Gov. Gavin Newsom praised efforts in San Diego to maintain distancing along popular shorelines
San Diegans can continue to swim and recreate at many local beaches despite fears that Gov. Gavin Newsom had planned to restrict shoreline access across the entire state to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Newsom announced on Thursday, April 30, that a state ban on beach activity would apply only to Orange County, where large crowds gathered along the coast last weekend.
“It should be acknowledged, San Diego and L.A. and others have done an outstanding job, and we want to just focus on where there’s a problem,” Newsom said at a news briefing Thursday.
“The conditions last week, the images we saw on a few of our beaches, were disturbing,” he added, referring to reports of crowding at Huntington Beach and other locations.
The announcement comes as San Diego County cautiously loosened restrictions on recreation this week, broadening access to many local parks and beaches.
However, the region will now face a key test as residents enjoy shoreline access for the first weekend since the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life for so many. Los Angeles County continues to keep all of its beaches closed.
Public health officials in San Diego County announced on Thursday 132 new COVID-19 cases and four additional fatalities — bringing the region’s totals to 3,564 confirmed cases and 124 deaths.
As the virus continues to claim lives, officials said beachgoers should remain cautious and only engage in physical activities, such as jogging, walking, swimming and surfing. Loitering, gathering in groups and laying out are strictly prohibited.
Potentially helping the situation, coastal areas are expected to be cloudy this weekend, with daytime highs reaching only into the low 70s, according to the National Weather Service.
“Thank you San Diegans for doing the right thing on our beaches,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said Thursday at a press event. “You’ve been a great example for not only California but the rest of the nation. Our continued success is in your hands. This weekend is going to be an important weekend for us to do the right thing.”
Lifeguards and police officers are expected to cite those in violation. Face coverings are required in public throughout the county starting Friday, May 1.
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit urged residents not to get complacent and specifically asked people to stop congregating at Sunset Cliffs, a popular spot to view bioluminescent phytoplankton visible in the surf.
“You will see quite a robust police presence tonight and throughout the weekend,” Nisleit said.
If San Diegans don’t follow the guidelines, state and county officials have the authority to close the beaches again, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“We cannot lose our focus, and we cannot lose our commitment,” Fletcher said. “Any of the public health modifications that have been made can be dialed back in an instant, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
County officials also announced on Thursday that families living together will be allowed to resume boating and recreating at local parks. While parking lots at beaches will remain closed, lots at local parks can now re-open at half capacity.
Officials also said that golf courses that have submitted social-distancing and sanitation plans can open as soon as Friday. Players will need to stay 6 feet from one another, and golf carts will not be allowed.
Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey expressed concerns that the beach ban in Orange County could impact San Diego.
“I’m definitely pleased that the state isn’t taking a heavy-handed approach with our county,” he said, “but I am disappointed that they are shutting down beaches in Orange County because that might create some compression and have a spillover effect on our beaches.”
Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss said Thursday he wasn’t too concerned about people showing up from out of town.
“The majority of San Diego County is open, so (beachgoers) are not likely to overrun any one place,” Weiss said.
However, Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear was not as optimistic. She said her city has already seen growing crowds at its recently reopened Moonlight Beach.
“We are having a problem with compliance day after day,” she said. “People are not following the guidelines. They’re bringing chairs, trying to hang out on the beaches.”
Concerns that the governor would close all beaches throughout the state started on Wednesday night after a memo from the California Police Chiefs Association was leaked to a reporter.
The news quickly elicited a backlash on social media, with elected officials frantically calling Sacramento to plead for relief. The situation remained unclear until Newsom’s news conference at noon the next day.
The governor downplayed the situation, repeatedly suggesting that his administration never planned to close all beaches. However, Faulconer said a state official called his office Wednesday evening saying a statewide ban was indeed coming.
Del Mar announced earlier in the week it would open its beaches Thursday, then backed off the idea out of concern for the governor’s supposed plan to close beaches statewide.
Del Mar has now scheduled a special City Council meeting for Friday afternoon to decide when to reopen again.
“I’m leaning toward opening,” said Del Mar Councilman Dave Druker, although he worried that Del Mar could get crowds if its neighbors remain closed.
Solana Beach has said it will open next week. Carlsbad’s beach, parks and trails are closed, but the City Council will meet today to discuss plans for a phased reopening. Torrey Pines State Beach, immediately south of Del Mar, is closed until further notice, as are other state beaches.
San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond criticized Newsom for the situation.
“The governor is governing with temper tantrums, fear and retractions,” Desmond told the Union-Tribune. “I’m glad how it turned out, leaving San Diego beaches open, but it was unfortunate.”
Newsom is also facing mounting pressure from supporters of President Donald Trump and other conservatives over the state’s lockdown orders. So-called “freedom” rallies have drawn hundreds of protesters all over the state, including in San Diego, calling on elected officials to reopen the economy.
The Republican Party of San Diego County issued a resolution Thursday blasting the governor for his lockdown.
In a statement, Tony Krvaric, chair of the local party, said “it’s time for Californians to get back to work, following common-sense protocols.
“We demand Governor Newsom end the lockdown immediately,” he said.
The governor also signed an executive order on Thursday allowing adults to secure marriage licenses using video-conferencing. Counties will have discretion over the process, which requires identification and that all parties be located in the state.
-- Joshua Emerson Smith and Lyndsay Winkley are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune
--- Staff writers Philip Diehl, Gustavo Solis and Gary Robbins contributed to this report.