Newport Beach City Council votes to keep beaches open

Newport Beach on a sunny day. (WallpaperFlare/Courtesy)

Newport Beach City Council voted to keep its beaches open during a special meeting that was held on April 28 after warm weather attracted tens of thousands of people.  

During the duration of the meeting, the town’s City Council addressed the ordinance that proposed closing the city’s beaches for the next three weekends and discussed alternative solutions to thinning out crowds and preventing the spread of COVID-19. After hearing from the mayor and various members of the community, the decision to keep the beaches open was reached.     

Newport’s decision revolves around an increase in education and law enforcement to prevent crowds from congregating. Police officers will direct traffic on the streets while lifeguards and fire staff enforce social distancing protocols on the sand. The city also plans to distribute more signs throughout the area to notify that beach parking is closed and to encourage people to stay home.  

Some members of the council questioned the effectiveness of these actions.

“A lot of these people don’t follow the news, they don’t pay any attention and when they get as far as Newport Beach and they see a no parking sign, people are desperate and I don’t think they actually care whether theres a parking space down there or not, ” said councilwoman Diane Dixon. “They would rather be riding down the peninsula or along ocean boulevard in their car, just seeing whatever they can see.”

Mayor Will O’Neil referred to the California Coastal Commission, which oversees all of the coastlines, as a guideline for reopening the beaches. During this time, the Commission has reiterated the importance of recreational beach and coastal access in maintaining people’s physical and emotional health. He also compared the crowds to those during Fourth of July, which climbs over 10,000. 

“I believe that we truly can trust the vast majority of people to do the right thing,” mayor Will O’Neil said. “We clearly have to remind some people to do the right thing, and for the people who don’t want to do the right thing, then they ought to be acquainted with our Newport Beach police department.”   

After images of the large crowds that gathered at the beaches during previous weekends made national and international news, Newport Beach received one thousand emails regarding the issue. Of those, 664 were in support of keeping the beaches open and 391 wished to see them close. These differing outlooks were reflective of the discussions during the meeting, as members of the council were also divided over this issue.   

“We have 40,000 people on our beaches who are under an order from the Governor to stay home,” councilman Jeff Herdman said. “There was just one violation after another of people not being in compliance with social distancing. As far as masks were concerned, it was almost nonexistent.” 

Herdman also suggested that closing the beaches for three weekends could help save money and resources. Staff members would not have to work and be put at risk. 

Since Newport’s City Council meeting, Governor Gavin Newsom directed a temporary hard close of state and local beaches in Orange County. Newsom addressed the crowds that appeared in Newport Beach, and warned that ignoring social distancing protocols could delay the reopening of the state.

A letter was sent to the Orange County Board of Supervisors to direct local authorities to close parking lots, restrooms and all access to the beach.  

Officials in Orange County claim that his actions are extreme and that Newsom is overreacting to misleading photographs. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes spoke out, saying that the pictures are not an accurate depiction and that he has no desire to enforce the governor’s restrictions through arrest.    

Newport’s beaches remain closed since Governor Newsom’s order and law enforcement continue to turn people away.