Orange County Supervisors fiercely debated adopting beach reopening guidelines on Tuesday, just as a showdown between some Supervisors and Gov. Gavin Newsom has been unfolding over the past week over beach closures during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
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Newsom’s OC beach closures, first announced last Thursday, brought out protestors in San Clemente and Huntington beach, while also drawing criticism from some OC officials.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett proposed a plan Tuesday to work with beach cities to form somewhat uniform rules on all OC beaches, which could include some “active use” policies like Laguna Beach. Active use is for exercising only.
The plans are being drafted by county staff and will be sent to Sacramento for approval.
“We all want to open up our beaches as quickly as possible and with the active recreation it provides a high level of health and safety,” Bartlett said.
But Supervisors Michelle Steel and Don Wagner criticized their colleagues, warning that the County should instead stand and fight Newsom’s beach closures, which only applied to Orange County.
Wagner criticized Newsom’s beach closure, arguing the County shouldn’t be submitting the beach reopening plans to the state.
He also argued Newsom’s beach closures violate the California Constitution.
“The next time [Newsom’s] whims want to single out Orange County, ‘Sorry, we’ll just follow and do what you want.’ That isn’t American,” Wagner said. “No other county is required to do what this governor, in his arbitrary and capricious exercise of power has asked us to submit to.”
Supervisor Andrew Do said county officials should be following Newsom’s orders and working with him, instead of fighting back.
“The view that somehow the law is only legitimate if it agrees with our political view has a corrosive effect on democracy,” Do said during Tuesday’s Board meeting. “I for one will not be a part of that. So in my mind, there is no ambiguity as to the strength and the legitimacy of the governor’s power. We must follow state law and I will do so until a court tells me otherwise.”
Do said he wanted to get some type of uniform rules for all OC beaches, following San Clemente and Laguna Beach’s active-use beach policies.
The beach reopening plans passed on a 3-2 vote, with Steel and Wagner dissenting.
Meanwhile, the virus has killed 61 people out of 2,873 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, according to update counts from County officials. There’s also 202 people hospitalized, including 62 in intensive care units. There’s also been just under 40,000 tests conducted in the County, which is home to over 3.1 million people.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Steel was severely critical of Newsom.
“People cannot go to the beaches because the governor singled out Orange County” and closed the beaches, Steel said.
But Bartlett said other counties are also drafting up and sending beach reopening plans. Some plans, like Laguna Beach’s active use plan, have already been approved by Sacramento, Bartlett said.
“To clarify, other counties have been submitting active recreation plans to the governor. Ventura County, San Diego County,” Bartlett said.
Supervisor Doug Chafee, along with Bartlett and Do, also called for a uniform set of beach rules throughout the County.
“The concept of fighting this further, I have trouble with that. Because we need to work with the governor on a lot of things,” Chaffee said. “I don’t want to fight, I want to work together. Because there are all these other things at stake here.”
Wagner didn’t agree.
“This is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing as a government. This is exactly what we should be standing up against,” Wagner said.
“This is an absolute mess and no way to do policy,” Wagner said.
Supervisors had to vote on the plans twice — both times it passed on the same 3-2 vote — because of confusion on the dais.
Although CEO Frank Kim said he and his staff were pretty clear on what to do after further clarification and debate from Supervisors.
“Supervisor Wagner, there is no mess,” Bartlett said.
Chaffee said the motives behind the battle against the state “strikes me as a political reason.”
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 email@example.com or on Twitter @sonyanews.