Updated 6:53 p.m.
Despite reports that all California beaches would be closed starting May 1 to curb crowding during the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom instead ordered only Orange County beaches closed Thursday. Local officials criticized the move as “retribution” and “capricious.”
Newsom has leveled repeated criticisms against crowds at Southern California beaches. On Monday, he called thousands of weekend beachgoers “an example of what not to do” while a statewide stay-at-home order is in place.
On Thursday he called out “people that are congregating there that weren’t practicing physical distancing that may go back to their community outside of Orange County and may not even know that they contracted the disease, and now they put other people at risk and put our hospital system at risk.”
The “hard” closure applies only to beaches in Orange County, some of which have remained open despite the state stay-at-home order. Newsom praised Los Angeles and San Diego counties for maintaining crowd control on their own beaches.
The move overrules local governments, such as the city of Newport Beach, that had allowed their beaches to remain open.
A letter to county officials from Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, says “full closure means that there is no public access to these beaches on a temporary basis,” though no end date is given.
“All restrooms are closed, and there are no parking facilities open for visitors, or recreational boats. No activities are permitted on the beach (including sunbathing, walking or running or watersports)” the letter reads.
Newsom said his office is working with local officials, but some county supervisors slammed the closures. They also disagree with Newsom’s assessment that beachgoers are not practicing physical distancing.
Orange County Board Chairwoman Michelle Steel called the closures “a clear example of unnecessary government overreach” at a press conference following the governor’s announcement.
“His actions are arbitrary and capricious and are an act of retribution against Orange County, “ she said.
While Newsom said he “want[s] to work very closely with local elected officials,” Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said he was only notified about the decision 15 minutes before the governor’s daily briefing.
“It isn’t that he’s refused to work with us, it’s more like we have not had the opportunity to have those conversations,” Wagner said. “We would like to hear from the governor's office and we would like him to be working more closely with the locals here in Orange County.”
In a statement released late Wednesday, Wagner said while he believes the governor has the power to close local beaches, he disagreed with the decision.
Wagner added that so far, Orange County residents have been following state and local restrictions.
“I fear that this overreaction from the state will undermine that cooperative attitude and our collective efforts to fight the disease,” he wrote.
Newport Beach police and fire officials also pushed back on Newsom’s criticisms of beachgoers, writing that the “vast majority” of weekend visitors to the beach were practicing physical distancing.
A memo circulated late Wednesday by the California Chiefs of Police Association said Newsom planned to close all state parks and beaches.
“I can’t square what others may have said” about possible statewide closures, Newsom said when asked about the memo. He said the memo distributed by the law enforcement group “never got to me.”
However, a tweet from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s chief of staff contradicted that.
For the record, last night Mayor Faulconer’s administration was notified by Governor Newsom’s administration that he would be announcing the closure of ALL CA beaches. Minutes before today’s press announcement Mayor’s office was notified this would only apply to Orange County.— Aimee Faucett (@aimeefaucett) April 30, 2020
Weekend beach crowds also prompted Newsom to close parking lots at state parks and beaches on March 23, days after he ordered Californians to stay home except for essential trips.
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