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Beach cities brace for crowds ahead of Labor Day weekend heat wave

It’s typically one of the busiest beach weekends of the summer.

And despite a rash of coronavirus warnings urging people to avoid gatherings, local officials expect that this Labor Day will be no different.

“We know we’re going to get the siege, we totally get it,” Malibu Mayor Mikke Pierson said Friday. “It’s hot and people are desperate to cool off.”

In Hermosa Beach, City Manager Suja Lowenthal checks the weather forecast for surrounding areas to gauge the volume of crowds the city can anticipate over a given period.

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Over the next few days, she said, “we expect a lot of folks coming into the South Bay.”

The holiday weekend coincides with a heat wave that’s expected to send temperatures soaring 15 to 20 degrees above normal, and Southern California’s coastal communities are bracing for an influx of visitors. Public health officials have described the weekend as a crucial test of whether Californians can slow the spread of the coronavirus by moderating their individual behaviors.

“The times we have seen spikes in infections and hospitalizations have been two to three weeks after a national holiday like Memorial Day or the Fourth of July,” Lowenthal said. “We’re hoping we can make Labor Day different.”

Barbara Ferrer, the county public health director, said it’s possible to avoid repeating those patterns, but that depends on people doing their part.

“We have an opportunity this holiday weekend to change the trajectory of the virus in L.A. County,” she said in a statement.

Although Los Angeles County beaches were either closed or limited to active recreation during the summer’s previous holidays, county public health officials, in consultation with the leaders of the county and its beach cities, decided to keep the coastline open for Labor Day.

But they’ve cautioned that if there’s overcrowding, that could change.

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“Obviously we hope [beaches] don’t have to shut down because if they don’t shut down, that means that hopefully everyone is following the rules,” said Nicole Mooradian, public information officer for the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

Those rules are: wear a mask at all times unless you’re in the water or eating or drinking, keep six feet apart from all those who don’t live in your household and abstain from gatherings and group sports including beach volleyball.

The department will have volunteers at several beaches, including Will Rogers, Zuma and Dockweiler, to remind people of mask and distancing rules. The so-called goodwill ambassadors, who are county disaster services workers, will also be handing out trash bags and promoting a “pack in, pack out” message, Mooradian said.

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Since July, the county has been asking beachgoers to take their refuse home with them because virtually all of its maintenance workers have been diverted to extra coronavirus-related restroom cleanings, Mooradian said.

“Before, they were cleaned two to four times a day depending how busy they were,” she said. “Now, every restroom is being cleaned five to six times per day, which leaves almost no one left to do extra cleanings on the beach.”

In neighboring Orange County, beaches will also remain open for Labor Day.

“We are expecting more beachgoers than normal and we want them to help us by keeping safety in mind with respect to the water, heat, and COVID-19,” Eric Blaska, public information officer for the Huntington Beach Fire Department, said in an email.

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Firefighter paramedics will be staffing the city’s beaches in addition to lifeguards, and the fire department’s Community Emergency Response Team will be manning booths downtown and near the beach to hand out face coverings and remind people about physical distancing, he said.

Hermosa Beach had already contracted with private consulting firm Willdan Group to help its Police Department enforce an ordinance requiring masks. Between Aug. 8 and 31, they made contact with 3,036 people, handed out 715 masks and issued 438 citations, which range from $100 for a first offense to $500 for the third and each subsequent offense, Lowenthal said.

On Saturday through Monday, the city will boost the number of contract health ordinance enforcement officers from four to six, and their hours will be extended, she said. The city equipped the contract officers with body cameras about two weeks ago to help them avoid being tied up in lengthy legal proceedings if someone appeals a citation, she said.

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Manhattan Beach also contracted with Willdan, as well as private security firm Contemporary Services Corp., to form facial covering enforcement teams. Those teams will be working through the weekend, focusing on the Strand and the city’s parks and downtown area, Mayor Richard Montgomery said in an email. As of last Sunday, officers had given out 397 citations for failure to wear masks, which carry fines between $100 and $350.

The city’s police department will also have additional sworn officers on duty, he said.

Like other cities, Santa Monica, which has also imposed fines for mask-wearing violations, is shoring up staffing over the holiday weekend, Constance Farrell, public information officer, said in an email.

“It’s imperative that anyone escaping the heat do so safely,” she wrote. “... We’ve made progress but the only way we’ll continue to is by staying the course with the COVID-19 prevention measures.”

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Malibu has not yet enacted a local ordinance imposing penalties for those who don’t wear masks, but the City Council plans to do so Sept. 14, Pierson said. “I feel like we acted on that a bit late, but we have acted on it,” he said.

Though the city has not added dedicated personnel to enforce coronavirus rules, some residents have contracted with private security firms to crack down on illegal parking, alcohol use, trespassing and other issues associated with an uptick in visitors, he said, pointing out Broad Beach as one example.

“Just some of the crowds, you almost have to see it to believe it,” he said. “They’re absolutely overwhelming.”

In fact, Malibu officials are expecting this weekend to be one of the busiest of a year that’s already seen more people visit the tony beach community than any other, Pierson said.

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“We’ve had historic crowds this spring and summer due to everyone being cooped up from COVID,” he said. “We’ve never seen the amount of cars or traffic we have this year — not even close.”

The city has worked with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s office and the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station to put in place extra patrols over the weekend, he said. Sheriff’s volunteers on patrol will be helping to enforce parking violations and direct traffic, and city public works crews will be out cleaning up trash.

Fire is another concern. Pierson is a member of a volunteer arson watch that will be up in the hills keeping an eye out for starts and educating the public about prevention. He said the city is discouraging people from hiking up there due to the dangerous heat.

Malibu also put out public service announcements on social media, Nextdoor, and local radio stations urging people to celebrate the holiday responsibly.

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In the past, the city has urged people to simply stay away during busy weekends, but that messaging proved ineffective, Pierson said. So this time, they wanted to focus on how people can visit safely.

Hermosa Beach’s Lowenthal said officials there sought to emphasize a similar point.

“Given the holiday weekend and how hot it is, when we’re over 100 degrees inland, we want people to feel that the California coast is theirs to navigate.” she said. “That’s the beautiful thing about the California coastline. The state has worked for decades to make sure the public has free access to what is essentially our public space and really the public living room.”


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