California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the closure of Orange County beaches after crowds packed the waterfront there during a heat wave last weekend.
Calling it a “temporary pause,” Newsom told reporters the beaches may reopen very quickly “if we can get some framework and guidelines to get this right.”
Asked about a law enforcement memo that was widely disseminated earlier that said the governor intended to order the closure of all state beaches and parks starting Friday, Newsom said he never saw it.
“That memo never got to me,” Newsom said.
“We just want to focus on where there’s a problem … in a smart, strategic way,” Newsom said. “We don’t want to be heavy-handed about these things.”
The governor said at a news conference Wednesday that of about 100 beaches along the state’s coastline, about 5% saw large crowds. Orange County and Ventura County beaches were packed with people seeking relief from the heat.
Newport Beach in Orange County saw about 90,000 beachgoers last weekend despite the urging of officials to follow the state’s stay-home order. On Tuesday, Newport Beach’s City Council voted to keep its beaches open, with additional enforcement of physical distancing.
Orange County officials blamed “misleading photographs” for Newsom’s decision, saying a telephoto lens made it look like there were more people on the beach than there were in reality.
“The photographs I saw, quite honestly are a stark contrast to what I believe the governor is acting on,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said, adding “I have no desire to enforce any aspect of that through arrest.”
Michelle Steele, a county supervisor, said closing the beaches is “a clear example of unnecessary government overreach.”
Newsom’s “actions are arbitrary and capricious and is an act of retribution against Orange County,” she said. “This is not acceptable and there is no rational basis for this action.”
The order was announced on the day Orange County reported 145 new cases of Covid-19, its largest one-day tally. There have been a total of 2,393 cases in the county, with 45 deaths, according to data from OC Health.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner acknowledged Newsom has the authority to shutter the state’s beaches, but called the decision “not wise.”
“Medical professionals tell us the importance of fresh air and sunlight in fighting infectious diseases, including mental health benefits,” he wrote.
“Moreover, Orange County citizens have been cooperative with California state and county restrictions thus far. I fear that this overreaction from the state will undermine that cooperative attitude and our collective efforts to fight the disease, based on the best available medical information.”
State Sen. John Moorlach, whose district includes part of Orange County, criticized the order, saying Newsom “just doesn’t seem to get it.”
“The County hasn’t seen the ‘surge’ in its hospitals, and six weeks into this shelter-in-place order, the beach may be the best medicine,” Moorlach said in a statement.
Though authorities in those counties reported that beachgoers largely observed social distancing rules, Newsom chastised beachgoers and warned that defying the state’s stay at home order could delay its reopening.
“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off. This virus doesn’t go home. We have to manage and augment our behavior,” Newsom said Monday. “The only thing that will set us back is people stopping practicing physical distancing.”
The state announced a plan Tuesday to phase in reopening, though the state is not rushing back to normalcy. Newsom said the state is now in the first stage, staying home, and opening retail businesses and schools is still “weeks away.”