UPDATED: County Won’t Close Beaches and Trailheads Ahead of Warm Weather

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A lifeguard tower at Aliso Beach. Photo by Jody Tiongco

The Orange County Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal Tuesday to close county beaches and trailheads for the next two weeks.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett proposed the shutdown after Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen sent her a letter Monday asking the Board of Supervisors to take action to protect the health and safety of coastal residents.

“We are getting people coming from other counties down to Orange County,” Bartlett said. “Our residents are being very vocal at this point and I ask that we look at beach closures for the next two weeks.”

Closing county beaches to everyone except coastal residents wasn’t an option, she said.

“We can’t say that our beaches and trails are just open to our residents, the Coastal Commission won’t allow that,” Bartlett said.

However, the Supervisors closed county beach parking lots, parks, and trailheads last month, allowing coastal access for those who can walk or bike to the beach. City beaches, parks, trailheads, and athletic fields remain closed.

“We have all seen the video from the beaches in Florida that recently reopened and there is no reason to expect a different outcome here with the first warm weather coming,” Whalen wrote in a letter.

Laguna Beach had 36 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday, registering the highest per capita ratio of any Orange County city.

With county beach parking closed at Aliso Beach and adjacent areas of South Coast Highway, the large crowds will park in South Laguna neighborhoods putting residents at greater risk, Whalen wrote.

Bartlett sounded the alarm in March, saying Los Angeles and San Diego counties’ decisions to closure their beaches would push their residents onto Orange County beaches.

“I trust our community members to make smart decisions in the interest of public safety,” Board chairwoman Michelle Steel said.

The motion by Bartlett failed to even reach a vote due to the lack of a second supporter among her colleagues.

After more than 20 minutes earlier in the meeting, the Supervisors voted 3-2—Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner voted no— to approve guidance that will let golf courses open their links to golfers on a limited basis. Similar to new rules in Ventura and Riverside counties, golfers will not be able to use caddies and course operators should require groups to observe social distancing.

“We’re opening up—to a certain extent—the golf courses but we’re not going to allow people to recreate on our beaches when the weather is good,” Supervisor Don Wagner said. “There’s no rhyme or reason here.

Wagner noted that he’s been watching “Game of Thrones” while self-isolating at home and played on the television series’ popular trope.

“Summer is coming,” he said. “And in the real world, we have to deal with that.”

The South Laguna Civic Association, a nonprofit that has advocated for residents in South Laguna since 1946, offered the following statement on the Board of Supervisors’ decision:

“The South Laguna Civic Association Board appreciates Mayor Bob Whalen’s attempt to get out in front of this potential health problem and we thank him for his leadership in bringing it to the County Board of Supervisors,” the association wrote in a statement. “Moreover, we thank our 5th District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett for supporting our Mayor, and we are grateful for the City’s efforts in addressing this critically important public health and safety issue.”
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  1. I’d love to see the beaches, golf courses, and all outdoor activities opened up again immediately. We can’t live inside our houses in fear forever. Sunshine, fresh air and Vitamin D will do far more for the immune system to fight of viruses than staying inside all day.


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