The following article was originally published May 25, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by Frank Stoltze
L.A. County parks and beaches were filled with both the cautious and undeterred, during the first major holiday since the economy began to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Across the county, the vast majority of people wore masks and observed social distancing over the Memorial Day weekend, with one big exception, according to acting Parks and Recreation Director Norma Garcia.
So many people flooded Eaton Canyon Sunday, some jumping over fences, that officials closed the area at noon. People who likely traveled a long distance to see the canyon’s renowned waterfall, which is perched at the base of the Angeles National Forest above Altadena, seemed uninterested in following the rules, Garcia said.
“A lot of young folks were just not complying with park regulations,” Garcia said. She said when the parking lot filled up — which was announced with signs — dozens of people parked in a nearby residential area and made their way to the canyon through steep and dangerous terrain.
In anticipation of the crowds, officials had limited the length of time people could stay at the waterfall to five minutes. Still, some people sat down and picnicked adjacent to what is recognized as one of the more beautiful places in the county, Garcia said.
“The crowds got so big that physical distancing was not possible,” she said. “We were very concerned.”
Officials opted to close the Eaton Canyon trailhead, parking lot, nature center and all gates for the remainder of the holiday weekend.
The Strand, the iconic two-mile long beachside boardwalk in Hermosa Beach, reopened Saturday. It had been closed since March 28.
Police Chief Paul LeBaron said the reopening was going well. “It’s been good to see people out there,” he added.
The Hermosa Beach city council decided that keeping the boardwalk closed on a busy holiday weekend would have meant pushing pedestrians and bicycles onto nearby roadways, LeBaron said. “The health risks of people being in the same place as the cars basically outweighed our concerns about the social distancing.”
On the beach, police politely reminded people to remain active and apart. “We have officers on the beach and if we see people [not complying with regulations] we will educate them first, rather than issue a citation.”
The bigger problem turned out to be people who ordered alcohol to-go from restaurants nearThe Strand.
“People need to understand that those alcoholic beverages need to be taken home or to a private place and we are seeing a lot of people not adhere to that,” LeBaron said.
While the rules could change in the near future to allow for outdoor drinking, we’re not quite there yet.
A VERY DIFFERENT MEMORIAL DAY
Across Southern California, some people raised Old Glory to mark Memorial Day, while others tipped back a beer — or lemonade. If you didn’t look too closely or listen too carefully, it seemed like just another year of honoring the nation’s fallen soldiers.
But stop just about anyone for a chat and the subject of coronavirus wasn’t too far away.
Lemuel Dator wore a white mask as he jogged the track at Bellevue Recreation Center Park in Silver Lake. “I’m a truck driver. I drive interstate, including Canada,” he proudly stated through his mask, adding that he mostly hauls hazardous chemicals. “It’s very rare for me to be home.”
Dator has been getting fewer loads to haul since COVID-19 hit. But he doesn’t mind because he knows he’s sharing the work with other drivers at the company that employs him.
“They divide them between several drivers to keep us alive,” he said.
Now Dator is back in the park he loves, where he once played basketball all the time. He’s 63 years old and “deteriorating fast,” he said. He needs the exercise. “This is a blessing for me.”
How did SoCal do overall? We’ll give ourselves a B+ with an extra check mark for effort.