Huntington Beach Melee Won't Mean Special Measures : Police: Officials don't feel that Fourth of July weekend violence warrants such holiday actions as curfews or barricaded streets.


Despite a downtown Fourth of July weekend melee that resulted in the arrests of 40 men, city officials on Tuesday said they do not foresee having to enact any measures to deal with the massive crowds that traditionally flock to this beach city during the summer holiday.

A team of 50 officers arrived in riot gear at the corner of Olive Avenue and 7th Street about midnight Sunday to break up a roving party during which sofas, cardboard boxes and lawn furniture were burned in a huge bonfire.

Five police officers suffered minor injuries as they attempted to disperse the unruly crowd.

Officials had closed the 3 1/2 miles of city beach at dusk, which Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg said was effective in reducing trouble in that area. The early beach closings were in effect throughout the weekend.

"It could have been a lot worse," Lowenberg said. "Thank God we closed the beach early. We wouldn't have had the resources to handle the people downtown and on the beach."

Lowenberg said manpower was more than doubled as more than 200 police officers patrolled the city throughout a weekend that also included the finals of the Op Pro Surfing Championships, the city's annual Fourth of July parade, a downtown festival and an evening fireworks display at Huntington Beach High School.

"Considering the hundreds of thousands of people who came to Huntington Beach, you only have a few hundred people who created a problem," Lowenberg said. "It's too bad some folks drink to excess and create problems."

Witnesses said there were 500 to 1,000 people at Olive and 7th creating mayhem and committing vandalism as the party raged out of control for about 30 minutes.

Downtown resident and business owner Guy Guzzardo, who witnessed the midnight melee from his home, said Tuesday that the city may have invited trouble by scheduling the Op Pro Surfing Championships during the Fourth of July weekend.

"They should have held the surfing contest on a weekend that was more isolated," Guzzardo said. "One major event at a time would have kept the crowds down."

Throughout the weekend, police made more than 175 arrests and enacted a seldom-used city ordinance requiring bicycle licenses to impound more than 200 bicycles from party-goers on wheels.

"There were hundreds of people who were using bicycles to go from party to party," said Lt. Luis Ochoa. "We decided to use that law. We'd warn them and if that didn't work, we'd just impound the bikes. I think it helped restrict people to a smaller area."

While officials closed off a number of streets in neighboring Newport Beach to avoid a repeat of near-riot conditions last year that led to more than 200 arrests, Huntington Beach officials don't envision taking similar actions.

"Barricading worked great for Newport but it's easier for them because there is limited access to their streets," Lowenberg said. "There are a multitude of ways to access downtown Huntington Beach."

Mayor Grace Winchell on Tuesday praised the efforts of police and said she would not be in favor of barricading streets or enacting a curfew downtown during future Fourth of July holidays.

"It's a judgment call," Winchell said. "You need to have a careful balance between individual and private rights and private property rights and public safety, otherwise you become a Gestapo."

Huntington Beach, along with other beach cities, has experienced such problems in the past, including Labor Day weekend of 1986, when at least 40 people were injured during a riot that erupted at the conclusion of the Op Pro Surfing Championships, which used to be held at the end of summer.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World