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Judge rules against Huntington Beach in lawsuit against state beach closure

A surfer carrying a surfboard crosses the almost empty beach to catch some waves in Huntington Beach on May 2.
A surfer carrying a surfboard crosses the almost empty beach to catch some waves in Huntington Beach on May 2.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

An Orange County Superior Court judge on Friday denied a preliminary injunction sought by the city of Huntington Beach, after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all Orange County beaches closed April 30.

Huntington Beach filed suit against the state the next day after a 5-2 vote by the City Council. Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates argued that Newsom had overstepped his authority and closing the beaches was unconstitutional.

Since then, the beaches were reopened for active use on May 5, but Huntington Beach did not drop its lawsuit against the state, which also included several private businesses in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach as plaintiffs.

Judge Nathan Scott, who heard oral arguments via teleconference on May 11, wrote Friday in a ruling that the parties had “basically resolved their dispute.”

“The court denies plaintiffs’ invitation to adjudicate a closure no longer in effect,” Scott wrote. “Plaintiffs have not shown the governor is likely to close the beaches again.”

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Scott added that the plaintiffs “have not shown a sufficient likelihood that a narrow restriction on passive beach use during a pandemic is unconstitutional.”

He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts in 1905, that individual rights can be superseded by the state’s right to protect against disease. The public health threat at the time was smallpox.

“Fighting a pandemic is a statewide concern,” Scott wrote. “The Legislature has entrusted the governor with broad statutory authority to handle emergencies at a statewide level ... The restriction here is reasonably related to abating the pandemic and is ‘narrowly tailored’ to avoid unnecessary interference in local governance.”

Local beaches have been open for active use the last two weekends. On Friday, the city also reopened some beach parking lots, with state beach lots at Bolsa Chica State Beach and Huntington Beach State Beach being reopened to 50% capacity.

City beach lots at First Street, Second Street and Sixth Street also have been partially reopened, as have south beach lots from Huntington Street to Beach Boulevard.

No new deaths from the respiratory disease are reported Monday, leaving the death count from COVID-19 at 88 in Orange County.

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