State OKs Active Recreation at OC Beaches

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Community members walk on the sand at Main Beach on Wednesday morning after a weeks-long closure by city leaders. Photo by Steve Zepezauer

All beaches along Laguna Beach’s seven-mile coastline will be open for active recreation on weekday mornings starting Monday.

A letter sent Thursday to county leaders by Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, cleared the way for county-owned beaches to reopen from 6 to 10 a.m. Monday to Friday. 

Orange County announced Tuesday that it would follow the lead of Laguna Beach and San Clemente and submit a plan to state officials that could clear the way for surfing, swimming, walking, and other recreational uses of county-controlled beaches.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved Supervisor Lisa Bartlett’s proposal for a limited beach reopening Tuesday on a 3-2 vote with Chairwoman Michelle Steel and Supervisor Don Wagner voting no. Bartlett said in a statement Thursday that she was very pleased with successful collaboration of state, county, and local officials.

“This phased approach allows us to reopen our beaches in a prudent, responsible manner that prioritizes public health and safety, while recognizing the importance of outdoor recreation,” Bartlett said. “We want Orange County residents to get back to fully enjoying their beaches as safely and quickly as possible.”

Beachgoers still won’t be able to sunbathe, sit on towels or beach chairs, build sandcastles, use of fire rings, or barbecue. Volleyball and other high-touch group sports are also still prohibited on county-controlled beaches.

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

Chaffee said Tuesday that 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 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.

Laguna Beach residents were able to enjoy the sand and surf on city beaches for the first time on Tuesday. Ghilarducci and Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, sent letters to Laguna and San Clemente city officials on Monday, approving active recreation on beaches in their jurisdictions.

“Vigilance will be necessary to support successful implementation and prevent unsafe conditions,” Ghilarducci wrote.

State officials’ course correction arrived after lobbying by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), according to a city press release.

“Our beaches are a respite for many of us – and provide our community with an invaluable outlet for outdoor recreation and mental health,” Petrie-Norris said in a prepared statement Monday. “This progressive plan will re-open Laguna beaches in the most responsible way, ensuring public safety and a continued flattening of the curve.”

Petrie-Norris said in a phone interview Monday that she doubts the governor was aware of Laguna Beach’s city-specific plan to allow active use of its beaches at the time he announced his countywide beach closure last week. Last week, Petrie-Norris’ office and Whalen reached out to the Secretary of the Natural Resources Resources Agency to seek approval of the plan outlined by Laguna Beach Marine Safety.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he holds this up as a model for other areas of the state as they look at reopening [beaches],” Petrie-Norris said.

Her prediction appeared to be coming true by Thursday.

When asked if state officials’ approval of limited beach reopening was influenced by recent protests at Orange County beaches, Petrie-Norris said the Governor’s team, Whalen, and she were clear from the pandemic’s start that they’ll be led by science and facts, not by politics and fear.

“I know for a fact that the governor is not going to be persuaded by political pressure,” she said. “Pragmatic solutions might not be sexy or buy you column inches but that’s what we need.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. When is someone going to write about the respective (and respected) lifeguard services now pushed to the fray’s forefront, the beach access interface?
    Seems to me that MSM have blanket-covered every aspect of this pandemic but failed to acknowledge the bravery by lifeguards here in Laguna & SOC.
    They’ve been forced into their role, carelessly conscripted by City Manager fiat, have no martial arts/physical hand-to-hand combat training, no disabling weapons. Did the CM even bother to ask the Chief of Police if back-up shouldn’t be right there, not by radio dispatch AFTER THE FACT?
    Touring these past 4 days since our partial re-opening, I don’t see a police presence when it’s obvious that 1 uniformed cop per beach section would help our guards, who’re definitely in potential harm’s way. Police officers have been equipped, trained for and expect such hazardous tasks.
    More like work for PRISON guards, not LIFE guards.
    The protestors and scofflaws might get physical, and we shouldn’t expect our positive image service to become vulnerable, jeopardized targets of abuse or referees outside of their comfort zones, training and skill sets.
    A highly contagious virus and City Hall shoved our lifeguards to the front lines where they become more exposed, more vulnerable to acquiring the disease, jeopardizing the health of not just themselves but THEIR friends and families when they never signed up for this—and/or maybe they get into a fight with hoaxers, kooks and self-proclaimed freedom fighters claiming rights, cowardly people hiding behind the flag, people who I’m positive never raised their hands to offer up their lives for their city, their county or their country but wrap themselves in Old Glory.
    “Sunshine soldiers and summer patriots.”

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