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Huntington Council Balks at Fireworks

Orange County

City leaders, recalling past Fourth of July disturbances, narrowly reject a proposal that raised objections by the Police Department.

January 21, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Taking heed of the Police Department's objections, the Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday night voted against fireworks on the beach for the Fourth of July.

"There is no way to contain the people," said Mayor Cathy Green, who voted with the 4-3 majority. "One riot, one problem, and we set ourselves back 10 years."

Countered Councilwoman Jill Hardy, "I trust the people of Huntington Beach and the people who visit here. I'd like to be proven wrong here. There's a huge difference between a twentysomething person who wants to party in a bar on Main Street and a family that wants to watch fireworks on the beach."

The proposal, by Councilwoman Pam Julien Houchen, renewed debate over the identity of downtown Huntington Beach, an area once dominated by surfers but now being redeveloped with an older crowd in mind.

In recent years, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in the downtown's redevelopment to encourage high-end tourism, including the luxury 517-room Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa and the Waterfront Hilton Beach Resort.

All of which indicate that it's not the same city that once was prone to Fourth of July violence, fireworks advocates say.

"I believe that we are mature enough of a community to have the same events that many surrounding beach communities have," Houchen said.

Councilman Dave Sullivan, however, said all of the efforts to clean up the city's image could be undone if the celebration gets out of control.

"We're going to have this big event that will draw huge crowds, and the question is, is it worth it for one celebration?" he asked. "It's like having a rock concert without gates. There's no way the police can check to see if people have alcohol."

Fireworks displays on the beach have drawn as many as 40,000 people and created traffic and safety problems, including the discharge of illegal fireworks and unlawful drinking. The most recent violence was nine years ago, when more than 500 people were arrested while revelers ran amok.

Over the years, the city has largely dealt with those problems by having a strong police presence on the Fourth, a zero-tolerance policy toward drunken and rowdy behavior, and holding the fireworks display at a local high school instead of the beach, which posed enough of a crowd-control challenge. Last year, however, grass had just been replanted on the school's athletic fields and there were no sanctioned fireworks in the city.

"I think sometimes we're living in the past, and it's time to move on," Houchen said.

But according to the Police Department, the large number of visitors that fireworks would draw, and an inability to control drinking, could once again lead to trouble.

"We've seen how quickly those things can escalate," said Lt. Craig Junginger, a community policing officer.

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