Less than a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the closure of all Orange County beaches to stem the spread of the coronavirus, state officials have announced that three beach cities will be permitted to reopen their stretches of coastline this week with certain limitations.
Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach submitted plans to Sacramento that would allow the public to immediately access the coastline for active recreation only. The plans, approved Tuesday, include a range of measures to avoid overcrowding and allow safe physical distancing, according to the California Natural Resources Agency.
Under Huntington Beach's plan, people are now permitted to use the beach from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. with the stipulation that they remain active. Sunbathing is not allowed. Parking meters along Pacific Coast Highway and the beach's bike path are available for use, but the pier and the city's beach parking lot will remain closed.
"We’re delighted to be reopening our beaches for active recreation, which will allow our community to once again enjoy the recreational and mental health benefits from spending time in the Pacific Ocean," Mayor Lyn Semeta said in a prepared statement. "The new active recreation rules that we’re instituting will allow for continued beach access in a manner that emphasizes the need to practice safe social distancing."
Seal Beach's coastline will be open — beginning Monday — for limited hours Monday through Thursday with the requirement that visitors remain active while on the sand.
Officials in Dana Point said their beaches will also only be open to walking, running and recreational uses like swimming and surfing. No gatherings will be permitted, but the public can still access the city's tide pools.
Dana Point City Manager Mike Killebrew said in a statement that he hopes "everyone understands how important it is that we all follow new guidelines that will promote socially responsible recreation and enjoyment by the public."
"We know how important our beaches are to the residents of Dana Point. And we know how much residents value, especially now, access to our beautiful coastline," he said.
State-operated beaches within the Huntington Beach and Dana Point city limits also reopened with the same active-recreation protocols, city officials said.
The move came a day after similar plans for Laguna Beach and San Clemente were approved by the state.
The only coastal city that has not yet gained approval from the state to reopen is Newport Beach. The city, just a few miles south of Huntington Beach, also submitted a plan to Sacramento on Saturday to safely reopen their coastline, said city spokesman John Pope.
"We have been closely coordinating with Huntington Beach about strategies to enhance the management of our beaches," Pope said. "Despite repeated attempts by city staff to connect with state officials, we have not yet received any information on an approval or modifications, or when a decision might be made."
Newsom last week ordered a “hard close” of all Orange County beaches. The order came after an April heat wave sent thousands to the sand in some beach communities. Newsom called the images circulating of people congregating on Orange County’s shores “disturbing.”
The closure prompted a legal showdown between cities and the state, as well as outrage from the public. Some argued that the governor was targeting Orange County based on photographs that did not show the full scope of what was happening on the beaches.
Newsom on Tuesday praised local leaders in Orange County beach cities for working with his administration to reach an agreement. Just days ago, city leaders in Huntington Beach and Dana Point voted to take legal action against the governor.
Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates said the city is continuing to move forward with its request for an injunction against the governor's order despite the beaches being allowed to reopen.
Newsom said his administration has been negotiating with the beach cities since the weekend and said he hoped to make a future announcement about beach access in Orange County soon.
“It's a spirit of collaboration and cooperation that is necessary as we move forward,” Newsom said during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Sacramento.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to submit a plan to the state that would allow county-operated beaches to reopen for active recreation.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who proposed the item, said it would help put county beaches in line with what was happening in nearby cities and allow people to get out and recreate along the coast.
"We want people to walk and jog and run and enjoy water sports but to keep moving," she said, "and the state is fully behind that."
Supervisor Don Wagner opposed the motion, along with Supervisor Michelle Steel, saying any restrictions on beach activity were arbitrary and that it was appalling that the county would bow to rules the governor put in place without input from local officials.
"This is exactly what we shouldn't be doing as a government," Wagner said.
Staff writer Luke Money contributed to this report.