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Laguna Beach and San Clemente received approval Monday to begin restoring public access to their beaches, just three days after state-mandated closures in Orange County went into effect.

Both cities submitted plans over the weekend and received approval Monday from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, which said their plans for reopening beaches safely are in accordance to California’s stay-at-home order, according to the state’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

The approval comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order on April 30 closing all beaches in Orange County following a weekend of crowded shores that raised concerns the region was not heeding stay-at-home orders. County leaders expressed sharp criticism towards the governor for his decision to only close O.C. beaches.

During a briefing Monday, the governor thanked the leadership of Orange County, in particular Laguna Beach and San Clemente, and praised their collaborative spirit and their locally-driven plans for reopening.

“They put together an outstanding plan to begin to reopen those beaches, and we not only applauded that, we enthusiastically embraced it,” Newsom said.

He said the state is working with other O.C. cities to reopen their beaches too.

Laguna Beach

City beaches in Laguna Beach will reopen in phases. Starting Tuesday, they will be open on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. for active recreation only. Shores will remain closed on weekends.

Laguna Beach submitted a four-phase plan, which includes first opening beaches with limited hours on weekdays and for active use only. Phase two includes limited hours both on weekdays and weekends for active use only. Phase three allows for regular hours on both weekdays and weekends for active use only. Phase four includes a return to regular hours both on weekends and weekdays for both active and passive use. There is no timeline for each of the phases yet.

Active use includes walking, running, jogging, swimming, paddle boarding, surfing, bodyboarding, skim boarding and kayaking. Non-permitted activities include gathering, sitting or lying on the beach, setting up chairs or picnics and staying in place.

Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen called the move a good first step.

“We don’t have to just open the floodgates and have a disaster and have to shut it back down again,” he said.

Nearby city beach parks remain closed at all times, according to the city.

South Laguna beaches, however, are controlled by the county and will remain closed until the county submits plans to the state and receives approval.

“As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to increase throughout Orange County, we know our battle against the coronavirus is far from won,” Congressman Harley Rouda, who represents the city, said in a statement. “Other cities and the County should consider copying Laguna Beach’s blueprint and submit a detailed beach reopening plan to ensure all local residents’ physical and mental health is protected during this difficult time.”

San Clemente

San Clemente beaches are set to reopen Monday, according to the city manager’s office. The shores will be open seven days a week, for active use only. In later stages, beaches will reopen for all use.

Permitted activities include walking, running, jogging, swimming, stand-up paddling boarding, surfing, bodyboarding, skimboarding, kayaking and “physical activity that keeps individuals in nonstationary active motion.”

The San Clemente Municipal Pier will open on Tuesday for active use only and social distancing guidelines must be followed. People may not stop along railings or benches, and fishing will be prohibited until further notice.

The city’s beach trail has meanwhile been kept open and remains so.

All beach restrooms and parking lots will remain closed.

Those with questions about the guidelines were urged to email or
call 949-361-8200.

O.C. beach battle continues

Gov. Newsom said Monday that the state is working with other cities in the county to also reopen their beaches, as some continued their legal battle against the state.

Newport Beach spokesperson John Pope said the city had also submitted plans Friday and was optimistic they would receive a response soon. It was not yet clear which other cities submitted their plans for approval.

The Huntington Beach City Council voted Thursday to pursue legal action against the state’s order to close beaches. A judge rejected a request from the city Friday that sought a temporary restraining order to keep beaches open.

The same day, Dana Point and Newport Beach city officials voted to join in taking legal action against the state.

Meanwhile, thousands took to the streets of Huntington Beach Friday to protest the state’s stay-at-home order, and smaller demonstrations continued throughout the weekend in Orange County.

But people appeared to comply with the state’s order as beaches remained mostly empty through the weekend.