When does tourism to a place endanger the people who live nearby? On Friday, civil disobedience flared up around that question on the sands of Huntington Beach, California.
The appealing surfing hub (pictured above, in less controversial times) was the setting for protests of the state-mandated closure of public beaches. Groups of people gathered—without observing social distancing or face mask guidelines—to complain about a temporary closure of state beaches.
This video, taken Friday afternoon at about 4pm, gives a taste of the uproar.
????????BREAKING: Helicopter footage shows protesters in Huntington Beach protesting Gov. Newsom’s ORDER to close ALL Orange County beaches.— Peter Morley (@morethanmySLE) May 1, 2020
Where are the masks?
Where is social distancing?
Defying #Covid_19 orders will only extend & NOT #FlattenTheCuve ????pic.twitter.com/lICINFRi8j
Huntington Beach is a 37-mile drive from Los Angeles. On the last weekend in April, L.A. County's beaches were closed to observe viral protection measures, which led to an influx of visitors to Huntington Beach across the county line in Orange County.
Health officials called the situation a danger to everyone in the region since tourists would return home to other counties after visiting the beach.
To close that loophole and prevent people transferring disease between counties, California governor Gavin Newsom issued an order to close all state beaches for now.
Cue the protests.
Some people serving in Huntington Beach's government claimed in the media that the city's status as a "charter city" gives it leeway to ignore the governor's orders. The mayor still closed the beach, but simultaneously directed the city's lawyers to challenge the directive. (There's no love lost between the state and Huntington Beach; last year, California sued the city, claiming it was violating a statewide law about providing affordable housing.)
Meanwhile, Huntington Beach's official tourism office has weighed in on its own. Susan Thomas, Visit Huntington Beach’s Chief Marketing Officer, issued the following statement about the dispute.
"We applaud the City of Huntington Beach for their measured response in responsibly managing risk to both our residents and visitors with the COVID 19 public health crisis. By closing the pier, limiting parking and providing first responders on site, the City is working proactively to keep our public spaces safe. VHB (Visit Huntington Beach) and the tourism community have come together to encourage our visitor guests as well as residents to follow state and local orders for social distancing, face coverings and safety and sanitation protocols when choosing to go to any public space."