Ventura County Reopens Public Space Amid Crowding Concerns

Ventura County

Malibu beaches remained closed this week, with little indication that they—along with Santa Monica Mountains trailheads, the Malibu Pier or Malibu parks—would reopen any time soon.

The beaches have been closed for weeks following reports of crowding in the early days of the coronavirus stay-at-home order in the Los Angeles area; Will Rogers, Topanga, Las Tunas, Malibu Surfrider, Dan Blocker, Point Dume, Zuma and Nicholas Canyon beaches have been closed due to a county order, with parking lots and beach paths also closed and supported by heavy enforcement in Malibu.

Los Angeles County officials enacted the Safer at Home order—also called a “lockdown,” “shelter-in-place,” “staycation” or “social distancing” mandate, depending on whom you ask—on March 19 in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease known as COVID-19. 

That order was officially expanded to at least May 15.

But on either side of LA, the much less densely-populated Orange and Ventura counties are keeping some beaches open as temperatures are expected to top 90 toward the end of the week, including some of the first beach openings in Ventura County since early April.

If beaches like Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Dana Point to the south or Port Hueneme, the Ventura Pier or Surfer’s Point to the north sound familiar (and, perhaps, appealing), that could spell trouble for those communities hoping to keep beaches sparsely used—ideally, by locals only. Nearly all beach parking lots in both counties will remain closed.

On Tuesday, Orange County Supervisors voted to keep county-run beaches open for use during the predicted heat wave, despite concerns from OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who suggested they close beaches, trails and parks for two weeks.

“Let’s get through this really hot spell, where we know we’re going to get inundated on the coast, yet again,” Bartlett suggested, adding, “otherwise, our coastal communities are yet going to be very much impacted and our residents are going to be exposed to people coming into the community from outside our county and potentially getting COVID-19.”

The suggestion did not gain traction—fellow Supervisor Donald Wagner said there was “no consistency” to the proposal, since public spaces such as golf courses were to remain open. He added that nice weather was the best time to head out to the beach.

Bartlett’s concerns were echoed by LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer at a recent coronavirus taskforce virtual press conference, according to reporting from KBUU News.

“I do want to really beg people who are in LA County: please do not go to Ventura to use their outdoor spaces,” Ferrer said, adding, “You’ll overwhelm a county that has that is trying to sort of relax some of the restrictions for the residents … and do so in a sensible way. And you could, because you’ll be in closer contact with lots of other people—you could inadvertently come back infected yourself.”

The discrepancy in case numbers between Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties drew concerns that residents going from densely populated LA County to smaller neighbors could spread the virus quickly.

Ventura County was reporting a total of 443 confirmed novel coronavirus cases, to Los Angeles County’s 15,140, as of Tuesday, April 21. While Ventura reported 13 deaths due to COVID-19, LA County had 663. Meanwhile, Orange County had reported 1,691 total cases of the virus, with 33 deaths.

As of Tuesday, Malibu reported 26 novel coronavirus cases