San Clemente beaches — among the last in Orange County open until midnight — are closing two hours earlier at night after a recent brawl between a group of teens and three off-duty Marines.
The San Clemente City Council voted Tuesday to close the city’s beaches at 10 p.m. effective immediately, citing how “challenging” law enforcement has become at night.
“We were one of the few, if not the only, beaches that actually had an open area until 12 a.m.,” Councilmember Mark Enmeier said in an interview Friday. “This should have been done several years ago because nothing good happens after 10 p.m. on the beach.”
City officials said public safety incidents have increased in the city in the last few weeks. But data do not suggest a rise in dangerous or criminal incidents involving youths in the beach areas, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Frank Gonzalez. He added that the new ordinance will also help address noise complaints from local residents.
“The beaches after 10 o’clock have been a problem for a long time,” Councilmember Steve Knoblock said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’ve done ride-alongs with the Police Department, and officers know that tends to be a problem time and a problem location.”
During the Memorial Day weekend, a group of 30 teens and young adults pummeled three off-duty Marines near San Clemente Pier. Five minors were arrested on suspicion of felony assault and booked into Orange County Juvenile Hall, authorities said.
Enmeier said the ordinance had been in the works to align with curfews for nearby beaches and to curtail teenage misconduct. But the brawl in May was the “tipping point.”
“This is a Marine Corps town,” Mayor Chris Duncan said during the meeting. “Especially on Memorial Day weekend, this was extraordinarily tragic and heartbreaking for our town.”
According to a city agenda report released during Tuesday’s meeting, most beaches in Orange and San Diego counties close at 10 p.m., and San Clemente’s later closure “creates a situation where bad actors could congregate on city beaches for an additional two hours.”
Enmeier said the 3,000 or so high school students in San Clemente need to have safe places to gather besides the beach areas at night, and city officials will meet to discuss some ideas.
Officials will monitor the beach to determine whether early closure improves safety in the area before permanently changing the hours, according to the agenda report.
Although the beach will now close at 10 p.m., the San Clemente Pier will remain open until midnight.
“We’re not looking at changing the culture of the town,” Enmeier said. “We’re just trying to make sure that our community is staying safe after those hours.”