Shocked by the second incident of gang violence at Newport Pier this summer, business owners, fishermen and public officials Monday renewed their debate over whether a curfew at the popular spot is necessary.
To some, like Police Chief Robert J. McDonell, two gang-related shootings since July 31 don’t even put the pier on the map of the 14-square-mile city’s trouble spots. But for Lorilei Clapp, manager of a restaurant at the pier’s end, who has endured vandalism and harassment along with the gang shootings, the time has come to shut down the pier at night.
“The pier is not a safe place to come after dark,” said Clapp, who said she was followed to her car late one night after work. “I think some of the things that have happened here at the restaurant, and the shootings, would not have happened had there been a curfew.”
Mayor Clarence J. Turner has called for a curfew at Newport and Balboa piers in response to Sunday’s shooting, which left three people wounded after an apparent altercation over gang affiliation.
On Monday, the mayor asked the city staff to recommend ways to prevent violence at the piers. The suggestions will be discussed at a Sept. 27 City Council study session.
“My feelings are that those recommendations should run from closing the pier at certain hours--say from midnight to 6 (a.m.)--to increasing police patrol in the area. Anything to make sure that people feel safer,” Turner said.
Eugene Gilbert Martinez, an Anaheim man who was fishing off the pier with his 9-year-old son Monday, said he recently lost that sense of security. Two weeks ago, while fishing from the pier late at night, Martinez noticed several gang members there.
“I was thinking about bringing my son here late at night, when it’s quieter, to fish,” Martinez said. “But now I won’t.”
McDonell said he empathizes with such fears but noted that crime statistics don’t support the need for a curfew at either pier. He said it is still too early to implement a curfew that could affect the enjoyment of most pier-goers and the livelihood of a few fishermen who spend their nights casting lines from the pier.
“I’m hoping we can reflect on this for a little bit, rather than taking some action that might be a quick fix,” McDonell said. “If you look at the numbers, the actual crime on the pier is not that great.
“Fortunately, we don’t have this kind of thing occurring in the city of Newport Beach frequently.”
Councilwoman Evelyn R. Hart agreed. Hart said she would probably vote against a curfew if the issue ever formally comes up.
“Something has to be done, especially since these shootings,” Hart said. “But I’m not willing to close down my town because of this.”
Besides Sunday’s shooting and one July 31, there were just three criminal acts near Newport Pier during the first six months of 1993, resulting in one arrest, said Sgt. Andy Gonis. He had no details on what kind of criminal activity occurred.
Forty-nine citations were issued near the pier in the same time period, mostly for alcohol-related offenses.
On a typical Saturday night, there are 20 officers patrolling the city, Gonis said. But Gonis said he did not know how many officers are assigned to the pier area.
Newport Beach’s piers are two of the four county piers that are open 24 hours a day. Aliso Pier in Laguna Beach and Seal Beach Pier are also open around the clock.
The piers in San Clemente and Huntington Beach are closed at midnight.
“We find a curfew works,” said Ron Hagan, director of community services in Huntington Beach, which has had a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew at its pier since 1980. “Unfortunately, there’s too much potential for trouble in the early morning hours.”
Seal Beach officials said they are currently negotiating with the state, which recently paid to rebuild the pier, to allow them to close it during some nighttime hours.
Sunday’s shooting occurred shortly before 3 a.m. at the pier’s end. Two teen-agers and a man were wounded. The man was hit by a ricochet while shielding his wife and toddler from gunfire. Two of the wounded were released from area hospitals Monday and the third was in stable condition in a local hospital with a leg wound, Gonis said.
Police have declined to identify the victims or the assailant.
Police arrested a 16-year-old shortly after the shooting and were seeking others for questioning Monday. The arrested suspect told police he was a gang member, Gonis said.
On July 31, a man was fatally shot and another was wounded near Newport Pier’s public restrooms during a confrontation that police said involved suspected gang members. Police arrested a suspect, but released him the next day due to lack of evidence.
Last year, a spate of violence--including an assault with a baseball bat, a stabbing and a triple shooting--occurred over the Fourth of July weekend, prompting the city to form the Seashore/Oceanside Subcommittee of the City Council. Included in the subcommittee’s tasks is determining how to prevent problems in the beach area, including the two piers.
The area near the pier contains a mixture of bars, restaurants and tourist shops. In recent years, merchants and their patrons have complained increasingly of being harassed by gang members during the evening and later hours, Newport Pier Assn. President Rush Hill said.
“We respect the wishes of individuals who enjoy the pier and the fishermen, many of whom fish for food for their tables,” Hill said Monday. “But because of the activities that have taken place on the pier, we believe the safety issue outweighs those individuals’ and fishermen’s issues.”
Coincidentally, the subcommittee is scheduled to meet with Chief McDonell and the pier association today. Hill said he will renew his push for a curfew on the Newport Pier in the wake of Sunday’s shooting.
Council members Janice A. Debay and John W. Hedges, whose districts encompass the two piers and who are members of the subcommittee, said Monday they would support a curfew on the city’s piers but added that they are open to other suggestions.
A gang-related shooting at Newport Pier on Sunday morning has prompted calls to close both it and Balboa Pier at night. Four of the county’s six piers are open around the clock. Pier: Hours Seal Beach: Open 24 hours Huntington Beach: Closed midnight to 5 a.m. Newport: Open 24 hours Balboa: Open 24 hours Aliso: Open 24 hours San Clemente: Closed midnight to 4 a.m. Source: Individual cities