George Skelton: California Gov. Newsom could use some beach time. It’s sad he’s closing Orange County beaches amid coronavirus

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Every Californian has an unalienable right to a day at the beach.

Or at least an hour or two.

OK, maybe just a few minutes daydreaming in a car while marveling at the foaming breakers. Of course, most beach parking lots are now closed to you and me.

Going to the beach is our birthright as native Californians — and our promise to newcomers. It’s our gift from the Creator — a trade-off for all the quakes, wildfires, mudslides and smog.

Yeah, I know: Every right has limits. We’ve got the right to free speech but shouldn’t wade into the surf and yell “shark.” And we shouldn’t be spreading germs to other sunbathers.

So hire some beach patrols and enforce the rule about plopping down no closer than 6 feet apart. Maybe after a couple of warnings issue a citation for enough bucks to cover the administrative costs.

Although, honestly, I can’t envision a young couple adhering to the 6-foot rule for more than five minutes.

And forget about wearing masks on the beach. One of the ocean’s appeals is breathing in that salt air drifting in on a soft breeze.

My parents left Oklahoma and Tennessee in the 1920s searching for the California dream. They met at a Ventura beach party. I practically grew up on beaches between Ventura and Santa Barbara — Hollywood Beach, the Rincon, Carpinteria, East Beach — while sheltering in Ojai.

At Ventura College, I often took my reading assignment down to a secluded beach on the Rincon. Later at San Jose State, I immediately noticed how pale most northern students were at summer’s end compared to Southern California beach worshipers. In Santa Cruz, the sun shined less and the water was colder. But it was still paradise.

Recently, it was reassuring to notice that Ventura politicians still get it. Beaches are the substance of local peoples’ lives. The City Council decided to open them on the first spectacular weekend of the season “in support of balancing residents’ physical and mental health,” it announced.

Yes, a warm sun, calm breeze and a little body surfing will do wonders for the mind, relaxing it and enabling the toleration of all manner of aggravations while sheltering at home. You can’t find therapy like that good no matter the fee.

Of course, leaders of my old beach town weren’t very hospitable to outsiders. They told Angelenos to stay out.

“To our L.A. County brothers and sisters, normally we like you to come here, but not right now,” county Executive Officer Mike Powers was quoted in the Ventura County Star, which gave me my first daily newspaper job while at VC. “If you have to travel, keep it to essential travel where you live.”

Guess you can’t blame people in Ventura, which has avoided being hard hit by COVID-19, for fearing being overrun by residents in more densely populated LA, where the coronavirus continues to spread.

LA has kept its beaches closed. But they were opened in Orange County. And the Newport Beach City Council rejected a proposal to close down the beach in May after people swarmed there on the hot weekend.

Unfortunately, city parking lots at the beach were closed, so beachgoers invaded nearby neighborhoods.

“I think you should reopen them,” state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said Tuesday. He’s a former Orange County supervisor who represents some beach communities. “People should have access to facilities.”

Moorlach says he understands why people flocked there on a beautiful weekend.

“You need to trust people,” the senator says. “If they exercise proper social distancing, you’ve got to let people be people. If you’re part of a vulnerable group, shame on you for going to the beach. For everyone else who’s sheltering in place, the beach may be the best medicine.”

“We haven’t seen the ‘surge’” in virus contagion that was feared, he continues. “And I’m not seeing a wide band of people in ICUs. I see hospitals in my district struggling because they don’t have patients. Something’s amiss. Maybe people are seeing that too.”

What Gov. Gavin Newsom saw — those crowded beach scenes — made him angry.

“Those images are an example of what not to see … what not to do,” the governor declared during his Monday virus briefing. “You didn’t see those images at LA beaches and San Diego beaches and (in) Northern California because we had strong guidelines that were not only adopted but were abided by.”

So amend the guidelines and loosen up.

Instead, sadly, the governor announced Thursday he’s closing Orange County beaches. Thankfully he backed away from closing all beaches in California.

“The TV angles were bad” and made the beaches look more crowded than they really were, Moorlach says.

“Everyone did social distancing. (It) was real cooperative and very respectful. They just wanted to get out and get some sun, which is really healthy.”

If it’s unhealthy, if people are being infected with the virus by being drawn to the ocean as humans always have, show us some data. Do people who go to the beach contract the virus more than people who don’t? Show us the numbers.

Until then, here’s my declaration of independence from shallow thinking:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Californians are endowed with certain unalienable rights. Among these are sun, surf and a day at the beach.”

Newsom could use some beach time.



Political columnist George Skelton has covered government and politics for nearly 60 years and for The Los Angeles Times since 1974.


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