Newport Beach girds for the Fourth

Steve Sargent will spend the Fourth of July doing what he always does: watching the fireworks overhead. And watching the action in the streets as police swarm over his Newport Beach neighborhood corralling boozy partiers.

“That block over there turns into pandemonium,” said Sargent, 46, pointing across the street from his home on Balboa Peninsula. “Drunks and idiots. I have pictures if you want to see them.”

Big and sometimes out-of-control crowds have long been a July 4 fixture on this narrow strip of oceanfront. And city officials are braced to crack down Sunday and early Monday morning with more than 200 police officers, street closures and fines for drinking in public and loud parties that are triple the normal amount, as much as $1,000.

“When I started work here 20 years ago, I was told that I would never have the Fourth of July off. They told me the truth,” said Newport Beach Police Sgt. Steve Burdette. “We enjoy people coming down to the beach to have fun. What we’re trying to do is prevent the big house parties from getting out of hand. It’s a preventative strike.”

Last July 4, police arrested 119 people and issued 345 citations and 669 parking tickets. Ground zero is what authorities have designated the “safety enhancement zone,” a congested area between 32nd Street and 54th Street chock full of rental properties.

The biggest change from last year: a main entrance onto the peninsula at West Balboa Boulevard and West Coast Highway will be closed not only to vehicles but to bikes and pedestrians as well.

In recent days, fliers have been distributed to homes throughout the neighborhood warning, among other things, that throwing water balloons or spraying passing pedestrians or cars with squirt guns is illegal.

Police working in teams of four will patrol a single block for their entire 12-hour shift, Burdette said.

Burdette will be roaming with city code enforcement officers trying to prevent disaster by looking for people dancing on roofs or overloading balconies.

“We once had 30 people on a balcony that was still under construction. It was just a bunch of 2-by-4s,” he said. “You could see it flexing.”

This is not to say that one can’t throw a party. On Thursday, Kris McInteer was getting ready for his, unloading a keg of Coors Light from his pickup.

“I feel very comfortable that we will be within the realm of whatever is legal,” McInteer, 26, said. “Hopefully, the people who’ll be coming are smart enough not to step out onto the sidewalk with a beer. We’re not 20-year-old first-time drinkers.”