Amid Large Public Protests Over Beach Closures, California Governor Gavin Newsom Says, “It Doesn’t Surprise Me”

In the 24 hours since California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all beaches in Orange County closed, there have been two lawsuits filed by the cities of Huntington beach and Dana Point, the O.C. Sheriff said he will not enforce the order and, now, large protests adjacent to the Huntington Beach Pier and near the Capitol Building in Sacramento.

The governor avoided addressing the controversy in prepared remarks at his noon press conference Friday, but he was eventually asked about the pushback and about re-opening in a Q&A session.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Newsom said about the backlash. “We’ll see what happens this afternoon,” he said, referring to a temporary restraining order hearing scheduled for this afternoon.

Asked about the protests, which were occurring as he spoke, Newsom said, “We’re open to argument…I believe in freedom of expression…and thank them for their expression of free speech.”

The governor noted that the state has crossed the tragic milestone of having 2,000 citizens who have lost their lives to the virus and over 50,000 residents who have contracted the COVID.

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“As it relates to protesters,” the governor said, “I’ll just say this: Take care of yourself. Wear a face covering.”

He continued, “This disease doesn’t know if you’re a protester, Democrat or Republican.”

As he spoke, crowds continued to gather at the corner of Main and PCH, just across from the Huntington Beach Pier and at the capital.

Why all the controversy? On Thursday, citing images of beachgoers crowding the sand at Newport Beach last weekend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would close the beaches in Orange County.

“We’re guided by health,” the governor said while calling the closing a “temporary pause” and emphasizing the need to “meet the conditions as they change.”

Those words were not well-received by Orange County officials, including Sheriff Don Barnes.

“The photographs I saw, quite honestly, were a stark contrast to what the governor’s acting on,” Barnes said, adding that he is “not taking enforcement action on this order.”

“My intent…is to seek voluntary compliance,” Barnes said. “I have no desire to enforce…through arrest.”

Later, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors filed a lawsuit over the beach closures.

Both Dana Point and Huntington Beach decided to seek temporary restraining orders, resisting Newsom’s order of a temporary “hard close” of beaches in Orange County, where crowds gathered on the sand during last weekend’s heat wave despite social-distancing mandates due to the coronavirus outbreak. The cities’ goal is to lift the shutdown order.

“We believe the governor’s order is unconstitutional, vague and ambiguous,” said Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates. “He doesn’t have a rational basis for this. What he seeks is a remedy to something that wasn’t a problem in the first place.”

Huntington Beach officials also believe that being a charter city gives them more authority to self-governance and prevents Newsom from shutting down local beaches.

“We’re not simply a component of the state,” one official said. “The city has some level of autonomy and independence.”

The crowds at the capital gathered under the broader banner of lifting the stay-at-home order.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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