A sign displays a reminder about the increased fines in Hermosa Beach. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
For locals, Fourth of July in Hermosa Beach is either the stuff of legend or loathing.
Each year, thousands of party-seekers descend upon the tiny beach town — known for its young, hip bar scene — to cruise the Strand or attend one of dozens of raucous house parties that often spill onto the beach.
For revelers, it's paradise. But for many residents, who say they've endured crowds of staggering drunk people, alcohol-fueled brawls and blaring music, the Fourth means one thing: It's time to get out of town.
This year, however, city officials have put would-be partygoers on notice. After a marked rise in arrests during last year's holiday, Hermosa Beach is cracking down on public intoxication and other offenses for the entire week, tripling the fines for such offenses from Monday to Sunday.
"Unfortunately, I think we've started to gain a reputation as some place where you can come and just go wild," Mayor Kit Bobko said. "What we're saying is be responsible and don't treat our city like it's a spring break town. Because it's not."
Last year, Hermosa Beach police received more than 300 calls for service during the day and made 24 arrests, including 15 for public intoxication. The city's tiny eight-cell jail was filled to capacity. One beach party, attended by hundreds of teens, quickly spiraled out of control after word spread on social media. One police officer was punched in the face trying to break up a fight.
This year, city officials say, nearly 100 officers will be out in force on the Fourth, including 50 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and undercover enforcement officers from the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Police will also bring in a 35-foot "jail bus" that will enable officers to hold and process more arrestees more quickly. Fines for such offenses as open containers in public or on the beach, which typically cost nearly $500, will be tripled through Sunday.
"This increased police presence will ensure strict enforcement of laws," interim Police Chief Michael McCrary wrote in a letter to residents. He added that the campaign "is aimed at ensuring we can all safely enjoy Independence Day."
As temperatures sizzled in Southern California over the weekend, American flag bikinis and bandannas abounded, as did blue and red plastic cups and beer-laden coolers stuck in the sand.
Sgt. Landon Phillips, a 10-year Hermosa Beach police veteran, patrolled the beach Saturday in his black-and-white sport utility vehicle. He slowed it near a pair of sunbathing twentysomethings.
"Looks like beer to me," said Phillips, eyeing a bright green plastic container filled with liquid.
Getting out of the car, Phillips asked what was in it.
"Some iced tea," the man responded, not missing a beat.
"Mind if I check?"
"With vodka," he quickly revised. Phillips pulled out his clipboard and wrote a ticket. "You can split it," he told the pair.
A few hundred yards down the sand, Phillips and another officer stopped a couple with a cooler. Inside, the officers found a bottle of vodka, juices and soda, and half a dozen cans of beer.
The crackdown is a tough sell for some Hermosa residents.
"It's ridiculous," said Bill Reckner, 44, who appreciates the laid-back beach atmosphere of the town.
"This is a local beach, and someone should give them a break," Reckner said, looking on from his lounge chair as the officers poured the vodka into the sand.
In many ways, Hermosa has embraced alcohol use as a part of its culture. A favorite tradition on the Fourth is the Hermosa Beach Ironman, in which competitors run a mile, paddle a mile on a surfboard and guzzle a six-pack of beer on the beach. The first to finish without vomiting wins.
City officials have tried to put a stop to the event, but an outcry from its devotees resigned them to simply monitoring the crowd.
Still, the city's pledge to ramp up policing isn't enough for Mary Bos, a 40-year-old surgeon and mother who says she packs up her family and travels far away — this year, Colorado — whenever the Fourth rolls around.
Bos, who moved to Hermosa Beach six years ago, said she was "disgusted" by what she saw during her first Independence Day in the city.
"There were drunk people acting crazy, girls half naked, pot smoking in the street," she said. "I'd rather not have to leave. It's the Fourth of July — I'd rather take my family to the beach and have a nice picnic."