Curfew Shall Ring at 11, Says Newport City Council

Times Staff Writer

Capping nearly 90 minutes of public debate before an over-capacity crowd, the Newport Beach City Council late Monday unanimously approved a compromise version of an amended ordinance providing for strict enforcement of the city's curfew ordinance.

Seeking to satisfy both residents who have complained about youthful rowdiness on the Balboa Pensinsula and objections by youths who say they have a right to congregate there, the council voted to establish an 11 p.m. curfew. The current ordinance calls for a 10 p.m. curfew.

Before the crowd of about 100 youths and residents, the council also voted to enact an emergency ordinance to allow the changes to become effective immediately. The council took that stopgap action because under the city charter, changes to ordinances do not go into effect for 30 days, at which time the council can choose to review them.

Fell Into Disuse

Although Newport Beach has had a curfew ordinance since 1949, it fell into disuse after 1978 as concerns arose over the law's constitutionality. However, the amendments approved Monday night would enable the police to enforce the law by creating broad exemptions to the curfew, exempting minors who engage in certain "constitutionally protected" activities.

While residents of the Balboa Peninsula urged the council to tighten the ordinance, which they said would stem the tide of youthful mischief in that area, teen-agers came forward to argue that a curfew would not just penalize the few but the hundreds of youths who gather in the area nightly. The youths, who came to speak at the council meeting from Newport Beach and other areas in Orange County, said strict enforcement would not solve problems in the community.

Called a 'Quick Fix'

Gregg Schwenk, a 17-year-old Newport Beach resident, called the curfew a "quick fix for some of the inadequacies of the Police Department." He said the primary problem in the area is that "there is no place in Newport Beach to have a good time, except in the Balboa area." However, David Beach, a representative of the Central Newport Beach Community Assn., spoke in favor of the curfew, saying that while he understood that the majority of the juveniles who congregate on the peninsula are well-behaved, "it just seems that there are those who are looking to pick a fight."

According to Newport Beach police, complaints of vandalism, violence and related traffic congestion have increased in recent weeks as the number of youths congregating on the Balboa Peninsula has swelled to more than 1,000 a night during summer weekends.

Under the curfew's new provisions, minors who loiter in public between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. can be questioned by police and taken into custody if they cannot prove they have a reason for being in the area.

The ordinance is not designed to hinder youths who have a legitimate reason for being out past the curfew, but is "applicable to minors who loiter or idle and not to those who simply are at a given location," according to a memorandum submitted to the council by City Atty. Robert Burnham.

'Protected' Activities

The law would not apply to youths who are attending school meetings, dances, concerts, sporting events, religious gatherings and other "constitutionally protected" activities.

Additionally, minors who are on their way to or from such events would be exempt from the curfew, as would be those who are accompanied by their parents or those whose jobs require them to be out at night.

"The proposed ordinance has been drafted to virtually eliminate the extent to which the constitutional rights of minors are impacted," Burnham stated in the memorandum.

Although the amended changes became effective the moment the council approved it, Newport Beach Police Chief Charles Gross said the department is "not prepared to enforce it as of tonight," but plans to begin briefing officers about changes in the law by the end of the week.

No Curfew Sweeps Planned

"We sense that by the weekend all our personnel will be informed on the curfew and how to enforce it," he said, adding that he plans no "curfew sweeps" similar to those used by the Los Angeles Police Department to rid Westwood Village streets of juvenile loiterers.

Gross said Newport Beach police are planning a low-key approach to enforcement of the law, with warnings to violators before taking them into custody.

"The first approach is to provide the youth the opportunity to voluntarily return to the parent or guardian," he said. A juvenile still on the streets after being warned would be taken into custody and held until retrieved by his parents or a guardian. "We frankly believe that the initial contact is sufficient to get the kid on the way home," he said.

Legality Questioned

Despite the provisions in the ordinance that would exempt minors who are engaged in "protected" activities, the American Civil Liberties Union said recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions make the legality of any curfew questionable.

"They (the City Council) are aware of the legal problems in the approach they're taking and I hope they take that into account," said Randall Wick, president of the Orange County chapter of the ACLU, who stressed the the group has no immediate plans to mount a legal challenge to enforcement of the curfew.

"We'd be interested in receiving any complaints that anyone who is stopped might have, but we aren't promising that we'll take any action on it," he said.

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