Newsom Orders Orange County Beaches to Close

Taylor Martinez

Following through on earlier disappointment about crowds that gathered last weekend along the coast, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the closure of Orange County beaches Thurdsday.

Newsom on Monday lashed out at the crowds who flocked to beaches in Orange County — particularly in Newport Beach — and Ventura County, where many coastline areas remained open despite statewide stay-at-home and social-distancing orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off,” Newsom said. “This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts.”

At the time, he expressed optimism that local authorities would intervene, but on Tuesday, the Newport Beach City Council rejected a proposal to shutter the beaches for the next three weekends. Laguna Beach officials, meanwhile, voted to allow active use of the beaches from 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays beginning Monday. Beaches are also open in San Diego, Oceanside, Encinitas, Coronado and Imperial Beach. Beaches in Del Mar were set to open Thursday morning, but word of Newsom’s pending announcement put the move on hold.

Asked on Wednesday if he would order all beaches closed, Newsom said he “had a conference call with local law enforcement and state law enforcement about some protocols and procedures and we want to get some feedback from them. We did get that feedback and I’m working with State Parks and others and a lot of our other partners — Coastal Commission, State Lands and others — to really figure out what our next steps are and I can assure you that clarity will come in a very short period of time, as early as late Wednesday afternoon or as late as early Thursday.”

Late Wednesday, a memo from the California Police Chiefs Association was circulated to law enforcement agencies across the state, alerting them to the governor’s pending beach-closure order.

“After the well-publicized media coverage of overcrowded beaches this past weekend, in violation of Governor Newsom’s Shelter in Place Order, the governor will be announcing tomorrow (Thursday) that ALL beaches and all state parks in California will be closed, effective Friday, May 1st,” the bulletin read. “We wanted to give all of our members a heads up about this in order to provide time for you to plan for any situations you might expect as a result, knowing each community has its own dynamics.”

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said Newsom has the power to close beaches in Orange County, but does not believe it is a wise decision.

“Medical professionals tell us the importance of fresh air and sunlight in fighting infectious diseases, including mental health benefits,” Wagner said. “Moreover, Orange County citizens have been cooperative with California state and county restrictions thus far.”

Wagner called the governor’s decision an “overreaction from the state (that) will undermine that cooperative attitude and our collective efforts to fight the disease, based on the best available medical information.”

Newport Beach police Chief Jon Lewis and fire Chief Jeff Boyles issued a joint statement Thursday morning insisting that when crowds gathered at the city’s beach last weekend, “the overwhelming majority of Newport Beach residents and visitors were families or practicing social distancing.”

“What we observed from land and by air was the vast majority of beachgoers practicing social distancing,” they said in the statement. “There were, in places, some clusters of people that were not social distancing. Throughout the day, our police officers and lifeguards patrolled the entire beach area to educate and remind those individuals of the necessity of physical distancing.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer took to Twitter Thursday morning to criticize Newsom’s anticipated action.

“San Diegans have been following the rules set by our pubic health officials and lifeguards since beaches reopened this week,” Faulconer wrote. “A sudden state ban on every single beach — regardless of the facts on the ground — sends the wrong message to regions where people are acting responsibly.”

Newsom has been insistent that residents continue adhering to social- distancing requirements, saying in recent days that the state could begin lifting some restrictions in “weeks, not months” if people continue to stay at home. But he said that could change quickly if people get complacent.

“We can undo our progress in a very short period of time,” Newsom said Wednesday. “What’s taken us almost two months to produce in terms of getting stable numbers can be unwound in a period of just a week or two. Why put ourselves in that position when we are just a week or two away from significant modifications on our stay-at-home order where we can begin a phase two of beginning to reopen sectors of our economy that are low risk, but do it in a thoughtful and judicious way.”

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