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COVID-19 Update: Governor closes OC beaches

By BARBARA DIAMOND

Two days after Laguna Beach officials approved a cautious reopening of city beaches, Governor Newsom ordered all Orange County beaches closed.

Newsom announced his decision at a press conference on Thursday. He said media coverage of the hordes that swarmed the county beaches over the past weekend and ignored health experts’ advice to stay at home or at least maintain social distance recommendations prompted his decision. 

“The city beaches in Laguna Beach are already closed and scheduled to be closed until May 4,” City Manager John Pietig stated in a release issued Thursday after Newsom’s press conference. “Based on the governor’s order today, I expect the county beaches in the southern part of the city will also be closed this weekend. 

“Laguna Beach will send its plan, which was approved by the City Council on Tuesday, to reopen the beaches on weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m. for active use only and in compliance with social distancing mandates, to the governor’s office for approval. The city will not reopen beaches until its plan is approved by the governors’ office.” 

COVID 19 update fences

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

City’s limited reopening of beaches on May 4 must be approved by Governor Newsom

Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner on Wednesday said the governor had the authority to close the beaches, but it was “not a wise idea.” 

Governor Newsom did not include other counties in his order.

“It should be acknowledged, San Diego and L.A. and others have done an outstanding job, and we want to just focus on where there’s a problem,” Newsom said on Thursday.

The city of San Diego reopened its beaches Monday to active users ranging from swimmers to walkers, while Los Angeles beaches remain closed.

South Laguna residents reported a calamitous situation over the weekend in their neighborhoods as well as on the county-owned beaches in their area, despite attempts to limit beachgoers by closing the parking lots. 

Newport beaches were also in heavy use over the weekend, but the City Council decided on Tuesday to keep the beaches open, a decision negated by the governor’s order.

Laguna Beach residents weighed in on the city’s plan for a limited reopening of the beaches, pro and con. 

“Old people should stay home – they are vulnerable,” said Mark Dunning by phone to Laguna’s City Council. “Those who are not vulnerable should be let out.”

A North Laguna woman asked that Crescent Bay residents be allowed to go to their beach. She supported opening other beaches until noon for active use.

COVID 19 update south laguna

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

 South Laguna last weekend

However, South Laguna resident Diane Armitage said she was frightened last weekend by the crowds. 

“Kids were coming in from everywhere,” said Armitage. “They were cocky and drinking openly in cars – swearing and gunning up and down the street. It felt like a war zone.” 

Another woman suggested the problem in South Laguna was exacerbated by the closure of the rest of Laguna’s beaches. 

There were also questions raised about the city control over South Laguna beaches – which is to say none. When asked by Mayor Bob Whalen to close county beaches within Laguna’s city limits, the vote was 4-1, with only Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett siding with the city.

In other actions affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, the council voted to hold a proposed increase in sewer user fees to 5 percent in fiscal year 2020-21, rather than the 10 percent previously approved. The vote was unanimous, but Councilman Peter Blake said during council comments on the item that as a small downtown business owner, he would be willing to pay the 10 percent increase. 

The council also voted 5-0 to direct staff to work with local nonprofits to investigate and implement Restaurant Delivery: Home Meals for Seniors, a new state program to provide meals to eligible seniors during the COVID-19 “Stay-At-Home” order as soon as possible. The council appropriated $5,000 from the General Fund Reserve to cover the portion of the costs not covered by state or federal funds.