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Officials alarmed by crowds at Malibu beaches, some local parks, warning of dangers

Surfers take advantage of the low tide swell at Malibu Surfrider Beach as Los Angeles County Beaches reopened for active use only.
Surfers take advantage of the low tide swell at Malibu Surfrider Beach as Los Angeles County Beaches reopened for active use only.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The narrow strip of Zuma Beach in Malibu over the weekend was filled with hundreds of people, many with faces uncovered, who parked in residential neighborhoods and partied in large crowds at night, according to one local reporter who asked county supervisors if they were aware of the disregard for the county’s stay-at-home order.

“The only way we’re going to get into a position where we go into the next phase is by people acting responsibly, so when I hear stories like this it frustrates me,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger during a Monday news conference. “Enforcement’s going to be the key, but I would hope that people would use common sense,” she added.

Department of Public Heath Director Barbara Ferrer said she was aware of people ignoring the order in Malibu and said people were following county orders on other beaches. But without everyone complying, she said, it would make the path to reopening difficult.

“We can continue to reopen if we all do our part,” Ferrer said. “If people are gonna blatantly disregard their obligation to make it safe for others, it’s impossible to continue to move down a path toward recovery, because this is what will end up overwhelming our healthcare system.”

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Officials faced problems in other parts of Southern California as people sought refuge from months-long stay-at-home orders, drawn to trails, parks and beaches by warm weather.

This was the first weekend Los Angeles County beaches were opened, and people could be seen milling about at Santa Monica Beach on Saturday afternoon, despite restrictions against sitting or lying on the beach. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said no individuals were cited over the weekend.

The county also checked on 1,600 businesses and found that about 1,000 were not in compliance with the safer-at-home directives, Ferrer said Monday.

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Ventura County was forced to close a popular park that had been reopened to pedestrians and cyclists after crowds swarmed the area over the weekend.

On Sunday morning, the county closed Foster Park after reports of crowding and illegal parking the day before. Dave Sasek, director of the county’s general services agency, said in a statement that people were not following guidelines to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“People were parking illegally outside of the entrance and crowding the area, so we have had to close the park,” Sasek said. “We hope we can open the area soon.”

In Orange County, the Sheriff’s Department did not issue any citations to people violating coronavirus-related measures. Carrie Braun, director of public affairs for the department, said it has an education-first policy with individuals, and “the vast majority have complied voluntarily.”

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Meanwhile, Joshua Tree National Park announced Monday that park entrances, parking lots and trails are open again. Joshua Tree had closed visitor centers in March and shut down access completely after reports of visitors flooding the park.

“With the lower summertime visitation numbers in mind, we have worked closely with the health offices in both San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to ensure that the type of recreation at Joshua Tree is in line with current health advisories,” Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith said in a statement. “By opening the park in phases, we plan on being able to take measured steps that ensure the safety of our staff and visitors while providing increased access to our national park. “

Ventura County has largely avoided the high numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19 seen in other parts of California due to restrictive measures meant to limit the spread of the virus. The county has reported 764 positive COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths. While 237 cases are still under active quarantine, 502 people have recovered. Overall, 15,550 people have been tested.

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Theresa Lubin, the county parks manager, said Foster Park had been open for a few weeks and is the only park to have issues of crowding. The Ventura County Star reported that a county Sheriff’s Department captain confirmed that someone had broken a lock on the park’s parking lot.

“There were quite a few people who came in. They may have been looking to do some day camping, and that right now is not permitted,” Lubin said. “We’re encouraging people to exercise and get fresh air, but to keep moving.”

The county has recently started loosening measures, allowing beach access for residents to walk, surf or run, but they are not allowed to sit or lie down.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office tweeted about “big turnout” at the Punch Bowl trails, along with a photo of cars parked along the road leading to the trails. “Parking is extremely limited,” the tweet read, and deputies and California Highway Patrol troopers were enforcing parking restrictions.

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“There were large crowds showing up,” said Steve Lutzke, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol in Ventura, and the area appeared more congested than on a typical weekend. The agency helped address traffic on SR-150, where parking for the Punch Bowl trails is temporarily restricted. The agency issued warnings but no citations, Lutzke said, although one resident had seven cars towed that were blocking the entrance to his home.


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