Foggy Leadbetter Beach
Santa Barbara city and county beaches remain open. Foggy weather rolled in Thursday afternoon but hot weather in the 80s is expected again next week.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

Local beaches will not be closed by state order, although Santa Barbara County Public Health officials have warned that crowding could result in restrictions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that he is ordering the closure of Orange County state and local beaches, but not a statewide beach closure as was mentioned in a California Police Chiefs Association memo sent out Wednesday night.

Newsome called it a targeted move that responded to “very disturbing” images of heavily crowded beaches in areas such as Newport Beach over the weekend.

The majority of communities had “people doing all the right things,” including physical distancing, Newsom said during his noon briefing.

Newsom said the memo on impending closures “never got to me,” and the state has been consistent and transparent about its concerns regarding beach crowding.

“For the same reason we are not reopening arenas with tens of thousands of people, we don’t want beaches with tens of thousands of people in the same area,” Newsom said.

Several counties have implemented their own beach-closure orders, for a patchwork of regulations down the coast. 

Neighboring San Luis Obispo County has kept most beaches open, while closing many parking areas, and the city of Ventura loosened its closures to allow people swimming, surfing and walking on the beach, but not setting up chairs and blankets for a day in the sun. 

Santa Barbara County officials have reiterated their intent to keep open spaces, beaches and parks open to the public, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.

With last weekend’s hot weather, they did warn that crowding on beaches could lead to restrictions, but none has been announced.

Vehicular access and parking is closed at all 280 state parks and beaches, but local residents can still access them by walking or biking in, as long as they practice social distancing.

Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the county is “relieved and glad” that the governor did not close all beaches. 

He said the county will have additional law enforcement patrolling South Coast beaches this weekend, including Sheriff Department mounted units on horses and deputies on ATVs, in addition to park rangers, lifeguards and California Highway Patrol personnel. The patrols will educate people about social distancing and question large groups if necessary, Hart said. 

Last weekend, the vast majority of people understood and were complying with social distancing guidelines, Hart said, and most large groups turned out to be family households. 

The extra patrols will be focused on South County, where most people are going to the beach, according to Hart. 

Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo said the city was preparing to close beaches when it heard the news about the memo and potential closure Wednesday night, and she personally was flooded with emails from people asking the city to keep them open. 

“Some people were honest and said the pressure and worry of the pandemic is wearing on them, and that their walk on the shore is what is keeping them calm and helping their sanity,” she said in an email. 

“So I was relieved that our beaches are not under order to close. I hope people understand how close we were to losing this precious resource. I hope it translates to everyone being more careful out there, keeping a good 6 feet at least from other people.” 

More city staff members are being assigned to contacting groups of people that are too close to other groups, and “to generally ensure safe physical separation” on the weekends, Murillo said, adding that they are reporting people complying with physical distancing. 

“East Beach is so expansive that someone could easily find secluded spaces,” Murillo said. 

“Of course, the best thing is to move through the area, get your fresh air, and get back home, and not hang around where you could be exposed to people carrying the virus, or expose other people to you, if you have the virus and don’t know it because you don’t have symptoms.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.