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Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times
The City of Dana Point has dismissed itself from a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom after the state’s action to reopen beaches in Orange County. The announcement came on Thursday, May 7, after a controversial and confusing series of beach closures and reopenings.
“In response to the State’s swift action to approve openings, the city council has withdrawn from the beach access lawsuit filed against the State of California,” a city news release states. “The city’s goal was to be in the same position as other beach communities in the state, and have the ability to make local decisions regarding management of beach use and access during these difficult times.”
Prior to initially pursuing legal action, city council had held an emergency meeting on Thursday, April 30, in light of the governor’s announcement that day to close all beaches in Orange County. Municipalities up and down the state’s coastline had anticipated beach closures after a memo from the California Police Chiefs Association sent to police chiefs throughout the state was leaked to the press.
But Newsom clarified his stance after the release of that memo, saying, “We are going to do a hard close just in that part of the state, just that county.”
The emergency meeting was called in the spirit of the Brown Act, which defines “emergency” as threatened disruption to public facilities, City Attorney Patrick Muñoz said, adding that discussion on potential impacts as a result of protests was needed.
After meeting in closed session, Muñoz reported that the motion to participate in the lawsuit was brought forth by City Councilmember Debra Lewis and seconded by Councilmember Paul Wyatt.
“The City of Dana Point intends to get an injunction that challenges Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order to close all beaches in Orange County,” Muñoz said. “It would be a temporary restraining order on the beach closures.”
The motion passed, 4-1, with Lewis opposed.
In speaking to Lewis after the vote, she clarified that her motion was to make it clear that Dana Point, on its own, would be willing to be part of the litigation.
“This whole thing is just political theater,” Lewis said. “There’s that saying, ‘When they tell you it’s not about the money, it’s going to be about the money,’ and that’s how I felt. This decision was about money, not concern about people’s health. This is a public health crisis. We need to be steered by the public health experts. Not politicians who agree or disagree with various methods.”
In the complaint, the listed plaintiffs included Lido House and Balboa Bay Resort (both Newport Beach hotels), Pasea Hotel (a Huntington Beach hotel) and Lounge Group, LLC, in addition to the cities of Huntington Beach and Dana Point.
Lounge Group is an Orange County-based food and beverage consulting firm.
According to the complaint, plaintiffs argued that Newsom’s order was a threat to local governments.
“…Executive overreach applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner threatens the system of government guaranteed to the people of the State of California by the United States and California constitutions,” the complaint said. “By and through this action, Plaintiffs seek to limit the exercise of executive and governmental powers that threaten to turn the carefully crafted division of powers between the State and Local Governments on its head.”
A judge denied the request from the cities of Dana Point and Huntington Beach to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Newsom’s directive to close county beaches on Friday, May 1.
Hon. Nathan Scott of the Orange County Superior Court felt that the court had limited time to consider the “very serious issues presented,” according to a City of Dana Point statement. Scott also said he felt compelled to defer to the state’s concerns about public health.
During the court hearing, Dana Point city staff received a request from the state to participate in a call to develop a plan to reopen beaches in Orange County. A plan to reopen beaches will reportedly be developed and submitted to the state over the weekend. According to city staff, they are hopeful the plan will satisfy the state, deeming further court action unnecessary.
Dana Point City Manager Mike Killebrew told Dana Point Times that Muñoz had offered to pursue the suit on behalf of the city pro bono, or without payment.
“This is a tough time where budgets are tight and everyone is taking a hit,” Muñoz said. “I wanted our office (Rutan & Tucker, LLP) to do its part in standing up for an issue that was significant to the community.”
Muñoz acknowledged there was discussion early on about other plaintiffs covering the legal fees.
“I didn’t want any perception that Dana Point was beholden to anyone else,” Muñoz. “I am loyal to Dana Point, and this was an opportunity for me to make a sacrifice in order to serve the city.”
All beaches in Dana Point are now open seven days a week, with standard hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and only for active, recreational use.
“The city will continue to work with our government partners and looks forward to the next phase of increased permitted activities of the beach,” a city release states.
Lillian Boyd is the senior editor for Picket Fence Media and city editor for Dana Point Times. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Humboldt State University. Her work experience includes interviewing incarcerated individuals in the Los Angeles County jails, an internship at the Pentagon covering U.S. Army news as well as reporting and anchoring for a local news radio station in Virginia. Follow her on Twitter @Lillianmboyd and follow Dana Point Times at @danapointtimes.