Limited Beach Openings, OC to move on without Zealots Steel & Wagner!




The adults on the Board, safely distanced.

Yesterday morning, while everybody else in the county was watching Governor Newsom’s press conference announcing that he’d come to agreements with most OC beach towns for limited recreational re-openings of the beaches, I was glued to the OC Supervisors’ meeting, because I’m such a fucking nerd.

It had been obvious since last week that crusading Supervisors Don Wagner and (titular chair) Michelle Steel had been going rogue, sending out confusing signals about re-opening OC businesses (which the Board has no authority to do), issuing conspicuously non-compulsory “guidelines” for re-opened businesses, and lashing out against their own Health Care Agency for trying to enforce regulations over the weekend.   Would there be any pushback from their three colleagues Do, Bartlett & Chaffee?

Yes, there was – Don and Michelle are clearly their own crazy minority, with Don barking the shots.  In a wrap-up to Monday’s Nomad’s Canteen kerfuffle, Wagner called a health officer on the floor, sardonically assuring her that she STILL had the authority to discipline restaurants for “cockroaches.” 

But then Board vice-chair Andrew Do asked her, don’t you also have the authority to enforce state health orders?  Of course they do, but the county’s health staff seem intimidated by Wagner and Steel, and she stammered, “That’s … a loaded question.  You should probably ask my supervisor Dr. Quick.”  And Dr. Quick answered as diplomatically as she could, but yes, it’s totally within OCHCA’s authority to make sure state health regulations are followed, and they’d done nothing wrong to threaten Nomad’s Canteen’s permit over the weekend.

Bigger even than business re-openings and restaurant regulations was the resentment and consternation over the Governor’s recent closure of OC beaches.  Wagner bristled with righteous rebellion and defiance – earlier he’d told the press “We’re not going to enforce [beach or business closures] and if the governor wants to bring the CHP out or call out the National Guard, he can do what he wants to do!”  But Do, a long-time prosecutor, while agreeing the OC beach closures were “arbitrary” [if understandable], emphasized the primacy of state law over county ordinances.


And South County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett was proud as punch that the beaches of HER district – San Clemente, Laguna, and Dana Point – had already approached the Governor’s team with limited, reasonable re-opening plans (open 6 to 10 am for recreation with social distancing), and been approved.  Lisa proposed that county staff come up with similar plans for the remaining OC beaches – in consultations with the cities of Newport, Huntington and Seal Beach – and present those as well to the Governor’s team.  Doug Chaffee happily seconded that motion, and it passed 3-2 over the passionate Rebel Yells of Wagner and Steel.


It’s become obvious that Michelle Steel, who is running for Congress against the already-accomplished freshman Harley Rouda, generally needs somebody to tell her what to do, and right now that seems to be Don Wagner.   At one point Chaffee made a motion, Bartlett seconded it, and Michelle mumbled, “Thank you, colleagues, now moving on…”  Everyone had to shout out, “There’s a motion on the floor!” 

Later it became clear that there were two different understandings of Lisa’s beach re-opening motion – the intention was obviously for the trusted staff to come up with good re-opening plans and bring them to the Governor themselves with the goal of opening all our beaches by this weekend.  But Zealot Wagner conveniently mis-heard it or mis-remembered it as the staff bringing the plans back to the Board so they could all argue about them some more.  Michelle was very confused, and eventually Wagner was practically yelling at her, “This is YOUR MEETING, CHAIRPERSON STEEL, DO SOMETHING!”  Eventually Bartlett rescinded her motion out of courtesy, just to clarify it better, and then it passed AGAIN,  3-2. 

Just saying, no matter what your ideology is, it doesn’t look like Michelle Steel is exactly Congressional material.



At the same time, unbeknownst to the Board OR those of us fixated on the Board meeting, the Governor was announcing that Huntington Beach and Seal Beach had ALREADY come to him with beach re-opening plans that he was approving.  (Leaving only troublesome Newport Beach closed!)  

This plan was handiwork of magical HB City Manager Oliver Chi.  OJB readers know him as the author of HB’s excellent eviction moratorium, which was unfortunately scuttled by HB’s heartless Republican Councilmembers.  This time he had better luck and his beach re-opening plan sailed through.  

It being kind of a big deal that Huntington Beach (which was starting to become known as the Florida of California) went in the bat of an eye from defying and suing the Governor over his pandemic orders to having their beaches re-opened with his blessing, I’ll go ahead and reprint HB’s press release:

Surf City Beaches Re-opened Today For Active Recreation

Effective today, the City of Huntington Beach will be reopening our beaches and beach bike pathway for active recreation only.

“We’re delighted to be reopening our beaches for active recreation, which will allow our community to once again enjoy the recreational and mental health benefits from spending time at the Pacific Ocean,” said Mayor Lyn Semeta.  “The new active recreation rules that we’re instituting will allow for continued beach access in a manner that emphasizes the need to practice safe social distancing.”

The decision to reopen the beaches in Surf City was made after extensive discussions with other local area cities and State representatives, including those at the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.  Of note, the State beaches (Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach) will also be reopening today with active recreation protocols consistent with those being implemented by the City.

Under the new active recreation regulations, the following protocols will be enforced at local beaches:

  • Beaches will be open every day from 5 a.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Only active recreation activities will be allowed at the beaches
  • Physical social distancing requirements are required
  • Beaches (excluding those in Huntington Harbor) and beach pathways will be open
  • Walking, running, hiking, bicycle riding, etc. (where normally allowed) will be facilitated
  • Ocean will be open to swimming, surfing, bodysurfing, boogie boarding, kite surfing, paddle boarding, skim boarding, kayaking, and other similar ocean activities.
  • Fishing will be allowed from the beach and other ocean access locations, in those places where fishing activities are normally allowed, so long as social distancing requirements are abided by.
  • Within Huntington Harbor and all connected channels, active recreation such as kayaking, boating, and paddle boarding will be allowed.

Under the new active recreation rules, beaches and the ocean will be closed to passive games, loitering, sunbathing, and any gatherings of people (even if engaged in active recreation) outside of those within their immediate household.

Additionally, at this time, the following amenities at the beach will remain closed to facilitate enhanced social distancing practices:

  • Huntington Beach Pier
  • Beach playground
  • Open grass and picnic areas adjacent to the beach bike path
  • Huntington Harbor beaches will remain closed, including:
    • Davenport Beach
    • Humboldt Beach
    • Trinidad Beach
    • Seabridge Park Beach
    • All harbor beaches along Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach

New signage highlighting the active recreation requirement at City beaches will be installed in the coming days.  Of note, tampering with the signs is considered a misdemeanor subject to fines or arrest by the Huntington Beach Police Department.

In addition, the City will maintain enhanced communication with the public to share details about the active recreation rules, with City lifeguards and law enforcement personnel set to make hourly public announcements about the need to engage in active recreation and social distancing while at the beach. The COVID-19 pandemic is constantly evolving, and the City is working to adapt to these changes and meet the needs of its community.  As policies are updated or modified, they will be posted on the City’s HB Ready website at  For questions about City policies and services, please call our Call Center at (714) 536-5511.

Your move, Newport.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.