New Tactics Not Likely in Wake of Holiday Melee

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite a downtown Independence Day weekend melee in which 40 men were arrested, city officials said Tuesday that they do not foresee enacting measures to deal with the crowds that traditionally flock to this beach city during the holiday.

Fifty police officers in riot gear broke up the roving party late Sunday and early Monday--during which sofas, cardboard boxes and lawn furniture were burned in a huge bonfire--at the corner of Olive Avenue and 7th Street at about midnight. Five officers suffered minor injuries as they dispersed the unruly crowd. Witnesses said about 500 to 1,000 people gathered in the streets as the party raged out of control for about 30 minutes.

Officials had closed the 3 1/2 miles of city beach at dusk throughout the weekend--an action that Police Chief Ronald Lowenberg credited for reducing trouble.

"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 police presence on the streets was doubled to more than 200 officers for a weekend that included the finals of the OP Pro Surfing Championships, the city's Fourth of July parade, a downtown festival and a fireworks display at Huntington Beach High School.

During the weekend, police made more than 175 arrests and employed a seldom-used law requiring bicycles to be licensed to impound more than 200 bicycles from revelers who pedaled from one party to another.

"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."

Although officials in neighboring Newport Beach closed a number of streets to avoid a repeat of near-riot conditions last year that led to more than 200 arrests, Huntington Beach officials said they do not envision taking similar steps.

On Tuesday, Mayor Grace Winchell praised police efforts 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 . . . otherwise you become a Gestapo."

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