HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Though very little has been normal about the summer of 2020, one thing will keep to normalcy: the beaches of Los Angeles County will be open to the public for Labor Day weekend, though officials caution that could change if needed.
That wasn’t necessarily the case for popular beach holidays earlier during the countywide COVID-19 closures. On Memorial Day, beaches were open for active use, such as exercise and surfing, only; on the Fourth of July, beaches were closed entirely.
There will be some continued restrictions under the current health order. Face masks must be worn at all times when out of the water and around other people; gatherings of people from two or more households are not permitted; and beach volleyball is still not allowed.
L.A. County hasn’t exactly publicized the planned continued operation of the beaches for Labor Day, so much as it’s acknowledged that the beaches are expected to stay open.
“However, if they get too crowded, we may be forced to close them,” said Nicole Mooradian, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors. “The decision is ultimately up to the Department of Public Health.”
In this case, Mooradian said, Beaches and Harbors got “a strong message from coastal cities that they would prefer to remain open.” That feedback was passed along to Public Health as well as both L.A. County Superintendents Janice Hahn and Sheila Kuehl, who represent much of L.A. County’s coastline.
But officials representing the county’s coastal areas are feeling just as cautious as the Department of Beaches and Harbors.
“Over the last few weeks, we have made slow but steady progress toward slowing the spread of COVID-19, but this is no time to let our guard down,” Kuehl said in a statement. “While I anticipate that our beautiful beaches will remain open for Labor Day, I urge people to wear a cloth face covering and practice physical distancing so that this holiday weekend doesn’t result in a setback of our progress.”
Hermosa Beach City Manager Suja Lowenthal said that she fully understands Kuehl’s caution, and that nothing this year has turned out to be “precisely predictable.” But in a conference call between coastal city managers and L.A. County representatives, Lowenthal said that she’s seen no reason to close the beaches for Labor Day.
“I felt, for the most part, that we’ve seen a good amount of compliance with people coming to the beach – when folks are there, they’re distanced from other groups of people, they’re wearing masks when they’re not in the water,” Lowenthal said in an interview. “It’s not a universal compliance, but where there isn’t compliance, it’s manageable.”
Hermosa was among the first cities to act as the realities of the pandemic took hold across L.A. County. On March 25, the city announced the closure of both its portion of The Strand coastal bike and walking path and the city’s beach — Hermosa, unlike most cities in L.A. County, owns its beach, and therefore can make that decision unilaterally. (The city, however, could not open the beach on its own after the county issued a health order closing beach access.)
Hermosa has made efforts to back the needs of its businesses during the pandemic, Lowenthal confirmed. But the continued opening of the Strand and the beaches is a lifeline for businesses like Steve Collins’s Hermosa Cyclery.
Collins is a co-owner of the bike shop, which is beloved in the area — in part for the joke that they offer “free air” to any cyclist that may need it. But closures over the summer made Collins and his business partners worried that they essentially might have to write off making any money for the entire year.
“One weekend day in the summer accounts for probably the equivalent of 20 or 30 days in the winter,” Collins said. Having the beaches open, especially for a holiday, is essential for businesses that rely on that beach-side traffic. “We anticipated that, if the Strand didn’t open up at all this summer, we wouldn’t have much of a year at all. It’s crucial that the Strand is open — our business survives on that.”
While the Department of Beaches and Harbors is inviting beachgoers to enjoy the coast, it’s also asking them to be stewards of the sand.
“Instead of throwing trash away at the beach, visitors should pack in, pack out — that is, bring a trash bag to the beach and take their trash home to throw away,” Mooradian said.
Mooradian also emphasized that bonfires are not allowed on county beaches. Though bonfire pits have been removed from Dockweiler Beach, to encourage social distancing, county personnel are finding remains of “sometimes upward of 80 fires on Monday mornings,” she said.