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Eight protestors were arrested by the Orange County Sheriffs Department in San Clemente this morning after attempting to kick through fencing at the beach.
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According to a press release from the sheriffs, those arrested were brought in on a variety of charges including trespassing and failure to disperse.
The fences were put in place around the Pier Bowl beach parking lots shortly after Gov. Newsom’s stay at home orders and his temporary closure of all Orange County beaches at the direction of city staff.
San Clemente residents have argued against them in emails to the city council and during public comment for weeks, describing them as an “eyesore.”
The protest of over 100 people was organized by Alan Hostetter, who participated in previous protests in Huntington Beach and San Clemente and is a former La Habra police chief.
Hostetter posted several videos through the morning of the protest, taking aim at Interim City Manager Robert Dunek’s decisions at the beach and other decisions made in response to Gov. Newsom’s stay at home orders.
“We’re in a crisis of leadership right now in the city of San Clemente,” Hostetter said to a crowd of a couple dozen protestors. “They took Gavin Newsom’s lockdown order and they injected steroids into it.”
Hostetter was one of the protestors arrested and had the most charges, including trespassing, inciting a riot, destruction of city property and resisting arrest.
The Orange County District Attorney has not officially charged the protestors. According to spokesperson Kimberly Edds, the DA has not received the cases yet.
OC Sheriff Don Barnes issued a statement on Twitter this morning, informing protestors that if they followed through with breaking through the fence they would be arrested but that they were free to peacefully protest.
“We always have and always will protect First Amendment rights,” Barnes said. “That does not entitle individuals to commit other violations of law.”
OC Sheriff’s spokesperson Carrie Braun said that officers shut down the streets surrounding the parking lot temporarily as a crime scene after the arrests were made, and that most of the protestors had dispersed as of noon.
Braun was unable to confirm whether or not there was any damage to the fences.
“I know they were attempting to disassemble the fences I’m not sure if that caused any damage,” Braun said.
Braun was unable to confirm how many officers responded to the protest, but said there were motorcycle officers and a sheriff response team.
In a phone call with Voice of OC, County Supervisor Don Wagner said he understood the protestor’s frustrations, but that they still needed to act within the law.
“The sheriffs have been good and light handed on their enforcement, but we can’t allow for destruction of property,” Wagner said.
In a call Thursday morning, Councilwoman Laura Ferguson argued strongly against the fencing measure, but said that it was within the city manager’s purview under his emergency powers.
Under those powers, city staff are able to make expenditures of up to $50,000 without going to the city council for permission, according to Ferguson.
In an email to Ferguson this morning, Dunek said that the council had not provided guidance with multiple stalled votes on what change they wanted to see at the beaches, and had directed staff to return with a plan by their next meeting on June 2.
“Based on all of the actions of the City Council, it is clear to me that my authority to modify the beach parking plan was pre-empted by both failed motions and an affirmative direction by the City Council to submit a plan for your consideration on June 2,” Dunek said in an email to Ferguson.
“I respectfully submit that I cannot override or fail to follow the affirmative direction of the City Council on May 19th.”
Ferguson responded by saying that the decision to put up the fencing was never made by the council, and that decision was made by Dunek.
“This was installed by a fencing company at YOUR direction, without input or authorization by City Council. YOU have the authority as the one who directed the fencing be installed, to direct the removal of the fencing. This was NEVER a council directive to install fencing,” Ferguson wrote.
Dunek did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“It’s complete government overreach right here in our little beach town,” Ferguson said. “They could’ve had the fences removed yesterday, this is on the city manager. Instead, he’s allowed the situation to escalate.”
Ferugson also said that Dunek’s decision to leave the beaches closed completely ignored the will of the public.
“I’ve not received one email that says leave that fencing up,” Ferguson said. “ It’s our job to listen to the voice of the people. I don’t want to see anyone arrested for such a nonessential matter.”
Ferguson has had other previous disagreements with Dunek, including an argument over the city council’s right to meet in their chambers earlier this week.
The Council discussed ending or modifying the city’s state of emergency on Tuesday night, when Councilman Gene James put forward a motion to end the city’s local emergency, but city attorney Scott Smith said they would have to have a written resolution before they could vote on it.
“I have nothing against Dr. Dunek but I don’t want an executive in city government with that much power,” James said.
James and Ferguson voted to agendize a resolution ending the local emergency, and the council is set to vote on it at their next meeting on June 2.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.