Hundreds of protesters with signs and U.S. flags gathered near a lifeguard station in Pacific Beach on April 26 to protest state and county stay-at-home orders and beach closures issued in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The protesters rallied next to the PB Shore Club at 4343 Ocean Blvd., most not practicing social distancing or wearing facial coverings.
Two police motorcycle officers circled the area, with dozens of officers patrolling on foot. Authorities reported issuing one traffic citation and making two arrests on allegations of public drunkenness.
San Diego beaches were set to reopen at sunrise Monday, April 27, for surfers, swimmers, kayakers and paddleboarders in the ocean and runners and walkers on the sand. However, Phase 1 of the plan restricts group gatherings, parking and sitting or lying down on the sand.
The protesters in Pacific Beach carried signs with messages such as “COVID is a lie” and “PB is open.”
The rally began at 1 p.m. and people started to leave the area near the lifeguard tower after about a half-hour, gathering at the corner of Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue.
About 300 people, some wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats, crowded onto the sidewalks as trucks and motorcycles looped around the block honking while protesters chanted into bullhorns.
“I don’t feel that government has the right to tell us, the individuals, how to live our lives,” said Gardner Osborne, a 53-year-old accountant from Pacific Beach.
Osborne attended the event with his wife and young son. Though they all wore face masks, he said he wasn’t concerned about his family getting sick.
“This is more a sign of respect for fellow citizens that may be concerned about it,” he said of the face coverings.
Smiling under the brim of an American flag hat, Skyler Evans, 36, of Oceanside said she believes that social distancing has worked but that it’s time to lift restrictions on businesses.
“Where do you go with this?” she said. “I mean, you’ll have soup kitchen lines eventually.
“Why is Home Depot open and a small mom-and-pop shop isn’t?”
The rally also drew a crowd of onlookers including Khopper Evans, 27, of La Jolla, who said he didn’t agree with the message of the protest.
“Everybody just has to be patient,” he said through a face mask. “I understand that people want haircuts or to get their nails done or to go to the bars and all that, but do we really want to risk everybody’s health when we don’t have this COVID-19 under control?”
State Assembly member Todd Gloria (D-San Diego), whose district includes Pacific Beach, issued a statement April 27 saying he was “disappointed” by the protest.
“While I understand the frustration with the stay-at-home orders, the fact remains that positive COVID-19 cases are still increasing in San Diego County and people are dying. There is no immunity to this disease, and ... blatant ignoring of public health guidelines potentially put hundreds of people at risk. That’s not OK,” he said.
“All of us want to return to normal. However, the longer we protest and needlessly leave our homes, the longer we will stay under these circumstances. The progress we have made is because of San Diegans who have stayed at home, practiced physical distancing and covered their face in public. We can’t let all of that progress be for nothing.”
San Diegans weren’t the only ones who attended the rally. Many people drove hours to join the event, including John Gimino, 58, of Los Angeles. He said it was the first protest he’d been to in years.
“When I look at the data and really compiling it just objectively, it’s going to end up being no different than a bad flu season,” he said. “Very few people [and] reporters are looking at that and reporting it. Now that we have statistical data, I think it’s time we open things up.”
Ronda Reveles, 30, made the trip from Corona with her 3-year-old son. She said this was the first such protest she’s attended, though she has participated in rallies concerning vaccinations.
“This is all tyranny,” she said. “The government is trying to enforce fear on us, and I don’t live by fear. I live by my lord and savior.”
The event lasted until around 4 p.m.
“As the Police Department does with every protest, we were present today to ensure the right of those to safely and legally express their constitutional rights and to protect the safety and welfare of those in the area,” police Capt. Matt Novak told a small gathering of reporters after the rally.
Law enforcement officials were considering whether to take action against the organizers, he added.
“Any charges, including violations of the county health order, that may come from this event for individuals including the organizers will be evaluated once reviewed by our detectives in the City Attorney’s Office.”
PB Monthly Editor Rob Vardon, City News Service, Union-Tribune staff writer David Hernandez and freelancer Barbara Henry contributed to this report.