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City Seeks Compromise With State Panel on Beach Curfew : Regulation: Threat of crime prompts Long Beach officials to hold negotiations with Coastal Commission.

January 27, 1994|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long Beach officials, armed with a lawsuit asserting the city's right to impose a beach curfew to deter crime, will meet today with California Coastal Commission staff members to try to iron out their differences.

The Coastal Commission has told the city that it violated state law guaranteeing public access to the coastline when it imposed a beach curfew starting at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. The city must return to the old curfew, the commission said.

But Long Beach balked, filing the lawsuit earlier this month. Councilman Douglas S. Drummond, who is leading the Long Beach delegation today, says the Coastal Commission is interfering with the city's ability to fight crime.

The Coastal Commission apparently is willing to compromise.

"It's in nobody's best interest to spend tax dollars on a lawsuit or fight this thing out in court," said Peter Douglas, the commission's executive director.

Douglas said the Long Beach curfew is too broad. If city officials can show there is a crime problem at a specific beach, then perhaps the commission will allow the city to impose an early curfew at that beach for a limited time, he said. But a blanket curfew would violate the Coastal Act, which guards public access to the coastline, Douglas said.

It may be difficult for Long Beach officials to persuade the commission that an earlier curfew is needed, however. Police say they do not keep separate statistics for beach crimes, and have no evidence of an increase.

Drummond won council support for the early curfew last June, shortly after a young man was shot and killed in Belmont Shore near the beach.

William Shadden, 26, was shot at La Verne Avenue and Ocean Boulevard as he headed home from work after 11 p.m. on Memorial Day. He was scuffling with two teen-agers who allegedly wanted to steal his bicycle. Two youths are in custody. The alleged triggerman, 16, faces a murder trial as an adult.

Drummond appealed to his colleagues to tighten beach and parking lot restrictions, saying undesirables were loitering there and contributing to the city's crime problem. The Belmont Shore Improvement Assn. and other homeowners groups supported the restrictions, which the council approved in June.

When Coastal Commission officials learned of Long Beach's action, they instructed city officials to appear before the commission for a permit. The commission told Long Beach last month that the new curfew--and even the city's decades-old midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew--violated the state Coastal Act guarding public access to the seaside. The commission approved some parking lot restrictions, including closing lots at the end of Alamitos and Junipero avenues from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

After Long Beach officials protested the curfew decision, the commission staff said the city could keep the old curfew of midnight to 5 a.m. because it was enacted in the 1950s, before the Coastal Act existed.

But city officials said they want to keep the tougher curfew, and filed the lawsuit in Long Beach Superior Court. It asserts that a city's right to protect its citizens against crime supersedes the authority of the Coastal Commission.

The city will not press for a hearing until after negotiations with Coastal Commission officials, Assistant City Atty. Robert E. Shannon said.

The city has enforced the parking lot restrictions, but has not enforced the early curfew, a police spokesman said.

Other Southern California cities that have beach curfews are in an uproar as well over the Coastal Commission's position. Some cities recently imposed more stringent curfews because of crime and budgetary constraints. It takes fewer police to monitor a closed beach.

Several Orange County cities, backed by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), have joined Long Beach in trying to persuade the Coastal Commission to relent. Bergeson and representatives of Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and other Orange County cities are to meet Friday with the commission staff.

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