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Protesters gather in Huntington Beach, doubling down on push to reopen California

Demonstrators turned out in force in Huntington Beach on Friday to protest the ongoing economic shutdown and measures put in place to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

At Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street, nearly two dozen police officers on horseback were stationed in the street, facing off with hundreds of protesters in front of the Huntington Pier.

Protesters spilled onto Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway. Some motorists driving by honked horns in encouragement.

Flanking the pier, Huntington Beach police officers were stationed in front of staircases leading to the beach that earlier in the day had been blocked off with caution tape.

“We are moving to fully reopen California now,” said Tiffany Garcia, an Irvine resident who was one of the event’s organizers. Garcia, who works in healthcare, said she has family members who have lost jobs.

In a court hearing Friday, an Orange County Superior Court Judge heard arguments by Huntington Beach, Dana Point, and some individual beach city businesses requesting to block the closures of beaches by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Our 1st Amendment rights are being trampled on completely and we aren’t going to stand it anymore,” Garcia said.

“People work their whole lives for their business and they are losing their businesses in a month. This is not OK,” she said. “The Constitution is not conditional. It’s not, no matter what. If we don’t get out here and fight for those rights, I can’t look my daughter in the face when I get home.”

Police officers on horseback keep people away from the street during the protest at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach on Friday.
Police officers on horseback keep people away from the street during the protest at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

On a day that would otherwise offer perfect beach weather, protesters crowded the sidewalks — most forgoing recommended face coverings — to push local and state leaders to lift measures they say are keeping people from enjoying beaches like Huntington’s, but also dampening the economy.

Using megaphones and signs, they demanded the state reopen its economy and allow life in public to return to normal.

Huntington Beach reacted within hours with a vow to take legal action against the state in light of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order. Newport Beach is considering it.

The gathering was substantially bigger than the protest on Main Street two weeks ago. Huntington Beach Police Department spokeswoman Angie Bennett said there were no arrests or injuries, and estimated the crowd at about 2,500 people.

Julian Brudnick, 28, of Yorba Linda waved a black flag that had a snake on it and read “Don’t Tread on Me.”

“I think it all comes down to the same thing, which is personal freedom and liberty, and not sacrificing freedom for security,” Brudnick said. “I haven’t seen this many people not wearing a mask. I go into Home Depot, you cough or sneeze and people give you a dirty look. What they can make us do to each other is unbelievable.”

Protesters refuse to social distance while crossing the street at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach on Friday.
Protesters refuse to social distance while crossing the street at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

In light of Thursday’s order by Gov. Gavin Newsom closing Orange County beaches, protesters directed their ire at the state’s highest elected office.

A sky banner reading “FIRE GRUESOME NEWSOM! OPEN CALIFORNIA!” flew overhead.

Huntington Beach resident and professor of nursing at Santa Ana College Becky Ettinger carried a data-laden poster showing statistics related to COVID-19 infection.

Sporting a lab coat and sunglasses — but without a mask — she displayed her sign: “Reopen Cali Now!”

“Poverty contributes to early death, 22 million job losses since COVID-19,” it said.

“My problem now is, what about the mental health issues of anxiety, depression, suicide, domestic violence and child abuse?” Ettinger said. “All of these things are going off the chart now, and nobody’s even talking about it. That’s a shame to me because, as somebody that studies the health of the population, this is what we should be focusing on.”

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Ettinger made sure to mention on her sign that she was a resident of Surf City.

“A lot of us from Huntington Beach, we want this all to stop,” Ettinger said. “We want people to be able to open up their businesses. I would like to see every business opened up here on Main Street right now, because we need to get back outside.”

Garcia said the protest was nonpartisan. Though some wore “Make America Great Again” hats or had signs supporting President Trump, one man carried a sign that read, “Democrats for reopening California.”

The OC Health Care Agency announced five additional coronavirus-related deaths Friday, along with 163 new cases and 2,594 tests. This brings Orange County to 50 total deaths, 2,537 total known infections and 34,128 cumulative tests given.

The man, who declined to give his name, said that he is most likely out of a job for the foreseeable future. He works as an audio engineer for nightclubs and concerts.

“I haven’t worked in approaching three months, and I haven’t seen any kind of a layout, a timeline, a ballpark,” he said. “These people work for us. We put these people in office, and I don’t get the vibe that this [stay-at-home directive] is what people want.”

Another protest took place early Friday morning in Huntington Beach. Republic Services sanitation workers held a protest demanding that Republic Services and its largest shareholder, Bill Gates, protect workers by providing proper personal protective equipment, improving safety standards and guaranteeing to pay every worker for 40 hours of work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Teamsters members held signs saying, “Republic Services: Workers Need Protection.”

A small airplane flies a sign that reads "FIRE GRUESOME NEWSOM! OPEN CALIFORNIA!" during a protest over Huntington Beach on Friday.
A small airplane flies a sign that reads “FIRE GRUESOME NEWSOM! OPEN CALIFORNIA!” during a protest over Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

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