HUNTINGTON BEACH — For the third straight year, this city became ground zero for Independence Day trouble Tuesday. There were burning sofas and trash cans, overturned bus benches, dozens of yards trampled by rowdy party-goers and more than 100 arrests.
And for the first time during a Fourth of July celebration in the city, there was also a slaying.
Even the biggest police mobilization in Huntington Beach history could not stop the annual cycle of violence.
On Wednesday, merchants, residents, police and local officials defended Surf City's reputation as a fun-loving, down-home beach community.
While just about everyone agreed there was a problem--and theories abounded on how to clamp down even further next year--most stood by their city and touted their patriotic parade as the best west of the Mississippi.
"We have the image of hometown Fourth of July," said 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 during 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 one homicide. Huntington Beach resident Christopher Albert, 21, was shot once in the chest about 11 p.m. after a dispute with three Riverside County men, said Huntington Beach Police Lt. Dan Johnson.
The city's redeveloped Main Street remained calm because of strict police measures to close it down, but residents north of downtown battled drunken crowds from their porches with garden hoses. Many awoke to find their flower beds trampled and trash bins smoldering.
Roving youths damaged seven police cars, tossing bricks and bottles through their windows. 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.
Most merchants praised the plan police put into action this year, which sealed off core downtown streets to traffic and bicycles and encouraged businesses to close by 8 p.m. California Highway Patrol and Orange County Sheriff's Department personnel were also on hand to help; mounted deputies and motorcycle officers assisted with crowd control.
Police also received special training in crowd control from the Los Angeles Police Department in order to make arrests more swiftly.
The police deployment was the biggest ever in Huntington Beach, including 225 city police officers and 26 sheriff's deputies. The effort was the result of months of planning that included a field kitchen for on-duty officers, police video cameras to capture illegal activities and roving vans to pick up arrestees.
"Overall, we're a lot better than we were last year," said Stephen Daniel, a shop owner who heads the Downtown Business Assn.
But trouble still erupted.
"They've always had a problem with July Fourth here with partying," Daniel said. "We've gone from the beach to the pier, from the pier to the housing in the residential areas."
Residents and officials cite a number of factors behind the violence: the media attracting "hooligans" to the festivities, drunken outsiders and liquor stores that log record sales on the holiday. And city officials say the residents, some of whom host parties north of downtown that yearly turn into disturbances, need to take some responsibility for what happened.
Angry homeowner Gay Hogan searched for answers as a repairman replaced a broken window in her home, the result of a firecracker thrown by a partyer.
"With 250 patrolmen, we thought it would be much better this year," the 14-year resident said.
"Those liquor stores were selling more beer and more alcohol," Hogan said. "The people who walked by aren't locals. These gangs move from one corner to the other. The police were effective, but they were outnumbered."
Deputy City Administrator Richard Barnard said any solution would take a community effort.
"It's the merchants, it's the residents, it's everybody saying, 'Hey, this is not in keeping with a desirable place to live and work and play,' " he said.