(CN) — The Southern California city of Newport Beach will not close its public beaches despite playing host to 40,000 guests last weekend while the rest of the state continues to maintain stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Newport Beach, a city in Orange County with a population of roughly 85,000, became a magnet for beachgoers when local officials relaxed their stay-at-home orders last week despite the ongoing global pandemic.
On Tuesday, city officials voted to keep their beaches open in a 5–2 vote.
Officials acknowledged their coastal community gained national attention when images of crowded beaches went viral and Newport Beach officials were publicly chided by California Governor Gavin Newsom earlier this week for the large turnout over the weekend.
Newport Beach had relaxed its health orders and attracted 40,000 people from neighboring counties that are still under stay-at-home orders.
At least one city council member called the media’s photos of swelling crowds inaccurate and police officials shared aerial images of beaches that did not appear choked with bodies. Tuesday’s council meeting was held over Zoom so the city staff and councilmembers could practice social distance from one another.
Mayor Will O’Neill kicked off the meeting by announcing his support to keep beaches open to the public. “We did see the photos that made it look like people were on top of each other,” said O’Neill.
Councilman Kevin Muldoon said that “American citizens are responsible and have the right to assemble.”
“Scare tactics is not the solution,” he said. “This is America. People have the right to free movement.”
As of Tuesday, 2,151 people are infected with Covid-19 and 42 are dead in Orange County, which has a population of 3.1 million.
Call-in commenters to the emergency council meeting varied from supporting a beach shutdown to calling for a reopening of beaches and local businesses.
One woman called to say the council was “playing with the lives of citizens” by inviting 40,000 more people to spread the virus in their community.
In contrast, a woman who identified herself as a 22-year-old resident said, “We want our beaches open.”
“We did not elect Newsom to be our leaders,” Teresa Hernandez said.
Councilwoman Joy Brenner said that Newport Beach was essentially erecting an “Open House” sign that seems out of place during the pandemic.
Earlier in the meeting a caller remarked that Brenner had rolled her eyes when Muldoon said that “people have given their lives” to ensure freedom in the United States.
“We’re being asked to be sheltering in place for a few weeks,” Brenner said. “Those people put their lives on hold and went to foreign lands to storm Normandy Beach. Heaven forbid we were asked to do that. We don’t have the wherewithal to put ourselves in any inconvenience.”
Orange County officials earlier this week remarked that they did not have any issues with how Newport Beach officials handled the large crowds and have made similar plans to gradually reopen their local economy.
The majority of the Newport Beach council voted for an increased police presence and traffic control to maintain the large crowds heading for their shores.