OC Will Ask State to OK Active Recreation on County-Owned Beaches

An Orange County lifeguard tower at Aliso Beach. Photo by Jody Tiongco

Orange County will follow the lead of Laguna Beach and San Clemente and submit a plan to state officials that could clear the way for a limited reopening of county-controlled beaches for active recreation.

The Board of Supervisors approved the proposal by Supervisor Lisa Bartlett on a 3-2 vote on Tuesday with Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner voting no.

“It’s about respecting our local cities and getting a plan in place that makes sense,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett was joined by Supervisors Doug Chaffee and Andrew Do in directing county staffers to work with state agencies on reopening county-owned beaches.

The county’s plan will mimic the state-approved plan implemented by Laguna Beach today, which permits surfing, swimming, walking, and other active uses of the ocean and sand from 6 to 10 a.m. from Monday to Friday. Sunbathing and lounging will not be allowed under the county proposal.

If approved by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Serves and the California Natural Resources Agency, county officials’ beach management plan would open beaches from Aliso Beach to Thousand Steps Beach. No timeline for a beach opening date was provided but state officials approved Laguna Beach’s plan within a few days of receiving it.

Chaffee said he was supporting Bartlett’s proposal because it opens natural resources to Orange County residents. If the county contested the Governor’s order, it would only prolong the closure until a court ruling, he said.

“I don’t want to deprive our residents of what we can get today,” Chaffee said.

Councilmember Toni Iseman said in a phone interview Tuesday that she appreciated Bartlett’s intention of creating uniform rules among south county beaches.

“There are so many people who haven’t seen the impact of the influx of people going to the county beach,” Iseman said. “It’s a huge impact for residents so I’m very grateful that she’s seen this.”

A couple of weeks ago, Laguna Beach grappled with the public safety, parking, and traffic impacts of hundreds of beachgoers descending on South Laguna beaches.

Wagner repeatedly proclaimed the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s temporary closure of Orange County’s coastline as a breach of Californians’ constitutional right to access the beach and an amounted to unfair treatment of 3.2 million Orange County residents.

“No other county is required to do what this governor in his arbitrary and capricious power has told us to submit to,” Wagner said.

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