Huntington Beach residents made it clear to council members on Tuesday that not only does the U.S. Open of Surfing need to change, but so does the overall atmosphere of the downtown area.
Surf City's council chambers were packed to the gills for the town hall meeting city officials called for, where 51 residents addressed concerns about the disturbance after the end of the nine-day surfing competition and offered solutions to prevent such an action from happening next year.
Many residents, including surfing legend Peter Townend, said the U.S. Open isn't a surfing competition anymore, but more of a place for teens and young adults to party and be seen.
Downtown resident Jeff Freud said he grew up in Newport Beach and as a child wasn't allowed to go to Huntington Beach because of the culture in the city at the time.
He said he had three offices in downtown but has moved them to Newport after seeing the devolution of the area. Now he said he's even considering moving his family to Newport as well because of how bad things have gotten in the past few years.
"I let them pee on my grass. I didn't want conflict," Freud said. "I let them throw their bottles onto my grass and we picked them up."
He told council members that the Open isn't a surf contest and asked them to travel to other surfing events in the state and try to replicate them in Huntington Beach.
"We hosted a young South African surfer in the contest and once he was eliminated, he wouldn't go back down there," Freud said. "This is a guy that travels the world surfing and he didn't want to go watch surfing."
Seana Cormack told council members that during her youth, she was one of the delinquents in the city. But having grown up and now owning a business, she said the city's priorities in downtown have shifted.
"We as a community have been sold out," Cormack said. "We've been sold out for profit over safety objectives, resources and rationale of our community."
Downtown business owners said the Open doesn't help bring them revenue. One owner said he saw his sales go down 90% at one point during this year's competition.
"We're not making the money you think we are," said Susie Smith, who owns Makin Waves Salon on Main Street.
Huntington Beach police Chief Ken Small gave a presentation before the public comments, giving a timetable of what occurred Sunday night.
He showed videos and pictures of the disturbance and exact times of major events. He went as far as to show a video of a crowd chanting, "[expletive] the pigs."
"I've never have understood why we become the enemy in all of these situations," Small said. "But somehow in these events, the focus seems to turn onto the police officers."
The chief said a fight broke out around 6:40 p.m. near Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street. Five minutes later, more brawls broke out and police stepped in to break it up. It was at this time an officer was reportedly assaulted by a suspect with a skateboard, Small said.
At around 7:04 p.m., an incident commander requested aid from Newport Beach police, the chief said. According to Jennifer Manzella, spokeswoman for Newport police, 11 officers, one lieutenant and two sergeants were sent to aid Huntington officers.
Neighboring city Costa Mesa sent nine officers and one sergeant to offer help, according to Costa Mesa police Lt. Greg Scott.
A total of 271 officers were involved with the disturbance, according to Small. Huntington Beach had 123 officers at the scene while 148 officers from 21 outside agencies assisted.
"I've got to confess, I was kind of dreading the thought of having to come here tonight and listen to all of this, but now that it's over I have to say it was a good thing," Small said. "Never during my time here have the downtown residents been given an opportunity to come and speak collectively to the City Council. All of the things I've heard tonight, I've heard consistently over the past 10 years. But I think [Tuesday night] was an opportunity for them to deliver a message to the City Council in a very powerful way."
Council members shared many of the same sentiment residents had. Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper said "it felt like a hit to the stomach" when he was told by Mayor Connie Boardman of what was happening. Harper said he's looking forward to seeing what solutions the new downtown task force will come up with in the near future.
"There's always a lot of difficulty," he said. "Some ideas may seem good on the surface, but of course after discussions, I'm sure there's a lot of difficulties and potential for unintended consequences."
Councilman Joe Carchio suggested the formation of a downtown task force during the council's regular July 15 meeting.
He said Sunday's disturbance will be the group's main focus once it is assembled.
Councilwoman Jill Hardy said the "timing of creating the downtown task force couldn't be better." She added that the wrong demographic is at the event if Huntington Beach-native musician Matt Costa was booed during his free concert at the beach.
"The contest is becoming too overwhelming and I think it's really lost its focus," Carchio said. "We need to return this event to what it was built as. We need to bring it back as the U.S. Open of Surfing and make sure that we focus on the surfing and not focus so much on all the other activities."