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The Fight Over Opening Orange County's Beaches Rages On

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People gather on Corona del Mar State Beach on April 25, 2020 in Newport Beach. (Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
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California's beaches have become contentious places. Over the past couple of weekends, Orange and Ventura counties reopened their beaches, attracting tens of thousands of people.

In Newport Beach, a major draw for sun-seekers, officials were so concerned by this past weekend's crowds, they considered shutting down beaches on weekends. Instead, the Newport Beach City Council voted on Tuesday to keep the beaches open while deploying extra police officers and city staffers to ensure social distancing and mask-wearing.

That decision has essentially been overruled.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued an order closing Orange County's beaches, starting Friday. He didn't close all California beaches, an option Newsom had reportedly been considering.

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"I believe that this is a profound mistake," Orange County supervisor Donald Wagner said. "I think it is an overreach and I think it's going to undermine the very exemplary voluntary compliance we've seen here in Orange County."

On KPCC's AirTalk Thursday morning, Wagner told host Larry Mantle some of the recent pictures of Newport's beaches were shot with telephoto lenses and conveyed a misleading sense of how full the beaches actually were.

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People gather north of the Newport Beach Pier on April 25, 2020 in Newport Beach. (Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

"Consider this, the numbers we heard were approximately 40,000 people on our beaches over this past weekend. Spread that over the miles of beaches and spread that over the eight, 10 hours of prime beach weather and you find there is an awful lot of room in general on our beaches," Wagner said.

Wagner represents Orange County's third district, which includes Irvine, Orange, Tustin, Anaheim Hills and some unincorporated canyon areas. He's also the former mayor of Irvine.

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'A GREAT BIG MIDDLE FINGER' TO ESSENTIAL WORKERS?

Southern California residents who called in to AirTalk were split on whether beaches should open.

Some AirTalk listeners said they agreed with Wagner and wanted to keep beaches open.

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People gather on the beach south of the Newport Beach Pier on April 25, 2020 in Newport Beach. (Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

Others were concerned about reopening beaches because they say they aren't seeing enough people wearing masks or practicing physical distancing.

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Jennifer, a caller from Irvine who said she works as a cashier at Whole Foods and is recovering from COVID-19, was concerned that opening the beaches would attact people from surrounding areas such as Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego.

She told Wagner, "You letting people come into this county and expose us, it's like giving essential workers a great big middle finger, and I'm ashamed of you. Do not be a weak leader leader. Stand up to business pressure."

"The pressure isn't coming from business," Wagner replied. "The pressure is coming from our citizens who are feeling that the beaches, the sunshine, the fresh air will, in fact, help them."

Wagner said officials have, until now, resisted the pressure to reopen "because the science wasn't there."

In fact, Wagner doesn't simply want Orange County's beaches to open. He wants to see all of California's beaches to open.

"If we believe opening beaches is a good thing in Orange County, I've got to believe it's a good thing statewide," Wagner said on AirTalk. "I would encourage others to take a look at the science like we did, and find ways to responsibly open their beaches, and that would help all of us."

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