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Lawsuit challenges City of Long Beach's closure of boardwalk during COVID-19 pandemic

The City of Long Beach closed its boardwalk

The City of Long Beach closed its boardwalk on March 26 citing crowd control concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A Long Beach attorney has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the City of Long Beach’s closure of the city’s boardwalk in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Francis McQuade, who lost a bid last year for Nassau County district attorney, filed the motion Friday in Nassau County Supreme Court against the five elected city council members, interim City Manager Donna Gayden and her assistant John McNally.

McQuade and his Long Beach attorney, Scott Cohen, are seeking an injunction against the city’s closure, arguing the city did not get approval from the state Department of Health to close the boardwalk. They argued that the closure also created a different public health crisis by restricting access to the beach to two entrance points at Pacific Boulevard and New York Avenue.

Long Beach officials said they do not comment on pending litigation.

A hearing has not been set to hear the challenge, but the court is expected to notify attorneys about a hearing to be held over Skype.

City officials closed the 2.2-mile boardwalk March 26 until further notice after officials cited growing crowds congregating on the boardwalk, which is frequently used for exercise and an outdoor public space. The city announced the boardwalk would be “closed by emergency order.”

The closure was later praised by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

Long Beach has 285 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to Nassau County’s most recent data. The number increased by about 150 new positive cases since the city’s closure.

McQuade called it a government “overreach with unintended consequences.” He argued Long Beach police should have enforced social distancing measures on the boardwalk.

“Despite the City of Long Beach accepting tens of millions of federal dollars to create a public thoroughfare, City Council President [John] Bendo threatens the public with police action should they attempt to enter the public space,” McQuade’s lawsuit states.

The lawsuit argues the city illegally closed the boardwalk by superseding the governor’s executive order and without state approval.

The Long Beach City Charter says that the city has control of the boardwalk and the beach. City officials notified the state following the closure, but the Department of Health declined to overturn the city’s closure.

“The immediate result of the City of Long Beach’s arbitrarily shuttering the boardwalk has resulted in the closure of a major public thoroughfare, and has effectively closed off beach access to the majority of the City. This has resulted in an influx of people and traffic clustering at the few open entrances to the beach, primarily located at New York Avenue and Pacific Boulevard,” the lawsuit states.

The city does not open its beach season with paid admission and lifeguards until Memorial Day weekend, but the beach remains accessible off the boardwalk.

“In essence, the entire City has descended on those two locations to access the beach, drastically increasing the density of people, which cluster in those locations,” the lawsuit argues. “Moreover, after shuttering the only pedestrian only thoroughfare in the City, the public now flood narrow sidewalks and crowded streets, which hinder social distancing measures, which may take place on the City’s boardwalk.”