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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Piers: Nothing but Hard Choices

Several recent incidents of gang violence at Newport Pier have city officials wondering what to do next.

The answer may not be easy to reconcile with a desire to romanticize the waterfront, and to continue to let things take care of themselves. But the only practical response is fairly simple and unavoidable: The city either must increase police patrols significantly at Newport and Balboa piers or institute a reasonable curfew at those popular places.

The story of violence prevention measures along the Orange County coast this past summer was largely the story of weighing those two difficult and unpalatable options. Almost everybody would prefer to live and let live along the carefree coastline. However, Newport Beach was one of several cities that opted, reluctantly, for earlier beach closing times to address problems of drinking, vandalism and violence. At Laguna Beach, which had several outbursts of violence, the city resisted the idea of curfews and went with increased patrols. San Clemente and Huntington Beach both already have pier closures in effect in the early morning.

It would be nice if Newport Beach simply could regard the few bad incidents as a rarity unlikely to recur. But pier-area businesses and their employees already are expressing sustained concern about what they see as an existing climate of danger. Those who argue for doing nothing, or who find the pier incidents small on the scale of citywide crime activity, may be underestimating the symbolic importance of waterfront safety steps. The city’s image as a place to get away from it all, and indeed, as an alternative to the world of drive-by shootings, can easily be tarnished.

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It might inconvenience some fishermen if a pier were closed from midnight to dawn. But there still are plenty of other hours in the day and night when a pier would be open.

Mayor Clarence J. Turner was right to ask the city staff to recommend ways to prevent violence at the piers. Whether the solution lies in more visible police or in a curfew, there is no avoiding the need for decisive action.


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