After weeks of closures due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, which by Tuesday had caused more than 1,900 deaths in Los Angeles County alone, Malibu’s beaches and trails reopened last week under strict restrictions. Hikers and beachgoers were told to wear face masks (except during ocean recreation); use beaches for recreation, including walking, surfing, swimming and jogging, only; and obey social distancing rules of maintaining at least six feet of distance between each person or family.

All evidence seems to indicate those rules were all but completely flouted.

On Monday, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) posted a stern message on its social media pages: “What happened this weekend, LA? We were so proud of you opening weekend then everything turned upside down... you’re yelling at the bathroom cleaning lady, not keeping your distance, meeting up w/your peeps, & leaving your trash behind. What gives?”

Comments on the post ranged from angry to frustrated, and included one hiker who said that in Topanga, “of the 30 people I saw only half appear to possess a mask and nobody—not a single person—had one on the face other than me. Also walking triple file.” 

In response to complaints of crowding at the beach—including an account from Malibu Times columnist Paul Grisanti that beachgoers lit off fireworks and invaded beachfront properties—City Manager Reva Feldman told KBUU News Tuesday morning there were not enough law enforcement officers in Malibu to handle the crowds that descended on Malibu over the weekend.

“I think we were pretty understaffed this weekend for the number of crowds that came into Malibu,” Feldman told KBUU. “Obviously people are anxious to be outside and be at our beaches. Having our beach lots closed impacted us considerably… so I think it was kind of a losing battle for law enforcement this weekend with the number of people who were in town.”

The news radio station also spoke to Barbara Ferrer, director of LA County Public Health, about the issues experienced in Malibu over the weekend.

Beaches Reopen

Surfers and other beachgoers converge on Surfrider Beach.

“...we were aware and we got reports over the weekend,” Ferrer said. “I want to start by first of all acknowledging and thanking people who are at many of the other beaches, where this did not happen, where people were in fact using their face coverings and they were in fact keeping their distance. And for the most part they were enjoying the beaches as we’re anticipating for public recreation.

“But,” Ferrer continued. “I do know that wasn’t the case in Malibu. And we are ... working closely with [the LA County Department of] Beaches and Harbors. I want to thank the city manager for all of her efforts to make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen.”

Feldman added that special enforcement of Malibu beaches was set to increase this coming weekend in time for the Memorial Day holiday, traditionally one of the busiest beach holidays of the year.

“Our beach team enforcement ramps up this weekend as it normally does,” Feldman told KBUU. “So hopefully moving forward we are going to see more presence of the deputies on  the beach and in the beach areas. I’ve asked for additional enforcement from the sheriff’s department with extra bodies for this weekend as well. But certainly this past weekend … we did not have enough resources.”

As of Tuesday, May 19, Malibu had 35 reported cases of novel coronavirus, an increase of four over the previous week. There remained one reported death of a Malibu resident due to the virus. Across Los Angeles County, by Tuesday, there had been a total of 39,573 positive cases reported to the county health department, resulting in 1,913 deaths.

Hans Laetz contributed to this report

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