Mounting criticism over California governor's plan to close beaches

There is mounting criticism to California Gov. Gavin Newsom's pending order to close all beaches and state parks closed starting Friday after people thronged the seashore last weekend despite his social distancing order that aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In Humboldt County, for example, Sheriff William Honsal indicated he wouldn’t enforce Newsom’s order to close beaches and state parks. “It is not OK to punish Northern California for Southern California’s mistake, and I hope he hears that loud and clear,” Honsal said in a statement Thursday.

In sparsely populated Modoc County, near Oregon, schools, hair salons, churches, restaurants, the county’s only movie theater and other business will reopen Friday as long as people stay six feet apart, said Ned Coe, a cattle rancher and county supervisor.

Newsom is expected to formally announce the order on Thursday.

Eric Nuñez, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said a memo was sent to the group’s members Wednesday so they have time to plan ahead of Newsom’s expected announcement Thursday.

A message to the governor’s office seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned. The memo was first reported by the Los Angeles TV station Fox 11.

While most state parks and many local beaches, trails and parks have been closed for weeks, Newsom’s order is sure to ignite pushback from community leaders who argue they can safely provide some relief to residents.

“It’s time to move on,” Huntington Beach resident Jim Puro, 59, said Thursday. “We need to start opening up and I can’t think of a better way than to be out in the sun.”

The beaches are expansive, he argued. “There is more than enough space for people to socially distance themselves,” he said.

Six San Francisco Bay Area counties that imposed the first broad stay-at-home orders in the state loosened them slightly Wednesday to allow for landscaping, construction and other outdoor businesses.

And in what could be a critical addition for many parents, the counties will allow summer camps to open, but only if kids stay in small groups and their parents are considered to hold essential jobs under the state order, such as health care workers.

In Riverside County, authorities said its local order will end Thursday and be replaced by less-restrictive measures. Trails and parks will be open for hiking, biking and horseback riding as long as visitors wear masks.

Health officials, however, warn that more mingling also brings the potential for more infection and the government should tread gingerly when easing restrictions.

Last weekend, some 80,000 people flocked to Newport Beach, south of Los Angeles, with additional thousands gathering at open beaches northwest of Los Angeles. Beaches in Los Angeles County remained closed. The city of San Diego reopened its beaches Monday, but most coastal communities in San Diego County kept their beaches closed.

Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis and Fire Chief Jeff Boyles said in a statement Thursday that they were out patrolling last weekend and most city residents and visitors were keeping their distance.

“What we observed from land and by air was the vast majority of beach goers practicing social distancing,” the statement said.

An Orange County supervisor, Donald P. Wagner, said he believes Newsom has the power to close local beaches but “it is not wise to do so.”

Lifeguards said most people appeared to be heeding social distance safety rules. But the crowds irked Newsom, who has said California’s 40 million residents should try to stay home as much as possible.

“This virus doesn’t take the weekends off, this virus doesn’t go home because it’s a beautiful sunny day around our coasts,” he said Monday.

California is approaching 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 2,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, although the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. However, hospitalizations have been virtually flat for several weeks.

Newsom reiterated Wednesday it would be weeks before he makes the first significant modification to the state order. “It won’t be on the basis of pressure, it won’t be on the basis of what we want, but what we need to do,” Newsom said.


Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Beam reported from Sacramento. Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez, Janie Har and Juliet Williams in San Francisco contributed reporting.