8 arrested during protest over coronavirus restrictions in San Clemente

San Clemente Pier
An aerial view of the San Clemente Pier, which was closed to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Eight people were arrested on suspicion of unlawful activity, including trespassing and other crimes, during a protest over coronavirus restrictions in San Clemente on Thursday morning, police said.

About 200 protesters converged near the pier at Orange County’s southernmost beach city to demand that stay-at-home rules in California be lifted and that city officials remove fencing enclosing a beach parking lot.

The fence, which was constructed to keep beachgoers from using the city lot, has stirred controversy in recent weeks, with some residents and officials saying it has become a symbol of the restrictions placed on local communities by Sacramento.

Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are now open daily from before sun-up to past dawn. Laguna Beach is keeping stricter weekend times, closing midday.

Orange County sheriff’s deputies arrested several people after authorities said some tried to remove the fence themselves. They then made additional arrests after deputies declared an unlawful assembly and some individuals refused to leave the area despite multiple commands, said department spokesman Carrie Braun.


The names of those arrested were not immediately released.

Video from the scene showed deputies following a man as he began unscrewing bolts connecting the fencing. Deputies told him to stop; when he refused, he was taken into custody. The crowd surrounding him chanted, “Let him go, let him go.”

The San Clemente City Council on Tuesday discussed reopening beach parking lots, which would have meant the fence would be removed. But in a split vote, city leaders decided to keep the closures in place.

City-owned beaches have been closed for the past two weeks in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In response, Alan Hostetter, a resident who helped organize Thursday’s rally, posted a message on Facebook on Wednesday evening calling for protesters to bring their signs, flags and tool kits with socket wrenches, crescent wrenches and Allen wrenches to the pier.

“Our City Council is currently paralyzed with hatred,” he wrote. “Due to this paralysis, We the People will take it from here.”

Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson said the fence was erected by city staff without council approval and can be taken down without a vote.

“This could all have been avoided today if the city manager would have taken it down,” Ferguson said. “He had the power to do that, and he didn’t do it. It really lacks critical thinking. He has escalated a situation when he had every opportunity to avoid it.”

To contain the spread of COVID-19, parks, restaurants and stores are slowly reopening.

Councilman Gene James also questioned the need for the fence and has urged City Manager Robert Dunek to take it down.

James wrote in an email to Dunek on Thursday that the fence should be removed before the protest, adding that the optics of the situation are terrible for the city.

“In my view there is no clear purpose for a fence that one can walk to the end and walk through,” James wrote. “Please let’s reach out and agree to bring down the fence today. We will all win.”

Times staff writer Leila Miller contributed to this report.