More than 2,500 protestors gathered in Huntington Beach Friday, after the city announced it would pursue legal action against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close Orange County beaches.
The Huntington Beach City Council voted 5-2 Thursday night to direct the city attorney to pursue “any and all legal actions necessary to challenge the State’s beach closure directive.” On Friday, a judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order, meaning the governor’s order to shut down beaches remains in place.
During a press briefing Friday, Newsom said, “As it related to the lawsuit, all I can say is, doesn’t surprise me.”
In the meantime, the city agreed to close beaches Friday, in accordance to the governor’s order. Activities including sunbathing, walking, running, and watersports were also prohibited.
“We’re very concerned about if we happen to be the only Orange County beach open at that point. That would be very difficult on our marine safety officers,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta, who called the governor’s order “unconstitutional overreach.”
Friday’s protest was organized by We Have Rights — prior to the state’s order to close O.C. beaches — in opposition to the state’s stay-at-home order. The group, which has demonstrations planned throughout California Friday, demanded that Gov. Newsom reopen businesses and churches.
“Our group is dedicated to the restoration and protection of the rights and freedoms provided under The Constitution for all Americans,” the group’s website states.
Although the website urged people to maintain social distancing throughout the demonstration, Sky5 footage showed protestors gathered at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street, in clusters, defying the state’s guidelines. While some protestors wore face masks, most did not.
Between 2,500 to 3,000 people gathered, Huntington Beach Police Chief Robert Handy said, and no arrests were made.
Many in the crowd were waving American flags, and some were dotting “Make America Great Again” hats and holding signs endorsing President Donald Trump.
Demonstrators could also be seen holding a myriad of signs, with some that read, “Make America Open Again,” “I have the right to work,” and “Reopen California Now.”
Around 12:40 p.m., at least 12 law enforcement officials on horseback could be seen herding the large crowds out of the street and back towards the beachfront sidewalk.
Aerial footage also showed several people in the now-closed beach, swimming and surfing — defying the state’s order that went into effect Friday.
Signs about countywide beach closures started to go up around the time of the protest, Chief Handy said in a briefing following the demonstration. By Friday night, all signs and barricades would be up, he said.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to be continuing with our posture of seeking voluntary compliance wherever we can. We’ll start with education,” Handy said, adding that police would talk to people about the purpose of the closures and ask them to leave the beach.
“Ultimately if we don’t get that voluntary compliance, enforcement will take place and that can come in several different ways and its really whoever is necessary depending on the situation,” he said.
The protest is not the first to take place in Huntington Beach during the coronavirus pandemic. Demonstrators gathered on April 17 to protest the state’s stay-at-home order after the city announced it was closing all metered parking along the Pacific Coast Highway to limit beach visitations.