‘Unnecessary government overreach’: O.C. leaders react to Newsom’s order closing their beaches

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A lifeguard patrols as people gather in front of the Huntington Beach pier on April 30, 2020. (Credit: Michael Heiman / Getty Images)

A lifeguard patrols as people gather in front of the Huntington Beach pier on April 30, 2020. (Credit: Michael Heiman / Getty Images)

Many Orange County leaders expressed frustration with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Thursday order closing the county’s beaches until further notice, overriding local rules that made them some of the only coastal areas open to visitors in the state.

The directive came after the Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday rejected a measure to close its beaches that drew an estimated 80,000 people last weekend — a sweltering one in Southern California during which all Los Angeles County beaches were closed.

The coast in neighboring Huntington Beach was also open with few restrictions. That city on Thursday voted to take legal action in an attempt to block the governor’s order.

Newsom called the packed O.C. beaches “disturbing,” adding that easing the state’s stay-at-home order could be delayed by “more weekends like last weekend.”

Especially in Orange County, pressure is mounting for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted. But on Thursday, the county reported 145 new COVID-19 cases, its largest single-day increase, for a total of 2,393 cases resulting in 45 fatalities.

At a contentious county Board of Supervisors meeting following the governor’s announcement Thursday, Third District Supervisor Don Wagner emphasized that county parks and trails remain open. The parks parking lots are closed “to help manage crowds,” Wagner said, and he believes that effort has been successful.

And local officials insist that, despite some damning images, beachgoers were keeping their social distance.

But gathering outdoors for unessential activities remains a violation of stay-at-home orders. That’s why other beaches that have maintained access, such as in Ventura County, said visitors must be getting some form of exercise — lounging is not considered an essential activity.

Many O.C. officials issued statements disproving of the governor’s order. Here’s what they had to say:

U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach

“I applaud Governor Newsom and his team for successfully flattening the curve in a majority of California,” the congressman wrote.“However, we need to develop a common-sense plan that prioritizes local residents’ physical and mental health — not indefinitely shut-down our beaches. The sacrifice and service of Orange County residents cannot continue endlessly; we must find safe and sustainable ways to adjust to a ‘new normal’ in the weeks and months to come.

Orange County’s pristine beaches are more than tourist attractions — they are essential public spaces, like parks, that residents should be allowed to utilize safely. Opening beaches to thousands of Southern Californians during a weekend heat-wave without adequate social-distancing protocols was a reckless action that put the families of California’s 48th district in harm’s way.

Unfortunately, this discussion has become political and polarizing with two extremes defining the debate — reopen everything immediately or continue the lockdown without an end in sight. Orange County residents, regardless of their political party, want their neighborhoods to remain safe and accessible. Most Americans are between the 20-yard lines, and I firmly believe there is a way to use common sense to find common ground.

Orange County leadership must emulate cities like Laguna Beach, whose rational and thoughtful plans have centered on providing its residents access to distanced recreation spaces. As we navigate the coronavirus crisis, the people of coastal Orange County deserve clear, concise, and comprehensive plans that balance the protection of their physical, mental, and economic health.

Our beaches and local economies cannot remain vacant and shuttered until a vaccine is developed.

Local leaders must focus on drafting plans to safely and gradually relax stay-at-home orders. At minimum, these plans must include clear time intervals and benchmarks in addition to the increased testing and contact tracing capabilities we finally see coming online in Orange County.

I will continue working with Governor Newsom, the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and other local leaders to push for common-sense solutions that put Orange County working families and small businesses on the path to normalcy.

State Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa

“Governor Newsom just doesn’t seem to get it.

Orange County residents have been responsible. They’ve followed healthcare officials’ prudent recommendations and respected the science. The County hasn’t seen the ‘surge’ in its hospitals, and six weeks into this shelter-in-place order, the beach may be the best medicine.

We need to trust people. If our citizens exercise proper social distancing, then we should allow access to the beaches. If you’re part of a vulnerable group, shame on you for going to the beach.

Indeed, we allow shoppers to go to the grocery store with proper social distancing. Why not the beaches?

Let’s continue to allow the science and facts be our guide. With proper social distancing, the beaches can offer an important relief from the stresses of this pandemic. Let people have access to these facilities.

O.C. Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Michelle Steel

O.C. Third District Supervisor Don Wagner

Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis and Fire Chief Jeff Boyles

City of Newport Beach

Huntington Beach Mayor Lyn Semeta

The mayor issued a statement saying she’s “both concerned and disappointed” with the governor’s order. Later Thursday, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to take legal action against the directive.

“The City has put careful thought and invested considerable effort and expense in order to discourage overcrowding and facilitate effective social distancing at our beaches.  In fact, we’ve taken Governor Newsom’s words to heart in Huntington Beach, to provide public access – in a safe way – so that our residents can experience physical and mental health benefits from accessing the Pacific Ocean.  Our experience here locally has been that most people are being responsible and complying with social distancing, and given that Orange County has among the lowest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in California, the State’s action today seems to prioritize politics over data.

Read the full statement here.

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