Coronavirus: Orange County cities respond after large crowds at beaches defy social-distancing orders

Tony Cabrera Image
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
OC cities respond after large crowds defy social distancing orders
Some Orange County cities are grappling with complaints about social distancing after seeing large crowds at beaches over the weekend.

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Some Orange County cities are grappling with complaints about defiance of social distancing after seeing large crowds at beaches.

Huntington Beach announced its pier and other recreational amenities would close on Tuesday in order to support Gov. Gavin Newsom's social-distancing order.

City leaders decided to leave the beaches open for now, saying the ability to walk and exercise there is beneficial for people's physical and mental health.

Surfer Billy Wittenburg was one of the many who took to the sand over the weekend.

"I'm kind of guilty for getting into the water and surfing next to a bunch of guys, but it was busy on the boardwalk," Wittenburg said. "A lot of people are not really abiding by the whole 6-feet-apart thing."

In Newport Beach, city leaders dealt with a similar problem this past weekend. The City Council is expected to review the situation with city staff, police, lifeguards and first responders on Tuesday.

OC woman, boyfriend learned of pandemic after returning from 25-day river-rafting trip in Grand Canyon

A college student and her boyfriend rafted the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon for 25 days completely off the grid. They returned to learn about the coronavirus pandemic.

Further south, in Laguna Beach, leaders took action Sunday after getting complaints about the crowds. Mayor Bob Whelan called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.

"We spent 90 minutes, thought long and hard about this and reached the conclusion that we needed to close the beaches," he said.

It was disappointing for Samantha Merrifield, who drove her three children from Irvine to give her husband some peace and quiet, now that he's working from home.

"We understand, for sure," she said. "It was just a 20-minute drive, but it just seems like it gets increasingly harder to get out and do things. We haven't been out much. This is our getting-out time."

Laguna Beach had signs posted throughout day, although the official closure didn't happen until 5 p.m. Orange County parks will shut down parking lots Tuesday morning.

"If there needs to be some kind of enforcement there will be, but that's not where we start," Whelan said. "We'll start with education and cooperation, and that's what we're hoping for."