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California shuts down beaches as crowds flock to the coast

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday closed all beaches in Orange County after thousands flocked to the coast amid the ongoing global pandemic. The move came as pressure has been mounting on officials to reopen some business in the state. Los Angeles Times reporter Phil Willon joins Karina Mitchell for more on the state's lockdown, Newsom's decree and the public's response.

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  • Karina Mitchell:

    California Governor Gavin Newsom has been both praised and has come under fire for his handling of stay-at-home orders in the golden state.

    I recently spoke with Phil Willon from the Los Angeles times who covers Governor Newsom and California politics.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    Phil, thank you so much for being here. Governor Newsom has mandated that Orange County beaches be closed, at least temporarily.

    What prompted that decision?

  • Phil Willon:

    Well, you probably saw all the photos from last weekend when we had a heat wave that rolled through Southern California. Thousands of people flocked to the beach, even though for the prior week the governor was basically pleading with people to stay at home, keep their distance from one another and kind of maintain the stay at home order so the coronavirus didn't continue to spread in California. California is doing really well now and he didn't want to have a setback.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    How does he enforce these rules? Because what if people decide that I'm not going to abide by this? This infringes on my civil liberties and I'm going to go to the beach. I live in California.

  • Phil Willon:

    There's a hard closure in Los Angeles County so the police and the lifeguards are telling people who are there to keep moving or get off the sand or get off the strand or wherever they are. And in some cases, they've been writing citations for people that violate the order.

    In Orange County it is a little more problematic. The Orange County sheriff, he's not going to write tickets or arrest anyone. He'll basically let them know what the order is and hope for voluntary compliance.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    So we're hoping for good behavior on citizens' parts. The governor has come in for a lot of criticism, both from individuals and city officials. What sort of backlash is he facing from this order to stay off the beaches and what pressure is he facing to start reopening California?

  • Phil Willon:

    Well, I mean, most of the most of the criticism is from Orange County. There are spots around I mean, there's other places in the in the state as well, some of the rural areas that haven't been hit by the virus that hard that want to reopen as well.

    I understand San Luis Obispo, which is on our central coast, they sent the governor a letter, politicians there saying, you know, our economy is in the tank. We need to start kind of the engine going. So, I mean, Newsom, his approval rating is through the roof still. People really like the job he's done handling the coronavirus but I think like everywhere in the country, people have been inside for over a month.

    They're getting antsy. The weather's getting warm. And a lot of us a lot of people are are hurt financially and we need to get back to work. So there's these dueling pressures. And yes, it's a it's a pretty complicated juggling act. So he has laid out a four phase plan in which the state will reopen. He didn't give any firm dates on any of that. It just all depends on the spread of the virus and how well we're prepared to handle and what phase of the plan is California.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    And what phase of the plan is California in at the moment?

  • Phil Willon:

    We're in phase one now, which means there's a statewide stay at home order only essential workers are allowed to go into work. Phase where basically they're in the process of trying to get our protective personal equipment for health care workers and adequate testing.

    They're still kind of ramping up all that Phase two, which would be he says, could come in a matter of weeks, would open more retail stores, maybe for curb curbside pick up, the parks, would open maybe even the beaches as well. A little more relaxed restrictions. Schools would start to open a little bit. He's talking about a summer school session and an early school year for next next calendar year.

    So there'll be kind of a gradual ramping up and then phase three, not only test people, but if they test positive to basically trace them, quarantine them, find out who they've been in contact with. And kind of like where we were at the very beginning when that when the virus outbreak happened.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    How much of a fine line is Governor Newsom walking with wanting to do the right thing and being the dad and sort of telling everyone in the state, stay at home, be safe so that we can flatten this curve? And how does that weigh against people just being frustrated six, seven weeks into this and just wanting their life back?

  • Phil Willon:

    Yeah, it's a really narrow path to walk for the Governor, because as difficult as the decision was to impose some of these restrictions on the stay at home orders, it's even more difficult to know when when to kind of start lifting them.

    But still, we had a poll that came out today and along with his high numbers for approval, it said most of Californians are more worried about lifting the stay at home order than they are anything else because the virus is still causing a lot of anxiety in the state.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    Phil, there have been several protests this weekend. Do we expect to see more of them?

  • Phil Willon:

    Yeah, I expect to see more. I expect that to continue. We had on Friday we had posters at the state capital, L.A. City Hall, Huntington Beach. And these have been cropping up sporadically. But I expect that to continue and probably get a little more robust in the weeks and months ahead.

    You know, there have been so many civil organizations and people who are frustrated. I believe there's some lawsuits that have been filed as well.

    Well, first of all, the city of Huntington Beach and I think Dana Point, which are both in Orange County, their city council voted last night to file legal action to block the ban, ban on beaches in Orange County. And there's been, I mean, we're in kind of a lawsuit time now this whole this whole emergency response. So we're starting to see more, more and more suits roll in.

    Last week there was a federal lawsuit filed to lift to basically lift the stay at home owner saying it was unconstitutional. So I expect to see a lot more stuff like that. Some other cities this weekend are going to have emergency meetings to decide whether they're going to take legal action as well. Again, those are in Orange County. So we'll see.

    I mean, I don't know how fast these will zoom through the courts, but it'll be interesting to see how that pans out, because the, under California law, the Governor has a lot a lot of authority, very broad authority in times of emergency, and so does the state public health officer. And we'll see if that gets tested.

  • Karina Mitchell:

    All right. Pill Willon from the Los Angeles Times, thank you so much.

  • Phil Willon:

    Thanks for having me.

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