Two Orange County cities can reopen beaches with new plans

Two Orange County cities can start reopening their beaches Monday after they submitted plans to avoid overcrowding and allow for physical distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, state officials said.

The cities of Laguna Beach and San Clemente both submitted plans to reopen their beaches that adhere to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order, the California Natural Resources Agency said in a statement. Laguna Beach will only allow active recreation, which means jogging, surfing and swimming are fine but lying in the sun and bringing a cooler aren’t, according to a copy of the city’s plan.

The city will also initially open the beaches only on weekday mornings with plans to expand access over time.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, who has worked with local leaders on the beach issue, said she believes similar proposals could also work in other communities.

“The specifics may differ, but I think that the bottom line is most of us agree that opening our beaches for walking, for running, for surfing, for getting outside makes a ton of sense, and that it does not make a ton of sense for us to attract sunbathers from 100 miles away and have crowds on the beach at all hours,” she said.

Newsom ordered all beaches in Orange County closed last week after newspaper photos showed large crowds at some beaches over the previous weekend. The city of Huntington Beach filed a lawsuit trying to get its beach reopened, but a judge refused to block the state’s order and set another hearing on the issue for next week.

Some residents have supported Newsom’s move and said out-of-towners had descended upon their communities as Los Angeles County shut down its beaches, making it difficult to get through congested streets while keeping safe distancing. But many have opposed, arguing the beach is the place where they can most readily get exercise and fresh air, which are also vital for their health and well-being.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Messages were sent to the city of San Clemente seeking additional details of their plan.

Orange County Executive Officer Frank Kim said the state is working with cities on plans to reopen beaches. He said the county’s supervisors would discuss whether to submit a plan to the state for county beaches at a meeting on Tuesday.

Laguna Beach isn’t the first community to move toward allowing only active recreation on its beaches. In neighboring San Diego County, residents can walk or jog on beaches but can’t sit and linger.

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