An Orange County Superior Court judge Friday denied a preliminary injunction request made by Orange County residents and Huntington Beach seeking to lift Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on sunbathing and other passive uses of the county’s beaches.
The residents filed a lawsuit along with Huntington Beach and Dana Point to block Newsom’s closure of the beaches April 30, but since then Dana Point dropped its claim and the coastal cities and the county have agreed to active-use-only compromises on the shore.
Newsom shut down the beaches when news reports showed throngs of beachgoers frolicking in the sun without following social distancing guidelines recommended to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Judge Nathan Scott, who heard arguments on the issues raised in the lawsuits on Monday, handed down a ruling denying the injunctions in both lawsuits.
The city’s lawsuit, which also included the Balboa Bay Club, Pacific City Hotel, Lido House and Lounge Group Inc., differed in that officials argued that as a charter city it had enhanced authority to govern its beaches than general law cities, which go by state laws.
Scott, in essence, said there is no longer a dispute for him to resolve because the active-use plan has led to a reopening of the beaches.
“There is no such closure. The beaches are now open,” Scott wrote in the ruling.
Said Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates: “We are obviously disappointed but a read of the court’s decision makes it clear that the governor’s partial reopening of the beaches created a more `narrowly tailored’ state beaches regulation sufficient to pass constitutional muster. As such, while this ruling wasn’t what we hoped for, clearly the governor’s walking back of his full beach closure immediately after the city filed this lawsuit suggests the city’s efforts to challenge the governor’s full beach closure had some merit.”
Scott called the compromise that led to the reopening of the beaches “commendable.”
Scott also noted that U.S. District Judge James Selna denied an injunction requested in a lawsuit filed by Newport Beach City Councilman Kevin Muldoon, who sued as an individual.
“A federal court has already concluded that reopening Orange County beaches rendered a challenge to the closure order legally moot,” Scott wrote. “The parties here basically resolved their dispute — in fact, the city of Dana Point dismissed its claim last week.”
Scott also brushed aside the city’s claims Newsom could close the beaches again.
“Plaintiffs have not shown the governor is likely to close the beaches again,” Scott wrote.
Scott noted that Huntington Beach officials have pledged to enforce social distancing on its beaches.
“And we live in changing times,” Scott wrote. “The disease is still spreading, but we are discovering more about it and developing our ability to respond.
“Any future order (from the governor) deserves to be evaluated in light of the nature of the emergency at that time.”
Scott said the plaintiffs failed to prove their constitutional rights were violated in the order banning sunbathing on the beaches.
“They have not shown a sufficient likelihood that a narrow restriction on passive beach use during a pandemic is unconstitutional,” Scott wrote.
Scott pointed to legal precedence regarding emergency public health orders during a smallpox outbreak.
“Under this time-honored standard, the governor’s stay-at-home order has repeatedly survived constitutional challenges in federal court,” Scott wrote.
Scott said the legal standard of “statewide concerns” takes precedence over a charter city’s ordinances.
“Fighting a pandemic is a statewide concern,” Scott wrote. “Our Legislature has entrusted the governor with broad statutory authority to handle emergencies at a statewide level.”
The passive-use ban is “reasonably related to abating the pandemic and is `narrowly tailored’ to avoid unnecessary interference in local governance,’ ” Scott wrote.
“The city continues to exercise governance over the beach. At oral argument, the city attorney confirmed the city will keep the beach `Highly regulated, highly controlled,”’ Scott wrote.
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