Newport beach rejects measure to close beaches after weekend heat wave prompts crowds to flock to coast

Local News

The Newport Beach City Council rejected a proposed ordinance Tuesday to close the city’s beaches for the next three weeks, after crowds of people flocked to the shoreline during last weekend’s heat wave.

After a lengthy debate in a remote meeting, five council members voted against the measure, with two in favor of it. More efforts to mitigate traffic will be instituted, as well as more officers and lifeguards on duty to ensure social distancing is followed, officials said.

“Of course we want people to be responsible and practice social distancing, and be good neighbors, but we see other beaches opening up around the state and we think now is not the time to close down beaches,” Councilmember Kevin Muldoon said during the meeting.

An estimated 40,000 people packed Newport Beach on Friday and Saturday, making national headlines and prompting a frustrated response from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“We can’t see the images like we saw, particularly on Saturday in Newport Beach and elsewhere in the state of California,” Newsom said Monday. Such behavior could set the state back in its efforts to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections, he said.

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

He was encouraged that city officials planned to meet to address the issue. “I’m told they are looking to consider some augmentations,” he said.

The Newport Beach City Council held its special meeting Tuesday to discuss potentially closing the city’s 8 miles of coastline for the next three weekends — or, alternatively, blocking roads leading to popular locations along the shore.

The beach was under what was described as a soft closure when the crowds arrived Friday.

Beach parking lots had been closed since April 1, along with several parks and the Oceanfront boardwalk. But in anticipation of the hot weather last weekend, some of the lots were reopened for to minimize beachgoers’ parking in residential neighborhoods, city staff said in a report to the council.

“The warm weather resulted in tens of thousands of people gathering at the City’s beaches
during the weekend and it was observed that some people were congregating and not
social distancing in accordance with state and federal guidelines, particularly in walking
to and from the beach,” the staff report stated.

Newport Beach residents couldn’t safely leave their homes without risk exposure to groups of beachgoers, the report said.

Orange County officials, however, said beachgoers did their best to keep safe.

“From what I could tell, all of the individuals that are along the sand, they were placing their umbrellas and they were congregating within their own family unit,” Orange County Executive Officer Frank Kim told CNN. “What I saw was an effort from all of the participants who were using the amenities to adhere to the principle of social distancing.”

Huntington Beach, which had a similar soft closure, also drew thousands of beachgoers amid the weekend heat wave. Laguna Beach and Seal Beach have closed their beaches, Newport Beach city staff noted in their report.

In Ventura County, where beachgoers were allowed to walk on the beach but not to congregate in large groups or picnic on the beach, crowds were much smaller.

City officials in San Clemente, which requires “active uses” of it beaches and had similar rules to those in Ventura County over the weekend, plan to meet Tuesday to discuss the potential for reopening its beach lots and the pier.

The Laguna Beach City Council is also meeting Tuesday to discuss the situation, and to look at the impact of crowds at neighboring Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.

Newsom is expected to provide further details on his plans for eventually reopening businesses in the state during a news conference Tuesday.

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