‘We have already given up so much:’ More than 1,000 emails weigh in on Newport’s decision on beach access

Beachgoers enjoy a day on the beach near the pier in Newport Beach, on Tuesday.
Beachgoers enjoy a day on the beach near the pier in Newport Beach, on Tuesday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The preference this week to keep the shoreline open in Newport Beach was not unanimous — not on the City Council and not among constituents, who wrote more than 1,000 emails in two days when the city announced it was considering restricting beach access after a weekend surge of sunbathers.

“We need the beach. It’s why I live here,” Garrett Hall wrote. “I got laid off and I’m struggling but I at least know I can put my feet in the sand and watch the sunset. Please don’t close them!”

Although other coastal counties issued blanket closures weeks ago to control mass gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Orange County is a patchwork. Newport closed its boardwalks, piers and large beach parking lots in late March, about a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order, but its sands were never closed.

When last weekend’s heat wave blasted in, more stir-crazy Californians than usual looked for relief where they could find it after more than a month of lockdown. Local lifeguards estimated 40,000 people on Newport’s beaches on Friday and again on Saturday.

Widespread media reports showed the scene at Newport and neighboring Huntington, and residents decried the images as distorted or endorsed them as accurate. Gov. Gavin Newsom called out Newport by name at his Monday news conference. The Newport Beach City Council spent four hours debating the issue Tuesday before deciding to leave the beaches open, with heavier police and lifeguard presence to manage crowds and tighter parking controls.

One way or the other people had something to say, 1,055 times over.

“PLEASE do the right thing and close the damn beach,” wrote Linda Poole.

Of the emails the council received before Tuesday’s meeting, 391 were pro-closure and 664 were pro-access. Some were lengthy, others succinct. Frustration and anxiety were palpable. A few were profane.

Here are a few more:

To close

“Coronavirus is able to spread quickly and without regard in large groups, and your city allows 40,000 people to gather on the beach? Is this a political statement, thinking that you can thumb your nose at the Democratic governor of our state?” Marty Cerles

“Do you really think that COVID-19 wasn’t at the beach this weekend? I find it very disappointing and reckless with residents’ lives.” Vivian Ryer

“Los Angeles is capable of keeping beaches closed. It’s shameful and infuriating that you’re unable to do the same.” Ryan Shadrin

“On Friday, it felt like all 40,000 people were trying to find parking right outside my front door” Carl Mumm

“No reason for any of our beaches to be opened. May I remind you there is a pandemic happening.” Christine Brown

“By not closing the beaches you are saying essentially: ‘It’s OK for you to come and spread the virus and give it to us. Maybe we’ll share ours with you!’” Jim Cokas

To stay open

“Fearful or vulnerable citizens should stay home. But healthy citizens need to live again, work again, and enjoy our surroundings that we pay SO much for. Please let individuals make their own decisions regarding their health.” Angie McCunniff

“COVID-19 is real, but so are individual freedoms,” Kathryn and David Moore

“In these troubling times, our mental health is collectively deteriorating every day and one of the few things that has helped me stay healthy and optimistic has been surfing. Please don’t take away our ocean, we have already given up so much.” Hayden Rhone

“Please keep your ocean open for water enthusiasts. To make everyone suffer because of a few bad people is not the American way.” Matt Wirta

“I am beginning to be more concerned with potential for civil unrest. People are not coping well with this forced shutdown and as with last weekend, will continue to ignore the signs and go around them. We are inviting a widespread chaotic reaction.” Brian Schuler

“I have NEVER seen my kids so excited [as] on Friday. Their eyes lit up again. They are dying inside and the beach helped lift their spirits.” Jenny Todesco

“Let us jog on the beach, walk on the boardwalk, and surf in the water. This is our community. This is what we are made up of. I struggle to understand why our representatives are trying to tear the very fundamental values of Newport Beach away from us.” Jessica Saucedo

“I am begging you to please keep the beaches open. People need to get fresh air and feel the sun and hear the waves. People are discouraged, frightened, angry, anxious, tense and unhappy. The beach is one of the most relaxing places to go to be healed and get renewed hope and energy.” Lisa Hocker

Ultimately, the council leaned toward maintaining the ability to get to the sand.

On Wednesday, the emails kept coming.

“Can’t believe you guys voted to keep the beaches open unbelievable
Guess you guys don’t do your homework
Level of stupidity you have stooped to,”
wrote Rita Patel, in a stanza of frustration.
“Even the governor is calling you out and you still don’t get it
For those of you who voted to keep the beaches open shame on you hope you don’t get voted back in
Have no words”

Others, grateful.

“We support your decision to keep the beach open,” Suzy Dizon wrote.

“Thank you.”

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