HUNTINGTON BEACH — For the third year straight, Huntington Beach became ground zero for Independence Day trouble. There were torched sofas, blazing trash cans, overturned bus benches, dozens of yards trampled by rowdy party-goers and more than 100 arrests late Tuesday.
For the first time in the city's Fourth of July history, there was also a killing.
On Wednesday, exhausted police, civic leaders, merchants and residents were asking how--despite the biggest police mobilization in city history--violence could have erupted yet again. Some were already talking tough about clamping down even harder next year.
But asked whether the annual melees are ruining Surf City's reputation as a fun-loving, down-home beach community, everyone from merchants to residents, police to city officials answered "no."
While just about everyone agrees there is something wrong here, most stood by their city and touted their patriotic parade as the best west of the Mississippi.
"We have the image of Home Town Fourth of July," insisted Diane Baker, executive director of the Huntington Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau. "I think it's a very safe city and it's a great city and one day out of the year we just have to address this problem. It isn't a problem every weekend."
Police arrested 104 people after the daylong festivities, compared to 150 during last year's riot. Officers made arrests for public intoxication, illegal possession of fireworks, vandalism, burglary, assault and homicide in the death of Huntington Beach resident Christopher Albert, 21.
Albert was shot in the chest at 11 p.m. at 10th Street and Pacific Coast Highway after arguing with three Riverside County men, Police Lt. Dan Johnson said.
Police later stopped Estebon Quiroz Jr., 22, and Matthew Wayne Raymond, 21, both of Riverside, and Roy Casey Becerra, 22, of Corona, at Beach Boulevard and Stark Street after witnesses to the shooting gave police descriptions.
Quiroz was arrested on suspicion of murder and taken to Huntington Beach City Jail. Raymond and Becerra were arrested on suspicion of being accessories to a homicide, Johnson said.
The city's redeveloped Main Street remained calm under strict police measures, but residents north of downtown battled drunken crowds with garden hoses and awoke to find their flower beds trampled and nearby trash bins smoldering.
Roving youths damaged seven police cars, tossing bricks and bottles through their windows, and small bands moved from corner to corner, lighting small fires before police swept in to arrest them. A free-lance cameraman was beaten and his equipment damaged.
Despite another wild holiday incident, most merchants praised the plan police put into action this year.
"Overall, we're a lot better than we were last year," said Stephen Daniel, a chocolate shop owner who heads the Downtown Business Assn. "I would have been drastically surprised if there was a problem in downtown, because police really did put together a plan to deal with the downtown. I think they did an excellent job."
Police sealed off core downtown streets to traffic and bicycles and encouraged businesses to close down by 8 p.m. California Highway Patrol and Orange County Sheriff's Department personnel were on hand to help, and police used mounted deputies and motorcycles for crowd control.
They also received special training in crowd control from the Los Angeles Police Department to make arrests more swiftly, avoiding chasing party-goers around and using nightsticks to subdue them.
This year's police deployment was the biggest ever, including 225 city police officers, 26 sheriff's deputies and more. The effort was the result of months of planning that even included a field kitchen for on-duty officers, police video cameras to capture illegal activity and protect police against possible civil lawsuits, and roving vans to pick up arrestees.
But trouble still erupted, leaving many to wonder how to tackle the problem next year.
While police controlled the downtown, they did not stop the party-goers from raising havoc in the residential area nearby, also a trouble spot in past years.
"The measures we took reduced the volume of people, and with fewer people, we had fewer problems, not quite as intense as last year, but the problem still exists," said Officer Mike Kelly.
"We're encouraged about what happened with our downtown business area, but that is not something that we can realistically apply to the whole rest of the area or to the entire city," he said. "We'll have to take a step back, see what worked and see what didn't work, and gear up for next year. We build on this every year."
The scourge of roving party-goers is part of the city's history.
"They've always had a problem with July 4th here with partying," Daniel said. "We've gone from the beach to the pier, from the pier to the housing in the residential areas."
So who is to blame?