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Gov. Gavin Newsom’s beach shutdown order on Thursday triggered a variety of opinions from Orange County lawmakers, with Republican officials like County Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel, Supervisor Don Wagner and State Senator John Moorlach strongly condemning his “hard close.”
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Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda also called on Newsom to rethink the move.
“We’re going to do a hard close in that part of the state. Just in the Orange County area,” Newsom said during a Thursday news conference. “The images we saw … were disturbing.”
As of Thursday, the virus has killed 45 people out of 2,393 confirmed cases. According to state data, there’s about 211 people hospitalized with about 76 in intensive care. There’s also been 31,534 people tested throughout the county, which is home to over 3.1 million people.
Orange County Supervisor Chairwoman Michelle Steel issued the strongest statements against Newsom’s move, calling the order an “overreaction and abuse of power.”
“We should be rewarding our communities for practicing safe social distancing and not punishing them by only closing down Orange County beaches. This is unacceptable,” Steel said at a Thursday news conference.
She also said county efforts to slow the virus spread have been effective in helping reduce the impact to local hospitals.
“Orange County has been successful in flattening the curve,” Steel said. “Hospitalizations remain stable. Our highest priority is public health and public safety and I’ve maintained that large part of that includes our mental and physical well being which includes getting fresh air and exercise.”
Since April 1, hospitalizations increased from 117 to 211 people Wednesday, according to state data.
State Sen. Tom Umberg (D-Santa Ana) said the virus’ impact on hospitals hasn’t been reduced.
“You look at the county’s own website and I don’t know what Michelle Steel’s talking about when she said we’re flattening the curve. This is the least flat curve I’ve ever seen,” Umberg said in a Thursday interview.
“I think the best course of action is to rely on public health officials and I don’t think public health officials advocate open beaches,” Umberg said.
During Thursday’s news conference, Supervisor Don Wagner took a less-combative approach than Steel in his reaction to Newsom’s beach shutdown order but was still firmly against Newsom’s action.
“I worry that by making policy for one county based on a couple of photographs and not listening to science, the Governor will undermine all of the good work that has been done in this county and in the state,” Wagner said. “A clock that strikes 13 is not only wrong, but it calls into question everything that clock has done before.”
“I urge the governor not to single out Orange County,” Wagner said.
Beach closures begin Friday and there’s no word on when the order will be lifted.
Congressman Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) issued a statement Thursday calling for a better plan than to shut down OC beaches.
“We need to develop a common-sense plan that prioritizes local residents’ physical and mental health — not indefinitely shut-down our beaches. The sacrifice and service of Orange County residents cannot continue endlessly; we must find safe and sustainable ways to adjust to a ‘new normal’ in the weeks and months to come,” Rouda said.
Rouda will face Steel at the ballot box in the November General Election.
The Congressman said Laguna Beach’s coastline policy should be looked at by county officials.
Councilmembers in that city approved reopening its beaches for “active use” during the weekdays only, from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. That means people can exercise, swim and surf, but can’t lounge on the sand and sunbathe. Basically, no beach bumming.
State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said the beaches should’ve stayed open.
“We need to trust people. If our citizens exercise proper social distancing, then we should allow access to the beaches. If you’re part of a vulnerable group, shame on you for going to the beach,” Moorlach said in a Thursday statement.
“Indeed, we allow shoppers to go to the grocery store with proper social distancing. Why not the beaches?”
And the Orange County Republican party also condemned the beach closures Thursday.
“Every local law enforcement entity found last weekend’s beach usage in Orange County to be in compliance with social distancing. Yet King Gavin decided press stories were more worthy of trust than law enforcement. I guess we should not be surprised,” read a statement from OC GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker.
Rouda warned against political divisions during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, this discussion has become political and polarizing with two extremes defining the debate — reopen everything immediately or continue the lock down without an end in sight. Orange County residents, regardless of their political party, want their neighborhoods to remain safe and accessible. Most Americans are between the 20-yard lines, and I firmly believe there is a way to use common sense to find common ground,” Rouda said.
Meanwhile, OC Sheriff Don Barnes said enforcing the beach closure is tricky, especially because officials didn’t have the written order Thursday afternoon.
Barnes said sheriff deputies will be looking for “voluntary compliance” on the beach closures, like they do with the existing stay home orders that shut down non-essential businesses like bars, nightclubs, concert halls, sports arenas and movie theaters.
“My responsibility, as the County Sheriff, is to protect lives and property and also while preserving the Constitutional rights of the residents of Orange County. And in that, there’s a balancing test,” Barnes said at the Thursday news conference.
He said the department will focus on educating residents about the beach closures in a light-handed approach to enforcement.
“From an enforcement component, I have no desire to enforce any aspect of that through arrest. We have various other aspects we are dealing with going forward.”
Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County from county data:
Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sonyanews.