Norberto Santana, Jr.

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California Governor Gavin Newsom stoked a political firestorm here in Orange County when he singled out the area for bad beach behavior and called for all beaches to be shut down, starting this past weekend in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Newsom’s action triggered a series of street protests and emergency meetings from Orange County coastal city leaders last week, scrambling to figure out whether they would fight or how they would help enforce the governor’s action.

The cities of Huntington Beach and Dana Point joined efforts to oppose the governors’ beach closings in court. 

Orange County Superior Court Judge Nathan R. Scott is expected to hear arguments in that case next Monday, May 11. 

Over the weekend, the City of Newport Beach voted to file legal briefs supporting the neighboring cities but didn’t outright join the lawsuit. 

The City of San Clemente came out of their Friday night special meeting saying they would remain watchful but didn’t take any official action.

Orange County supervisors have largely been resistant to enacting hard closures on local beaches and parks.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett unsuccessfully tried to convince her colleagues to close the beaches last week, correctly predicting large crowds and challenges enforcing social distancing guidelines. 

It’s unclear whether county supervisors would fight Sacramento in court or join local cities’ efforts like Newport Beach did.

Supervisor Don Wagner has become a leading voice on the board of supervisors on the issue, arguing that the governor has the authority to take action.

County supervisors are expected to discuss the issue this week during their regularly scheduled public meeting on Tuesday. 

Orange County’s Republican Party is already firing back at Newsom’s Orange County beach closure effort. 

“We are greatly angered that Governor Newsom decided to close all beaches and hiking trails starting this Friday. It is a complete slap in the face to local control and has nothing to do with health,” said Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker in a press statement. 

“The Orange County Board of Supervisors and local city councils are the best to determine the status of public areas such as beaches and hiking trails. These local bodies looked at the data, consulted with health experts, and more important their constituents before deciding to keep our beaches open.

Every local law enforcement entity found last weekend’s beach usage in Orange County to be in compliance with social distancing,” Whitaker wrote. 

“Yet King Gavin decided press stories were more worthy of trust than law enforcement. I guess we should not be surprised.

It has been a long six weeks since the Governor issued his original stay at home order. Orange County and California residents cooperated and flattened the curve. His actions are arrogant and unnecessary.”

Orange County’s Democratic Party backed Newsom. 

“Governor Gavin Newsom closed Orange County’s jam-packed beaches for good reason, to help save lives,” said Orange County Democratic Party Chairwoman Ada Briceño. “Other California metropolitan counties are doing far more than Orange County to expand tests, protect essential workers, and minimize crowds.

Our first responders are putting themselves in danger to keep us safe. COVID-19 should not be a partisan issue. We urge everyone, regardless of political party, to use common sense, stay home, and help stop COVID-19.”

In her statement, Briceño noted that “Orange County’s COVID-19 hospitalizations surged 80% over the past four weeks, and it has the fourth-highest number of hospitalizations among all California counties.”

Briceño took aim at county supervisors, highlighting that “Orange County has consistently lagged behind Los Angeles County and San Diego County in COVID-19 testing, homelessness services, and protections for essential workers.

Until April 21, Orange County was the sole county jurisdiction in Southern California not to issue a mandatory countywide face mask order, until pressure by the Democratic Party of Orange County and a bipartisan petition and public pressure campaign led by Ocean View School District President Gina Clayton-Tarvin spurred the Board to approve face masks in a more limited use than surrounding counties,” Briceño wrote.

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