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Fourth of July: Beach and parking lot closures, big waves, rip currents could make for crazy holiday

Heading to the beach for the Fourth of the July holiday, a time-honored tradition for Southern Californians, will be complicated this year.

Some beaches will be closed, some open, and others – like Orange County’s state-run beaches – are shutting down parking lots to try to curb the crowds.

The closures and restrictions are meant to limit holiday weekend crowds at the coast, where people cram onto swaths of sand and fill in the streets to celebrate. But shutting down beaches is a complex issue, with many people likely to seek solace outdoors amid the coronavirus pandemic. With some parts of the coast shut down, other areas that are still open could see even greater crowds.

With temperatures expected to hit the 80s near the coast and into the 90s inland, Fourth of July revelers will be tempted to take a dip in the ocean at still-open beaches.

Add in the largest swell of the summer that will bring 5-to 8-foot surf and sweeping rip currents, and there’s even more of a heightened sense of danger this weekend – not just a risk of drowning but also concerns about lifeguards contracting the coronavirus during rescues. Two lifeguards tested positive this week, prompting Newport Beach to shut down its beach on the Fourth.

Did we mention there could also be flooding along some stretches of coast?

What’s open, what’s not:

It was like deja vu this week as officials started to announce shutdowns along the Southern California coastline in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

First, Los Angeles County and Long Beach officials said they would shut down for the entire holiday weekend, from Friday, July 3 to July 5. Then Ventura County officials followed and the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday night voted to shut down their beaches.

Newport Beach officials voted for an emergency closure on Wednesday, July 1, after learning two seasonal lifeguards had tested positive for COVID-19 and about two dozen were quarantined, raising concerns about a thin staff on a weekend with big surf expected.

Mayor Will O’Neill, who called the emergency meeting, said he was concerned about Los Angeles and Laguna Beach closing and State Parks beaches shutting down parking, potentially sending even more crowds to Newport Beach. And with bars and indoor restaurants shutting down, people will likely bring their take-out orders to the beach.

Then, there’s the big swell.

“We are adding people at a time we’re already stretched thin,” O’Neill said. “I cannot in good conscience add on more to our lifeguards. We just can’t. That’s the public safety problem we have. That’s the concern I have going into this weekend.”

Huntington Beach’s City Council also voted Wednesday to shut down its beach, pier and parking lots on the Fourth, with the option to extend the closure to Friday and Sunday if needed. Seal Beach officials met and decided to also shut down the city’s beach, pier and beach parking on the Fourth of July.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday he would shut down parking at state-operated beaches in Orange County, while fully closing state beaches in Los Angeles and Ventura to follow the closures local authorities had decided upon earlier in the week.

In Orange County, that means parking lots will be closed at popular beaches like Bolsa Chica, Huntington State Beach, Crystal Cove and Doheny State Beach and San Clemente State Beach. The full beach closures in Los Angeles include Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Malibu Pier, Point Dume and Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach.

With State Parks’ parking closure announcement, Dana Point decided to cancel its popular fireworks show off Doheny State Beach and the harbor.

The latest beach restrictions are reminiscent of what happened in the early days of the pandemic, when some beaches were open and others closed, causing confusion along the coast.

After cooped-up crowds showed up in big numbers during a hot weekend in April,  Newsom shut down all of Orange County’s coastline – a move that resulted in protests and some coastal towns taking the governor to court.

It’s unclear whether those who show up this weekend at shut-down stretches of beach will be kicked off or cited. The Los Angeles County Sheriff said he will not enforce the governor’s order, according to a news report earlier this week, similar to a statement made by Orange County’s Sheriff when officials were asked to enforce active recreation.

Officials in Los Angeles had already decided to shut down county beaches throughout the South Bay and Santa Monica Bay, much like they did for more than six weeks in the early days of the pandemic due to an increased spread of the coronavirus, officials said Monday, June 29.

L.A. County Department of Public Health has ordered all county beaches, piers, parking lots, beach bike paths on the sand portion of the shore, and beach access points temporarily closed to the public from Friday, July 3, to 5 a.m. Monday, July 6.

Large holiday crowds could further increase transmission of COVID-19, Barbara Ferrer, the county’s director of Public Health, said in a statement late Monday.

“Physical distancing isn’t optional, wearing a face covering isn’t optional, spending time only with those you live with isn’t optional — these are requirements,” Ferrer said.

In Hermosa Beach, which typically draws 100,000 during the holiday weekend, officials were encouraging compliance with the health order, especially as COVID-19 cases increased markedly in the last month. The popular Hermosa Beach Ironman, which draws big Fourth of July crowds with a race and beer chugging, has been canceled, according to organizer Robert “Burgie” Benz.

“Typically we have a day to get rid of our hangover and that’s the way it is,” Benz said. “But 14 days to isolate ourselves after doing the event, it’s just not worth it.”

Long Beach, which owns its city beach, will also follow Los Angeles’ orders and close from Friday to Monday.

In Laguna Beach, officials also aren’t taking a chance. They opted Tuesday night to shut down on the Fourth of July and plan to guard the town’s estimated three dozen access points with lifeguards and police standing along beaches and stairways to turn people away.

Longtime Laguna Beach surfer James Pribram said with the staggering coronavirus numbers in recent days, the closure is a necessary step.

“Once one county closes, it over impacts the neighboring counties,” he said. “Laguna is already over impacted… Once one county makes that decision, I think the other counties have to fall in line. You just have to close it.”

Big swell, big trouble:

A big swell will be slamming Southern California throughout the holiday weekend, bringing dangers from strong surf, rip currents and a potential for coastal flooding.

Surf forecasters at sent out a warning that the largest swell of the summer is expected, with the peak hitting Saturday with 4- to 7-foot surf slamming Southern California.

Some south-facing beaches, especially in Orange County, could see waves in the 5- to 8-foot range with occasional 10-footers.

The Wedge in Newport Beach could get up to 20 feet, according to forecaster Kevin Wallis.

Hefty surf has been hitting the coast throughout the week and even bigger waves are expected on Friday. Waves will slowly ease on Sunday, but will still be dangerous.

Surfline also warned of coastal flooding in low-lying, south-facing areas, especially on Friday and Saturday nights near 7-foot high tides combining with big waves.

Areas that have gone underwater during high tide and big surf events include Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, both popular on the Fourth of July, which could still see crowds despite beach closures, as well as along Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach.

SCNG reporters Lisa Jacobs and Michael Hixon contributed to this report.

Source: Orange County Register

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