UPDATED: Orange County Closes Beach Parking Lots to Stem Coronavirus

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Orange County lifeguards stand watch at Aliso Beach. Photo by Jody Tiongco

Orange County will close parking lots, restrooms, playgrounds, and other amenities at its beaches Wednesday to discourage the public from driving to the coast and potentially spreading the coronavirus, the county’s chief executive said Tuesday.

After hearing from the Orange County Board of Supervisors, County CEO Frank Kim said he would close county beach parking lots under his authority as director of emergency services. The measure stopped short of closing Orange County’s 42-mile coastline like Los Angeles County and the city of San Diego.

“My recommendation at the very least is I intend to close the parking lots of our beaches,” Kim said.

Kim’s order Tuesday night blocks pedestrian access at Aliso, Thousand Steps, Table Rock, Camel Point, and Treasure Island beaches in South Laguna, according to a county press release. It also closed the parking lots at regional and wilderness parks.

“Passive walk-through pedestrian, cycling and equestrian activity is permitted,” the press release states.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents Laguna Beach and other South County coastal cities, said she was concerned about Orange County being sandwiched between two counties with beach closures, adding that the public would be pushed to congregate on local beaches as the weather warms.

“At this point for public safety in a health crisis we need to lock this down,” she said.

While the County’s latest order is a step in the right direction, Bartlett said in a prepared statement Tuesday night, it does not go to the greatest extent to keep residents safe and healthy.

“I will continue to work with my Board colleagues and County staff to extend this order fully closing our beaches, parks and trails in order to protect our residents from the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

Supervisor Don Wagner said he wasn’t convinced that the County had clearance to act Tuesday under the state’s emergency provisions for public agencies’ meetings under the Brown Act. He was willing to meet Wednesday to further discuss and potentially act on beach and trail closures.

Wagner asked Orange County Health Officer Nichole Quick for her take on closing county beaches as a measure to protect public health.

“We clearly want people to social distance, that being said, we want people to get out and walk their dog,” Quick said.

OC Parks Director Stacy Blackwood said she was told by the Superintendent of State Beaches in Orange County that there is no plan to close beaches under state control, which includes Crystal Cove.

Laguna Beach city beaches and adjacent parks closed Monday and will remain off-limits to the public for at least two weeks, Mayor Bob Whalen said Monday.

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