Southern California residents mostly stayed home on New Year’s Eve, heeding warnings by public health officials, but several large gatherings were still held across the region, including one by Christian activist Sean Feucht that drew an estimated 2,500 mostly unmasked attendants to a church parking lot in Valencia.
Despite the risks of spreading the coronavirus amid a deadly surge in the pandemic, people could be seen standing shoulder to shoulder while jumping, singing and shouting in a video posted by Feucht’s Instagram account. Most in the crowd did not wear face coverings.
The gathering took place Thursday night in the parking lot of Higher Vision Church in Valencia for a New Year’s Eve concert and worship service coordinated by Feucht.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said there were no incidents reported before, during or after the event.
It was the latest in a string of events organized by Feucht, who has repeatedly ignored public health orders by holding gatherings that critics have denounced as potential super-spreader events for COVID-19, including a Thursday morning musical and homeless-outreach effort at Echo Park Lake.
“Come home. Come home tonight. Come on, run to the cross. Run to the cross. In the name of Jesus, run, run, run quickly,” Feucht says in one video.
A stream of men and women can be seen running through a crowd of hundreds of screaming participants squeezed together.
“This was actually my fav moment as hundreds ran to the cross giving their lives to Jesus,” Feucht wrote, followed by crying emojis. “The lost need Jesus and we must boldly preach him. No backing down!!!”
Jacky RoDerte, center, gets into an altercation with a woman, left, while offering her a mask during the gathering at Echo Park Lake. The woman refused to put one on.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Earlier Thursday evening, actor Kirk Cameron and several others gathered at Point Mugu Beach in Ventura County, according to ABC-7 footages and other news sources.
“We need to be listening for the voice of God, rather than being distracted by the noise of men. … And let’s let our 2021 be a year of trumpets and shouting,” Cameron said in a video posted on his Instagram page, which showed a crowd shouting and clapping in response to his sermon. Most did not wear masks.
In recent weeks, Cameron has openly defied COVID-19 mandates to wear masks and physically distance from others, claiming they violate civil and religious liberties. He recently hosted two caroling events in Thousands Oaks that also came under fire from public health authorities.
Ventura County sheriff’s officials didn’t receive any calls about the gathering on the isolated stretch of beach, Capt. Eric Buschow said.
While the gathering was in defiance of state health orders, Buschow said, the religious group is exempted.
“There are all these loopholes and that’s exactly what they are exploiting … the loopholes,” Buschow said. “That’s why we didn’t take any action.”
In contrast to the defiant gatherings the day prior, Pasadena on New Year’s Day was mostly quiet, feeling the economic brunt of a shutdown Rose Bowl Parade, a decision the Tournament of Roses made to save lives and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
It was the first time in 75 years the parade had been canceled. Altogether, the region stands to lose up to $200 million by not hosting the parade and Rose Bowl game, according to a 2018 study conducted by the Enigma Research Corp., which estimated event-related spending.
The parade was also canceled during the wartime years of 1942, 1943 and 1945.
Some tried to make the best of the situation.
Shortly after the cancelation was announced, Richard Ur of Bradbury called car clubs across Southern California to organize a cruise along the parade route.
The Sultans Car Club in Long Beach, which was part of the New Year’s Day cruise, encouraged participants on its website to socially distance, wear a mask and “bring a rose or two or more.”
“It’s a Rose Parade Cruise,” the web page announced. “A fellow named Dick Ur told us that he had a dream, which consisted of classic cars cruising all along the Rose Parade route, with at least one rose in— or on every car. Although he does not have a classic car any longer, he has love and passion for classic cars. We would love to make his dream come true!”
A separate group called the People’s Rose Parade also organized a car caravan Friday to honor the victims of COVID-19 and advocate for healthcare changes.