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Huntington Beach Details July 4th Plan

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Saying that last July 4 was the first in years without a riot or fire, Huntington Beach police said Thursday they will use the same tactical plan to keep order at this year’s celebration.

Officers will block traffic downtown starting at 1 p.m. on Pacific Coast Highway, Main Street, Golden West Street, 5th Street and Palm Avenue, and only downtown residents will be allowed to drive or bicycle in or out, said Lt. Jon Arnold, the Police Department’s south area commander.

The roadblocks will be lifted at about midnight, or whenever the crowd disperses after the 7:30 p.m. fireworks display, he said.

During a sometimes contentious forum Thursday night, Arnold outlined the holiday plan for about 25 residents at City Hall.

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About 205 officers will be working July 4, compared with about 40 for an average Friday, he said. They will be split into units to deal with traffic and normal patrols, and about 100 will work in 10 tactical teams to respond quickly to “hot spots,” he said.

“We’re trying to create a family atmosphere,” he said. “When you get families down here, the jerks don’t hang around.”

The officers will be assisted by 42 Highway Patrol officers and 55 sheriff’s deputies.

The city’s Independence Day celebration--billed as the largest west of the Mississippi--has been marred by violence in years past, with drunken youths hurling rocks and bottles at police and setting furniture ablaze in the street.

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In response, the Police Department began a zero-tolerance alcohol policy downtown last year. But some said it was the police who then went too far.

Several residents criticized what they called a heavy-handed response in which officers made 238 arrests for drinking in public, including homeowners on their front porches. A municipal judge later threw out four cases, saying Huntington Beach’s public-drinking law was unconstitutionally vague.

The City Council amended the ordinance this year, in response to Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg saying the law is a tool his officers need to prevent rowdy street parties. The revised rules forbid drinking outdoors anywhere with easy public access, including sidewalks, driveways and unfenced lawns.

Drinking on a raised porch or private balcony, however, is permitted. And the law is in effect only downtown, and only from noon July 3 to noon July 6.

One audience member Thursday compared the police presence to the Chinese army in Tiananmen Square, and 21-year downtown resident Lowell Zehnder complained that his son could not get past a roadblock to visit him on the holiday last year.

“This smacks to me of a totalitarian state,” he said.

But other residents voiced support for the police efforts last year, saying it was the first chance they had in years to stroll around on the night of the holiday without fearing for their safety.

“It’s a little inconvenience. I make arrangements to get my family in and my friends in, and we have our fun,” resident George Stanley said. “When we first moved downtown it was like a novelty, but it was also like a war zone.”

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To Arnold he said: “I appreciate the job you do.”

Arnold said he sympathizes with residents who are inconvenienced, but every July 4 is different, so the department is continually adjusting its tactics.

“We’ve got to break the back of the problem we’ve had all these years,” he said. “We’re trying to cause the most protection with the least amount of adverse impact.”


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