10 P.M. Curfew Sets Off O.C. Beach Culture Shock : Lifestyle: Laid-back surfer image that enhanced area’s appeal is victim of encroaching urban violence.
Gidget would have flipped out.
First, they banned alcohol. Now, with a budget stretched to the max, state parks officials are set to impose a 10 p.m. curfew at two of Orange County’s most popular beaches, and another thin layer of Southern California lifestyle is about to disappear.
No more midnight campfires flickering under the summer stars. Turn off the radio and bag those marshmallows. What’s next--everybody off the sand at sunset?
“I don’t want to see it heading in that direction,” said Joe Biederman, 25, of Long Beach, who visited Huntington State Beach on Friday. “I’d like to keep law and government out of my life.”
In the ‘60s, flicks like “Gidget” and “Beach Blanket Bingo” spawned a generation of surf fanatics who attached themselves to a beach culture that became entwined with Southern California’s appeal. Millions of tourists and locals have been drawn to the beaches, especially in summertime, to stroll along the Pacific, stick their toes in the sand or ride waves.
But state Department of Parks, Beaches and Recreation officials say urban crime, which has inundated Orange County, now sprawls onto the beaches. And, state rangers anxious about gangs, graffiti, and violent incidents that could threaten the public’s safety--and increase the state’s liability--have chosen to begin the new curfew April 1.
“We’ve found the later the hour of use, you’re going to have a much higher potential for problems,” said Richard Gililland, the state’s chief ranger at the Orange Coast District offices in San Clemente. “We have people there sitting by their roaring fires and drinking beer. Rather than letting that go on, you’re much better off closing (earlier). Frankly, I don’t think the busloads of church people who go to the beach tend to stay in the park after 10 p.m. anyway.”
The two state beaches, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach, now remain open until midnight. Newport Beach closes at 11 p.m., except for a strip that closes at 10. The rest of the beaches in the county also close at 10 p.m.
But officials in Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, fearing that vandals will migrate there when state beaches close, have begun to consider curfews at their city beaches.
Gililland said the policy change was decided by Orange Coast District Supt. Jack Roggenbuck, who was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. The district is composed of Huntington State Beach, Bolsa Chica State Beach, Doheny State Beach, San Clemente State Beach and Crystal Cove State Park.
With darkness, activities turn to hanging around a campfire, which has led to fights, vandalism and break-ins of cars parked in the beach lots, state officials said.
“Our lifeguards are peace officers,” said Robert Hudson, a spokesman for the state recreation department. “They spend a tremendous amount of time on enforcement activities. What goes on down there is a microcosm of what goes on inland. We get the drunks, domestic quarrels and gang fights.”
Out of 275 state parks, Huntington State and Bolsa Chica are in the top five in visitor use. In 1991, the most recent figures, Huntington State had more than 3 million visitors and Bolsa Chica had 2.5 million, Hudson said.
Officials argue that families can still enjoy a nice fire, and a taste of grilled hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. The only difference is that it has to be done before 10 p.m.
“I think we’re providing quality recreation time, I think that’s our function,” said Gililland. “We’re not set up as a place for people to be 24 hours a day, although we have camping too.”
As for the gang toughs, the drunks and other problem groups, Gililland said, “Hopefully, they’ll go home.”
It is not the first controversial decision the state has made. State parks and recreation officers began carrying guns in the mid-1970s when violent crime first swept out of the cities and onto the state’s beaches and parks.
Lifeguards at beaches operated by Orange County cities don’t carry guns, similar to their counterparts in Los Angeles County. But the state beach permanent lifeguards wear uniforms, guns, nightsticks and handcuffs and function more as cops who also happen to swim than as lifeguards.
“I think California has changed a great deal. The image of sun and the freedom you feel and the days when you see the beach movies, have come to a different turn,” said Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), whose district includes the Huntington Beach and Seal Beach coastline. “In general, I don’t think some parents feel safe taking their children to the beach . . . and older people are not going out at all at night because they are afraid.”
Allen blamed the dismal state budget as well as the beach crime for forcing state officials to resort to a nighttime curfew.
“I think it was necessary to do something, I don’t think they would close the beach at night if there were not major problems going on out there,” she added. “It is a shame, and I think you can safely say that we are coming to the end of an era.”
Dick Dale, “King of the Surf Guitars,” whose guitar playing at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach in the mid-'60s was legendary, believes the decision compromises the rights of innocent beach users.
Dale, 55, an avid surfer until he moved to Twentynine Palms, was a frequent visitor to Bolsa Chica State Beach.
“It’s a shame that big brother is coming down on us, but big brother doesn’t even know what it’s doing. I think that if we took care of our own and taught our children discipline and respect, then we wouldn’t have this problem,” Dale said.
Dale said he gets “so mad” at hearing how government bureaucrats and officials worry over a problem and make decisions that erode the rights and lifestyle of the public.
“The most wonderful moments in my life were when I would take my motor home to the beach and wake up at the crack of dawn and slip my board in the water,” Dale said.
Surfer Jeff Henderson, 18, of Huntington Beach, whose bedroom faces Pacific Coast Highway and Huntington State Beach, supported the new curfew.
“The problems are getting worse,” Henderson said, hoping the fights and rowdiness would be cut back.
Earl Miller, 30, of Long Beach said: “What’s the purpose of being out there past 10 p.m. anyway? If there are hoodlums down here after 10 p.m., get rid of them.”
Jennifer Carter, 30, lived in Huntington Beach until she, her husband and their two children moved to Riverside several years ago.
“I never had a curfew when I grew up. But things have changed,” Carter said while basking in the sun at Huntington State Beach.
She recalls that she used to go out alone at night and she felt safe. “Then, there wasn’t the fear.”
Surfrider Foundation, an ocean-preservation organization in San Clemente interested in beach access, has not yet taken a position on the earlier curfew, said Executive Director Jake Grubb.
Grubb lost his 18-year-old son, Graham Grubb of Laguna Niguel, when both the youth and his girlfriend, Amanda Ciskowski, 19, were killed by a drunk driver who ran them over while they were camping at San Onofre State Park in 1990.
The driver, who was found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment, disregarded the park’s curfew.
“The curfew was violated by a drunk driver,” Grubb said. “The officers weren’t at the gate because of a shift change. One had left the gate during a shift change. And the other had not arrived yet. In the end, (curfews) don’t really solve the problem, it just offers a very unsatisfactory response mechanism. It doesn’t solve the problem at its root.”
Times staff writer Otto Strong and Times correspondent Bob Elston contributed to this story.