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Anxiety Attack

September 21, 1986|CHALON SMITH | Chalon Smith is an Orange County-based writer specializing in the arts

While arts patrons eagerly await the opening of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa police and fire officials are looking to its first days with a fair amount of anxiety.

Despite optimism that traffic problems can be minimized, the city's police department is worried that floods of visitors may snarl main thoroughfares around the center. Firefighters, while confident that they have taken both ordinary and extraordinary precautions against a disastrous blaze, feel they have to be especially on guard throughout the upcoming season. But the question of whether the city or the center should pay the cost of supplementary personnel has not yet been resolved.

"All traffic is a headache to us, but this could be particularly bad if we are not adequately prepared," Police Chief Roger E. Neth says. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Says Fire Chief John Paul Petruzziello: "It is a safe building as far as we can tell. We'll be checking it (to make sure it meets fire codes) right up to the moment (of the opening Sept. 29). It's an unusual building, and we have to be watchful throughout.

"I wouldn't say we're too worried, just very cautious."

A team of fire inspectors have followed the center's construction "from the first day" to ensure that sprinklers, emergency exits and other safety measures are in place and maintained, Petruzziello says. City firefighters have also met regularly with the center's security staff to develop emergency procedures in the event a blaze occurs or someone needs paramedic care.

Inspectors will also monitor the building during the season's first three months to determine if safety features need to be improved, Petruzziello says.

Outside the center, the police's main job will be to keep traffic moving on Bristol Street (the main road leading to the center) and on the Interstate 405 off-ramp onto Bristol. Neth also says there is some worry that Fairview Road and Harbor Boulevard may become congested by visitors taking secondary routes.

The policing will require as many as 10 officers on the streets before and after each performance to keep fender-benders to a minimum and prevent gridlock, Lt. Gary Webster says.

Neth notes that two new officers and two part-time aides will probably be hired to monitor the increased traffic flow and direct cars to the center's parking lots. As of August, it had not been determined whether the city or center would pick up the $200,000 price tag (including salaries, motorcycles, radios and other equipment), but it is likely that Costa Mesa will fund it for the first year, Neth says.

"Discussions are planned (with center officials) as to who will be paying for it after the first year," Neth says. "We think it should be at least partly their burden."

Webster points out that the additional officers, although hired mainly for traffic tied to the center, would also be used at the Pacific Amphitheatre, the Orange County Fair and other local entertainment events.

As for most minor problems inside the center, police will defer to the in-house, three-person security force. City officers will be called in if there are major crimes, in the center, parking lot or surrounding areas.

"We, of course, would become involved for burglaries . . . anything major," Neth says. "Up to that point, we think their security personnel would be adequate."

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