By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles County officials who have been widely mocked since reports surfaced that they had imposed a $1,000 fine for throwing Frisbees and footballs on the beach said on Thursday that the rule change had been badly misunderstood.
In fact, the county had only eased restrictions that have been in place for more than 40 years and carry a much lesser fine of $100, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.
"There has been a lot of misinformation and a lot of concern and anger on the part of the public," said Joel Bellman, a press deputy for Yaroslavsky. "It was a good faith effort to create new opportunities for people to play on the beach that they didn't have under the old ordinance."
Reports that supervisors had ratcheted up fines for throwing footballs and Frisbees on the county's beaches to $1,000 made international headlines, became a point of ridicule on local talk radio and infuriated locals.
Bellman said Yaroslavsky's office alone had fielded dozens of phone calls and e-mails from irate constituents since the first news reports this week.
In fact the original law, which dates to 1970, makes it an infraction to "cast, toss, throw, kick or roll" anything other than a beach ball on a Los Angeles County beach -- a rule that may have escaped the notice of many Southern Californians.
The revised ordinance, which was given final approval by supervisors on Tuesday, allows beach balls and volleyballs -- and loosens restrictions on footballs, Frisbees and other such sporting equipment and toys.
The ban now applies only during summer and lets beachgoers toss their footballs and Frisbees in designated areas, over the water or with permission from a lifeguard.
A first infraction carries a fine of $100, rising to a maximum of $500 for three or more violations in a single year.
Bellman said the reports of $1,000 fines were erroneous and apparently taken from another part of the ordinance that refers to misdemeanors such as public nudity.
But Bellman said lifeguards were more likely to just direct overzealous beach football players to another area if they were causing a problem. He said the intent of the law was to protect children and families from being trampled, not to ruin anyone's fun.
"We're not about making the beach an unpleasant experience for people and coming on like some totalitarian police force. They are going to be mellow about it," Bellman said.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)