The Newport Beach City of Council held an emergency meeting on July 1 to discuss and vote on closing all city beaches over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
The City of Newport Beach has been informed that two seasonal lifeguards employed by the City have tested positive for COVID-19. Those who have been exposed have been referred for follow-up care, which may include testing and quarantine.
In light of this information, Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill called for an emergency meeting at 2 p.m. on July 1 to discuss closing the beaches in Newport Beach on the peak beach day of July 4, 2020 with the option, at the City Manager’s discretion, to close on July 3 and/or July 5 based on prevailing conditions.
The city has 23 lifeguards in quarantine that were exposed to the COVID-10 positive lifeguards. Chief Lifeguard Mike Halphide told the council they can meet the staffing needs for the July 4 weekend despite the affected lifeguards not being available.
Newport Beach is still under the state order that beaches must be used for active recreational use.
One of the concerns Mayor Will O’Neill discussed with Fire Chief Jeff Boyles is that even with an adequate staffing level, given the number of people they anticipate over the weekend, there might be more lifeguards needed, especially for members of the public unfamiliar with the surf conditions at our beaches.
“We believe the staffing we have would be adequate” for this weekend, said Chief Halphide.
Councilmember Joy Brenner expressed her concern for the term “adequate staffing” and her desire to protect the public at the levels the city normally provides.
“I get distracted into thinking we have enough lifeguards, but the extraordinary circumstance of the COVID situation is really what makes it more troublesome,” said Brenner. “The exposure we are putting those lifeguards under by possibly having to rescue victims is significant. It’s not just having enough lifeguards.”
Councilmember Diane Dixon asked NBPD Chief Jon Lewis how his department would keep people from coming to the beach.
“We are talking about a hard closure,” said Chief Lewis, who explained that his department would strategize with Public Works on signage and barricades to make it clear the beach was closed. His department could also take enforcement action if necessary.
“Can we enforce closure of the beach?” asked Dixon.
“It’s extremely difficult to do, but these are uncharted times,” replied Chief Lewis. “We will make it happen, it’s very resource intensive, but I believe it is possible.”
“If we’re going to do this, we have to give our public works team as possible to get this ready,” stated Mayor O’Neill. “We’re going into a holiday weekend knowing we are adequate but stretched thin, knowing we’re going to experience a large swell, I’m concerned.”
Along with closing the beaches, the boardwalk along the beach on Balboa Peninsula would also be closed this weekend.
During public comments, callers spoke for more than 30 minutes both for and against the beach closure.
After public comments, city council members offered their final thoughts and City Clerk Leilani Brown, read the ordinance (2020-007) that would be voted on by the council.
It included closing all city-controlled beaches from July 3 at 10 p.m. to July 5 at 6 p.m. The City Manager has discretion to close the beaches at other times on July 3 and July 5 as needed.
The motion carried 6-1, with councilmember Kevin Muldoon casting the sole no vote.