Officials confident scaled-down U.S. Open will be violence-free

Huntington Beach police, city officials and event organizers have expressed confidence that their preparations will prevent a repeat of the civil disturbances that followed last year's U.S. Open of Surfing.

For the past several months, IMG Action Sports, the city's Specific Events Committee and the Police Department have fine-tuned plans for the surfing competition. The goal is to reduce the odds of unrest.

"We've taken a lot of different steps to ensure the safety of the event," Police Chief Robert Handy said. "You can never really predict human behavior, especially when you have 100,000 people coming down in one event venue, but we certainly think that all the steps have been taken to make a safe and family friendly event."

Some downtown residents were already angered by the sometimes rowdy and unruly attendees at the annual celebration, but they were pushed over the edge when a disturbance erupted at the end of the final day of last summer's competition. Thousands of dollars in damage and 20 arrests resulted from the violence and vandalism.

IMG Vice President and Executive Producer James Leitz said he has addressed many of the issues that could have led to last year's disturbance.

He said during a city Downtown Task Force meeting in November that the footprint of the event would be downsized significantly, and he would do away with several features, including live music and the public skateboarding bowl.

Indeed, Leitz's promises were reflected in the plans he presented during a Specific Events Committee meeting in April. Gone were the music stage and the skate bowl, but he also significantly reduced the number of beach vendors and barred alcohol sales and consumption at the venue.

"The plan that was presented early on during the [Downtown] Task Force meeting in November and the plan that was further evolved in the April meeting is what we're holding onto," Leitz said. "We're going with plan A, so that's what we're doing."

Chris Cole, the city's specific events supervisor, said he was impressed that IMG was taking the initiative, adding that the collaboration between the city and the event organizer has gone smoothly over the last year.

"It's a pretty good partnership," he said. "We're both in an understanding of what we want to see this year."

However, the city still is concerned about pop-up and so-called guerrilla vendors, who just show up and sell merchandise without permission.

It will be requiring businesses that want to host activities on the sidewalks to apply for a temporary activity permit, and police will patrol the area for unpermitted vending.

Handy said the Police Department will deploy four mounted officers downtown on the weekends and increase police presence toward the end of the competition. Officers from Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Westminster will assist in the patrols.

The city's new ambassadors — yellow-shirted security officers — will act as extra eyes for police while also providing directions and assistance to visitors.

"I think we'll be fine. I really do," Handy said. "I think we're in good shape, but like I said, you can't predict human behavior."

The U.S. Open of Surfing runs from July 26 to Aug. 3.

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