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2 Orange County Cities To Challenge Calif. Gov. Newsom's Order Closing Beaches

On Thursday, beachgoers flocked to Huntington Beach. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that same day he was ordering all Orange County beaches to close, after tens of thousands gathered at the shore last weekend.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
On Thursday, beachgoers flocked to Huntington Beach. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that same day he was ordering all Orange County beaches to close, after tens of thousands gathered at the shore last weekend.

The city councils of both Huntington Beach and Dana Point voted tonight to pursue legal action against the state of California to block Gov. Gavin Newsom's beach-closure order.

Newsom ordered all beaches and state parks in Orange County to temporarily close on Thursday. The governor was angered by people crowding the beaches during last weekend's summerlike weather.

"Specific issues on some of those beaches raised alarm bells," Newsom said in a press conference Thursday. "We're gonna do a hard close in that part of the state, just in the Orange County area. We're working with the county."

It wasn't immediately clear if these impending legal battles would also challenge the closure of state parks that aren't on the coast.

In an emergency meeting, the City Council of Dana Point voted to seek a temporary restraining order blocking the beach shutdown order.

Dana Point Councilman Joseph Muller criticized the Newsom administration for providing inconsistent information on a conference call with city council members and elected officials at the same time Newsom held his press briefing Thursday.

"[H]is representative was stating that this was a statewide closure during the conference call at the exact same time [Newsom] was holding his press conference live and singled out Orange County," Muller said over the phone during a livestreamed emergency city council meeting. "That's very disturbing to me that they would play a game like that, so giving us info in a meeting while he's out publicly saying something very different."

Dana Point Mayor Richard Viczorek backed up Muller's account of that conference call.

"As the governor was speaking there was a conference call scheduled with elected officials from Orange County," Viczorek said during the city council meeting. "We had all I think read the news or were aware of the fact the governor was intending to close the beaches throughout California, but obviously at some point that changed ... and his decision was only to close the beaches in Orange County."

The governor's office did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

Dana Point City Attorney Patrick Muñoz said in the council meeting that the motion for a restraining order will be filed Friday.

Huntington Beach council members voted 5-2 to "direct the City Attorney to pursue any and all legal actions necessary to challenge the state's beach closure directive," the city's press release states.

"Our experience locally had been that most people [at the beaches] were being responsible and complying with social distancing requirements," according to the press release.

Since Newsom warned Californians that crowding beaches could make coronavirus cases spike, local officials throughout Orange County have argued that the majority of beachgoers were following distancing rules, and that press photographs did not accurately reflect the situation on the beaches.

"Governor Newsom's mandate to close all beaches in Orange County today was a jarring decision that significantly impacts us here in Huntington Beach," said Mayor Lyn Semeta in a press release. "Given that Orange County has among the lowest per-capita COVID-19 death rates in California, the action by the State prioritizes politics over data, in direct contradiction of the Governor's stated goal to allow science and facts to guide our response to this horrible global pandemic."

According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, there have been about 2,250 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Orange County.

New cases of COVID-19 have surged in recent days, according to the Orange County Public Health department website. On April 30, the countysaw a record-high 145 new cases, up from 32 new cases on April 28, according to that public health database.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hannah Hagemann is a 2019 Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she will work at NPR's National Desk and Weekend Edition.

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