The Newport Beach City Council Tuesday rejected an emergency motion to shut down its beaches for the next three weekends, despite a scolding from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The council voted 5-2 against shutting down the beaches, with Councilwoman Joy Brenner and Councilman Jeff Herdman in the minority.
Instead, the city will close the parking lots to the beaches and have directed police to beef up patrols to enforce social distancing. Also, popular spots such as the Oceanfront Boardwalk, Newport and Balboa piers and the Wedge will remain closed.
Newport Beach City Councilman Kevin Muldoon led the effort to fend off the proposed ordinance, arguing that the state should be looking to relaxing quarantine conditions before more damage is done to the economy.
“I know businesses in Newport Beach that will never open again,” Muldoon said. “Scare tactics are not the solution … This is America and people have the right to free movement.”
Brenner proposed allowing access to the beaches, but only if it involved active uses like jogging and walking with no sunbathing.
Brenner’s motion initially won support from Herdman, but he changed his mind when he heard Police Department Chief Jon Lewis and City Manager Grace Leung said they thought it would be difficult to enforce.
“There are some real concerns for us,” Lewis said. “How do we define what is active?”
Brenner said she didn’t see the beaches as the problem.
“The problem is I’m not convinced the measures we’re going to take will do the job, and I’m really concerned about the manpower it will take from our public officials,” Brenner said.
Brenner said by leaving the city’s beaches open while so many others in the Southland are closed means “we have a sign out, welcome you all. Come down to Newport Beach.”
Said Herdman: “A day at the beach is not essential right now. … The beaches themselves are not so much the problem here. It’s the convergence of people on our city and what happens in their getting to the beach that is the issue here.”
Herdman said he visited the beaches on Friday and Saturday, but received so many emails from constituents that he spent Sunday replying to them.
“There was just one violation after another with people not being in compliance with social distancing,” Herdman said. “If everyone in this state and our cities were cooperating with the governor and staying at home we could bring this quarantine to an end.
“People are supposed to be sheltering at home and 40,000 people did not do that this past weekend.”
Herdman argued that closing the beaches for a few weekends would save the city a great deal of expense on staff costs and resources.
“Most importantly, we don’t place a lot of our staff in jeopardy,” he said.
Muldoon argued that news reports about the size of the crowds and lack of social distancing were inaccurate.
The move to close Newport Beach’s shorelines came as soaring temperatures encouraged throngs of beachgoers to converge in that city and Huntington Beach this past weekend.
Options for beachgoers have shriveled as Los Angeles and San Diego counties and Laguna Beach closed off shoreline access.
At his Monday’s daily briefing, Newsom repeatedly criticized the large crowds at Orange County’s beaches and warned that large gatherings would slow the state’s efforts to reopen businesses and relax stay-at-home orders.
“Those images are an example of what not to see … what not to do if we’re going to make the meaningful progress that we’ve made in the last few weeks extend into the next number of weeks,” Newsom said.
“The reality is we are just a few weeks away, not months away, from making measurable and meaningful changes to our stay-at-home order.
“That is a very optimistic point to emphasize, however, that’s driven by data. That’s driven by behavior. And as we change our behavior we can impact the science, the health and the data. This virus doesn’t take the weekends off. This virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts.”
If Newport Beach had closed the city’s beaches, it could have had a domino effect on Huntington Beach.
“If Newport Beach closes all of its beaches and that crowd decides to come here we’ll have to make some serious decisions to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Huntington Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Eric McCoy.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett was concerned that a shutdown of beaches in north county would spur beachgoers into the beaches in Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel told reporters Monday afternoon that she thought beachgoers were “properly social distancing … In the city of Huntington Beach people who came to the beach kept their distance from each other.”
“It’s important to take care of our mental health as well. We want our neighbors to get exercise. This plays a big role in mental health, which is why we encourage our residents to safely spend time outside. Their local beaches are an ideal place to do so.”
OC Parks Director Stacy Blackwood said the county controls 16% of the shoreline.
Blackwood said the turnout was “pretty typical of what we see in summer weekends.” She estimated it at about 6,000 people during peak hours across the major beaches.
Dr. Nichole Quick, the county’s health officer, said, “We encourage residents to recreate in their general neighborhood… Mass gatherings are not allowed under the governor’s orders.”
Quick encouraged family outings, but added, “If you need a car to reach a place to recreate then you’re going too far.”
Laguna Beach last month voted to close its beaches. The county has also closed parking lots to the beaches in an attempt to help curtail crowds, but it has caused parking problems in some neighborhoods around the beaches, Laguna Beach Police Department Sgt. Jim Cota said.
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