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Costa Mesa calls second overnight curfew as protesters set sights on South Coast Plaza

Police stand on the corner of South Coast Plaza at Sunflower Avenue and Bristol Street in Costa Mesa on Monday, guarding against a demonstration over the death of George Floyd.
Police stand on the corner of South Coast Plaza at Sunflower Avenue and Bristol Street in Costa Mesa on Monday, guarding against a demonstration over the death of George Floyd.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa officials instituted a second overnight curfew Monday as protests against Minneapolis police officers’ involvement in the May 25 death of unarmed black resident George Floyd — which have drawn the attention of looters and rioters — hit neighboring Huntington Beach and Santa Ana.

The line between protest and riot was blurred as Santa Ana police were called to contain looting that broke out in area stores on Saturday. In Huntington Beach on Sunday, hundreds of protesters were disbanded as law enforcement officials issued a declaration of unlawful assembly and arrested 17 people.

Fears of anticipated local civil unrest at South Coast Plaza, following reports a protest was being planned at the shopping center Monday evening, delayed a publicized June 1 reopening, mall officials reported on social media.

“We are saddened by the recent events in our country and care deeply for the safety and well-being of our entire community,” the message stated Sunday. “Please check back for updates.”

Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chair Byron de Arakal drove by South Coast Plaza Monday morning and saw barricades on the streets leading into the shopping center and workers boarding up the west-facing display windows at the mall’s Crystal Court.

Similar precautions were being taken at nearby Shiffer Park, on Bear Street less than 1 mile away from South Coast Plaza, he said.

“The city’s just being abundantly cautious, which I think is smart,” de Arakal added, saying he had full confidence in the police department. “Hopefully everything works out well, and if there is a protest, everything’s peaceful.”

Many businesses in downtown Huntington Beach were boarded up Sunday night, when no major looting was reported during a protest, which was deemed an unlawful assembly by the Huntington Beach Police Department.

The city had also tentatively planned to reopen Costa Mesa City Hall Monday but have postponed reopening until a later date, a city spokesman confirmed.

City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison declared a local emergency Sunday evening, shutting down the city to the public from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday as organizers protested and rioters clashed with police in nearby Huntington Beach.

The Salvatore Ferragamo store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Fears of anticipated local civil unrest at South Coast Plaza, following reports a protest was being planned at the shopping center Monday evening, delayed a publicized June 1 reopening, mall officials reported on social media.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Immediately following the city’s announcement on social media Sunday, Costa Mesa Police Department representatives explained on Twitter the curfew was a response to unrest in neighboring cities and social media posts conveying “plans to congregate in the city merely to loot and vandalize businesses.”

“While the city of Costa Mesa supports the public’s right to peaceably assemble and protest outside the curfew hours, it does not support vandalism, rioting and looting,” read the department’s tweets. “During the curfew, all persons are prohibited from traveling on public streets, alleys, parks or any public place.”

Department spokeswoman Roxi Fyad said police are monitoring the area and responding to community concerns.

“We do have an action plan in place, we just can’t share specifics,” Fyad said Monday. “We’ve got to make sure we’re ensuring officers’ safety.”

A second curfew order issued Monday morning asks residents to remain in their homes starting at 7 p.m. Monday and lasting until 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. Those traveling to and from work, attending religious services or seeking emergency care are exempt from the order.

Police officials announced several streets would be closed until deemed safe for reopening:

  • Sunflower Avenue, between Bear and Bristol streets
  • Bear Street, between Sunflower and Paularino avenues
  • Southbound Bristol, between Sunflower and the 405 Freeway
  • South Coast Drive between Bear and the 405 Freeway off-ramp
  • Plaza Drive at Sunflower Avenue
Workers board up a CVS Pharmacy on Bristol Street, right across from South Coast Plaza on Monday.
Workers board up a CVS Pharmacy on Bristol Street, right across from South Coast Plaza on Monday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Local shutdowns followed a social media buzz growing around a protest being planned at South Coast Plaza on Monday at 8 p.m.

The origin of the announcements is unknown, but participants are called to “mask up” and “bring your friends” for protests described as peaceful.

One online flyer, however, declared “our only enemies is the cops” and contained misspelling of Floyd’s surname over top a photo of a police riot line illuminated by fireworks.

Costa Mesa resident Dina Aires, 48, said she called off work from her job at the Home Depot after hearing home-improvement stores could be potential targets for rioters looking to loot from area businesses.

“If that happened, I didn’t want to risk it,” she said. “I’m not going to take part in that.”

While she understands the right of people who wish to peacefully protest, Aires says the moment seems ripe for opportunists willing to take advantage of a tragic situation for their own gain.

“Some are using George Floyd as an excuse to say, ‘Let’s give it to the man in his honor.’ People are finding an excuse to steal,” she said. “What does Luis Vuitton have to do with police brutality? Nothing.”

Monday night, whether rumors of Costa Mesa protests are true or a hoax, Aires plans to shelter in place.

“I’m not going to take part in that,” she said.

The 213 new cases were the fourth-highest single day total in Orange County during the coronavirus pandemic. No new deaths were reported Monday, leaving the death count at 147.

Sarah Orendorff, whose backyard abuts South Coast Drive, says she and her neighbors have been on high alert since they heard reports on social media about potential activity at South Coast Plaza and saw a Facebook Live post over the weekend of someone walking on nearby Bristol Street talking about doing damage.

“Two nights ago, I was terrified. Then last night I was terrified, and tonight, even more so,” said the 36-year-old mother of three.

On a morning walk with her husband and daughter Monday, Orendorff saw windows at the shopping center being boarded up and described a “heavy police presence” on and around South Coast Plaza.

She said while those preparations and the citywide curfew make her feel somewhat safer, she’s concerned for what could happen. She and her family created a Plan A and a Plan B, depending on what goes down, and are staying in touch with neighbors via a group text.

“We’re just trying to keep an eye on the news,” Orendorff said. “If we hear any gunshots, we’re getting in the car and leaving.”

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