The news hit Orange County like a cold wave: California’s governor was shutting down the beaches.
A “hard close” order took effect on Friday for seashores from wealthy Newport Beach to artsy Laguna Beach and down Doheny way.
It followed a weekend where tens of thousands of the landlocked and homebound hit the sands south of Los Angeles County, where beaches have been closed for weeks. Newsom scolded people for defying the spirit of his statewide stay-at-home order, designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has killed some 2,000 people in the state.
“People that are congregating there, that weren’t practicing physical distancing ... may not even know that they contracted the disease and now they put other people at risk,” Newsom said.
Newsom said he hoped it would be “a very short-term adjustment,” although the directive had no termination date.
Maureen Osborne is a resident of Huntington Beach, which proudly declares itself “Surf City, USA.” She was torn by the closure of the sweeping, scenic beach just a 10-minute walk from her home.
She hasn’t gone there much since the coronavirus outbreak because the neighborhood has become crowded with visitors who park their cars to walk down to the shore. But wishes she could.
“It is what it is,” said the 62-year-old, who now carries a mask with her as a precaution when she goes out. “If people are sensible and do what they’re supposed to with the social distancing — but not everybody is.”
Newsom, a Democrat, has engendered strong bipartisan support for most of his actions during the virus outbreak. But more recently, some of the more rural and GOP-leaning areas of the state have begun chafing against what they see as an overly cautious move toward reopening California, which has seen its 40 million people cloistered and its economy hemorrhage jobs because of mandated business closures.
Newsom’s beach order was condemned as punitive, political overreach by some Republican lawmakers, especially those in Orange County, where the GOP hopes to regain ground lost to Democrats in what was once a Republican stronghold.
“At a time when California is granting early release to high-risk sex offenders and other dangerous inmates due to COVID-19 concerns, the implicit threat to punish beachgoers and surfers who violate the order is absurd,” state Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said in a statement.
Huntington Beach and Dana Point city councils voted Thursday to pursue legal challenges against the order. Newport Beach planned to discuss its challenge options this weekend.
Elected officials in beach communities such as San Clemente argued that they are well aware of the need to contain the virus and are succeeding in reducing the threat countywide through safe practices.
It’s the same argument made in Modoc County in California’s northeast corner. That county, which has about 9,000 residents, planned to allow hair salons, churches, restaurants and its only movie theater to reopen Friday, becoming the first county in the state to ease out of stay-at-home orders and flout the governor’s mandate.
Ned Coe, a cattle rancher and county supervisor, said Thursday that the county bordering Oregon has no confirmed COVID-19 cases and after consulting with health officials, the Board of Supervisors voted to reopen.
“Just as our physical health is vital for our citizens, so is the mental health and the economic health of our citizens,” Coe said.
Newsom did not say whether he would move to stop the reopening.
Orange County, by comparison, is home to more than 3 million people. The county’s Health Care Agency on Thursday reported an additional 145 confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to around 2,400 with 45 deaths.
On Wednesday, administration officials spread the word to police and other local officials that the governor planned to order all California beaches closed. That evening the California Police Chiefs Association sent a bulletin to its members alerting them so they would have time to plan for it.
However, a senior administration official who was not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations told The Associated Press that Newsom’s final decision wasn’t made until Thursday morning.
Newsom then announced a shutdown order covering only Orange County. That angered local officials, who said the vast majority of beachgoers act responsibly and are being punished unfairly.
County Sheriff Don Barnes said he would focus on cautioning and educating people that they must practice social distancing rather than citing them for violating the state order.
“I have no desire to enforce any aspect of that through arrest,” he said.
California Coastal Commission Chair Steve Padilla said he supports the governor’s action.
“I had COVID-19, was hospitalized for three weeks and in ICU on a ventilator for eleven days fighting for my life," Padilla said. “So take it from me — we need to listen to the governor and stay home until it’s safe.”