County officials have ordered all beaches in Los Angeles County to close over Independence Day weekend, from Friday, July 3, through Monday, July 6.
The order, which was issued Monday, June 29, came in response to reports of increased deaths and hospitalizations due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, which since March has killed at least 3,369 LA County residents—including one Malibuite—and infected 100,000 more. In total, 52 Malibu residents have tested positive for the virus, with another 48 testing positive in the unincorporated Santa Monica Mountains.
The beach closure was announced in a social media post from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station on Facebook, which was published at 3:11 p.m. Monday: “The Malibu/Lost Hills Station Beach Team will be patrolling the beaches throughout the weekend and late into the evening. This new order makes it illegal to trespass at these locations and is punishable by law to include, but not limited to, a $1000 fine.”
But public statements made by LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to Fox 11 News on Monday evening seemed to contradict that announcement.
“We were not consulted on the beach closure, and will only assist our beach cities in closing parking lots and traffic enforcement on PCH. In regards to enforcing the beach closure, we will not be enforcing it because we are ‘Care First, Jail Last,’” Villanueva told the news station, according to a Tweet from reporter Bill Melugin posted at 5:32 p.m.
Thirty minutes after that quote was published, Malibu city officials began broadcasting news of the beach closures, warning that parking lots would be closed as well as piers and boardwalks.
“All beaches, beach parking lots, bike paths, piers and accessways will be fully closed,” Malibu’s alert stated. “The full closure means that surfing, walking, jogging, kayaking, paddle-boarding or any other recreational activities or gatherings are prohibited at any state or county beach. The revised order also prohibits all private and public fireworks countywide, until further notice.”
In addition, the city’s information detailed, a slew of public agencies would be working together to ensure the order would be followed.
“As with previous beach closures during the pandemic, Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman coordinated with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, LA County Department of Public Health, LA County Beaches and Harbors and California State Parks to close beach parking lots, ramp up patrols on PCH and canyon roads and parking enforcement to keep Malibu safe over the holiday weekend,” the city’s statement said. “The city manager requested additional patrols and parking enforcement by Sheriff’s Deputies and the Sheriff’s Volunteers on Patrol (VOPs). The City Public Works Department is coordinating with Caltrans on temporary no-parking restrictions and signs at key beach locations along PCH. Deputies with the Malibu/Lost Hills Station Summer Beach Team will be patrolling the beaches throughout the weekend and late into the evenings.”
On Tuesday, Villanueva’s official Twitter account posted a message verifying beaches were closed, but stating emphasis would be on parking lots and roadways.
“@LASDHQ [LASD Headquarters] advises the beaches are CLOSED Fri, Jul 3-Mon Jul 6. Enforcement efforts will be focused on vehicle & penal code violations, beach parking lot closures, & street parking restrictions. @LASDHQ beach patrol will be patrolling the county beaches to ensure public safety,” Villanueva wrote.
On Tuesday evening, Ventura County announced its beaches, too, would be closed for the holiday weekend.
Sheriff’s department vs. county supervisors
Villanueva’s proclamation came amid public tensions between him and the LA County Supervisors (who ordered the beach closures), with whom the sheriff has long had public conflicts, dating back to 2018. In April, supervisors removed Villanueva from his position at the head of the COVID-19 response taskforce, a move they said was meant to streamline operations but which he called a “silent coup,” according to the LA Times.
Earlier in the day on Monday, Villanueva accused the LA Board of Supervisors of “two big lies” in social media posts. Those alleged lies had to do with funding for body-worn cameras for officers, which Villanueva has stated publicly the supervisors have denied funding.
According to Villanueva, funding cuts of approximately $150 million from the 2020-21 Sheriff’s Department budget “are targeted specifically to hurt public safety in Los Angeles County.”
The proposed budget cuts accounted for some of the overall $935 million shortfall in the county’s budget.
“We’re facing an unprecedented almost billion-dollar gap for the incoming fiscal year,” Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said during Monday’s hearing, according to reporting from KBUU News. “And the proposed budget in front of us includes a lot of curtailments of our county services and our county staff.”
The county’s total budget for 2020-21 was $34.9 billion.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the image depicted employees placing beach closure signs at Zuma Beach. The photograph shows LA County employees removing the signs in May.