Updated: Laguna Beach to close city beaches on July 4 and 5

A rare view of Main Beach in mid-summer scene closed to visitors. Photo by Mitch Ridder

Laguna Beach will close city-owned beaches on July 4 and 5 to discourage residents and visitors from congregating during the current surge of coronavirus cases.

The Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to take the unprecedented step of closing beaches on their busiest day of the year. Councilmembers voted the day after Los Angeles County announced it was closing beaches in its jurisdiction.

“I think to respect the health of our residents and the health of the people who are coming we need to be proactive,” Councilmember Toni Iseman said.

The City Council also authorized City Manager John Pietig to use powers granted to him by a declaration of local emergency to also close beaches on Friday and Sunday if circumstances materially change this week.

On Thursday afternoon, Orange County said it planned to also close beaches under the control of OC Parks on July 4 and 5 in light of the COVID-19 surge. The County closure includes Aliso Beach, Capistrano Beach, Salt Creek Beach, Baby Beach, Bayside Beach, Camel Point Beach, Poche Beach, Strands Beach, Table Rock Beach, Thousand Steps Beach, Treasure Island Beach, and West Street Beach

Following the County’s announcement, Laguna moved to also close city beaches on July 5, according to a press release. They will reopen at 5 a.m. on July 6.

Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow and Police Chief Laura Farinella bluntly advised councilmembers that closing the beaches would be challenging but city employees would do their best to implement the council’s direction.

Snow pointed out that when the city last closed its beaches, lifeguards were heavily reliant on the public voluntarily complying. He added that it would take about 70 staffers to man the beach staircases, sand, and ocean.

“Any scenario where you’re opening and closing [beaches] is where we saw the most challenges,” Snow said.

Mayor Bob Whalen was reluctant to close city-owned beaches at the risk of redirecting beachgoers into Downtown Laguna and the Hive where they’d be less likely to social distance.

“I think South Laguna is going to get hammered if we close our beaches,” Whalen said. “I’d rather spread them out on the beaches and monitor the downtown.”

Orange County controls beaches in South Laguna and hasn’t ordered the closure of that coastline.

Whalen ultimately reversed course and voted alongside fellow councilmembers.

“There’s not an easy answer on this one,” he said. “Am I a hundred percent sure I’m right? No.

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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