‘A complete zoo’: Santa Monica closes beach parking lots, Malibu issues reminder to deter crowds

California Connection
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LOS ANGELES (KTLA) – Crowds who have flocked to beaches and hiking trails during the first weekend of a countywide "safer-at-home" order in Los Angeles County forced Santa Monica and Malibu officials to take further measures against large gatherings during a worsening outbreak.

The city of Santa Monica announced the immediate closure of beach parking lots on Sunday afternoon.

“We know that it’s difficult to stay at home when the weather is so nice, and being close to the beach is one of the primary reasons why we love to call Santa Monica home,” City Manager Rick Cole said in a statement. “Yet this is a time when we must take the guidelines from our health officials to heart. We urge our residents to avoid any public spaces where social distancing is a challenge.”

Residents who live near the beach and possess parking permits will still be allowed to park in the appropriate lots, according to the city.

Soon after, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority followed suit by shutting down its parks, trails and facilities, including restrooms, until further notice.

Earlier on Sunday, Malibu officials urged the public to follow the county's order to stay at home after receiving reports of crowded trails and beaches.

While the city doesn't operate county beaches and trails, federal lands, including Solstice Canyon, and the state-owned Malibu Pier and Point Dume Nature Preserve, authorities said they're concerned about the number of visitors in the community's recreation areas.

People ride bikes on the Santa Monica Pier on March 22, 2020. (KTLA)
People ride bikes on the Santa Monica Pier on March 21, 2020. (KTLA)

On Saturday, a number of people took to social media to post photos of crowds on the Malibu coast, as well as other places such as Hermosa Beach. The Santa Monica Pier was empty earlier that morning, but the tourist site had drawn a crowd by the afternoon.

At around 9 a.m. Sunday, Zuma Beach in Malibu appeared mostly deserted except for a few surfers and pedestrians.

Local resident Scott, who was on a walk with his partner, described the beach on Saturday as "a complete zoo."

"The only way we’re going to beat this is by abiding by the distancing [rule]. ... People are crazy," he told KTLA.

Malibu officials said they're working with state and county authorities to address the issue. Just before 6 p.m. on Sunday, the National Park Service said Solstice Canyon will close the next day.

"All other sites, which include hiking, biking, equestrian trails, parking lots and restrooms, will remain open for now. ... Park and public health officials are closely monitoring public use and may close other locations if social distancing cannot be maintained," said a statement from the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Park superintendent David Szymanski said he did not want to restrict people from accessing trails, but overcrowding has become a concern.

Malibu city officials noted that the L.A. County order doesn't ban people from outdoor activities and shopping at essential businesses as long as they practice social distancing and wash their hands.

California State Parks echoed the message on Sunday, remarking that the agency understood the current need to "enjoy the benefits of nature." People, however, must do their part to curb the outbreak, State Park officials said.

The public can report violations by calling the county public health officer at 888-700-9995 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., sending an email to Ehmail@ph.lacounty.gov, or visiting the county website, according to the city of Malibu.

On Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom admonished Californians who continued to gather in large groups in public spaces despite a statewide stay-at-home order intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Before the California proclamation, Los Angeles County had already issued a "safer-at-home" order.

“Be a good neighbor. Be a good citizen," Newsom said in a news conference on Saturday. "Those young people that are still out there on the beaches thinking this is party time — grow up. It’s time to wake up, time to recognize it’s not just about the old folks. It’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish, recognize you have a responsibility to meet this moment.”

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