreational use.

Last month, ahead of a heat wave that drew crowds to some city beaches, Bartlett had proposed temporarily closing county operated stretches of sand to stave off a flood of outsiders from Los Angeles and San Diego counties where beaches had been closed for weeks. However, the proposal did not gain traction from the rest of the board.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) said the reopening of beaches in Laguna Beach was being done in a responsible way that will ensure public safety.

“I commend Mayor Whalen and the City Council for their thoughtful, judicious and strategic response, now and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a prepared statement. “As we navigate this unprecedented crisis, we will continue to be led by science and facts — not by politics and not by fear.”