Tougher Stance in Huntington Beach : City's Decay Depicted on Tape Spurs Action

Times Staff Writer

A videotape showing flophouses, graffiti and cockroach-infested housing along Huntington Beach's fading Main Street prompted emergency action Monday by the Huntington Beach City Council to rigidly enforce building codes.

The video, prepared by the city's Downtown Task Force Program, showed Huntington Beach's seedier side in an area immediately north of the city's famed pier.

The intent, city officials said, was to depict seismic deficiencies and health and safety code violations in the downtown area. Under a current proposal, $1.7 million would be spent to bring the area's older buildings up to earthquake standards and address the code violations.

"It's a crime to even consider this type of stopgap effort," said Councilman Jack Kelly, visibly upset after viewing an eight-minute video that drew similar reactions from the other council members.

"This would just perpetuate a relative pile of garbage . . . down there," Kelly said, which brought an angry reaction by Doug Langevin, owner of a building at 217 Main St.

"My building is very historic and I've brought it up to code. I really resent having it called a 'garbage' building. How would you like it if I were to call your home a garbage building?" Langevin said.

At first, council members called for immediate building condemnation and the posting of vacate orders, but they then changed their minds.

Instead, the council unanimously voted to enforce all city regulations as part of a new toughened approach.

Of 51 buildings in the area, 36 are not in compliance with health and safety regulations and have seismic deficiencies, city officials said.

However, nine buildings have successfully sued and won a temporary restraining order against any city action.

When Councilwoman Ruth Finley asked how long the city has known of the conditions, City Administrator Paul Cook said, "To my knowledge, nobody in the Building Department knew how severe the conditions were."

Flophouse tenants--some living 11 to an apartment with only one bathroom--who were interviewed in the videotape told about substandard living conditions and broken promises by landlords to make repairs.

But the videotape also included graffiti drawn on exterior walls by pro-white "skinhead" groups, other Nazi-styled gangs, and gangs that promote satanic worship.

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