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Newport Beach mulls measure to fine rowdy partiers

Party animals beware: Newport Beach may soon declare open season on wild revelers and their hosts.

City police have proposed a new ordinance restricting "loud and unruly gatherings." The law, modeled after one in Tucson, would allow city officials to fine partygoers up to $8,000 for repeat violations.

Police and some residents have, for years, tried to tame partiers here, especially those who overtake west Newport on the Fourth of July. The new law would discourage rowdy gatherings and make the city more "family friendly," proponents say.

"We would like to see stricter enforcement and less second chances," said Councilman Steve Rosansky, who represents much of west Newport. "It's just a new attitude, just less tolerance."

Mayor Mike Henn was less nuanced: "We need to have the ability to have shock and awe."

The ordinance would allow officers to cite party organizers, property owners and partygoers who get out of hand. Officers would post a large red tag on the door of the house and notify its owner if they observed partygoers being drunk in public or excessively noisy, urinating in public, serving alcohol to minors or displaying other behaviors.

"Usually it's the partygoers who are causing the problem," said Lt. Bill Hartford. Existing city laws only hold the host or property owner accountable, he said.

Some west Newport residents spoke in favor of the law at a recent hearing.

"This isn't the Vegas Strip. These are our homes. This is our neighborhood," said Lori Morris, 48, who told officials that she sometimes has to hose vomit off of her patio.

Penalties would be up to $500 for the first violation, and up to $3,000 for the fourth violation within six months of the first. If a fourth violation happens on July 4 within a designated part of west Newport, it would be $8,000. The Arizona law has a $1,500 minimum fine for third and subsequent violations.

Those fines sounded excessive to Tommy Kochinas, 30, who was riding his beach cruiser Tuesday afternoon to his house on 33rd Street.

"I feel like it's really not fair if you're just at the party," he said.

Hartford said officers would focus on the people who were making the most trouble.

Not all City Council members support the measure. Council members Leslie Daigle and Ed Selich dissented in a preliminary vote.

In 2005 a New Mexico appellate judge ruled that a similar city ordinance was overly vague, and that someone might not know a party had become "unruly," but still could be cited. He found the law unconstitutional.

While the law would apply to the entire city, west Newport has traditionally been a haven for the city's party crowd, especially on July 4, when police arrest dozens of drunks. One part of that neighborhood is referred to as the "war zone" for its perceived debauchery.

Daigle and Selich said the law should target only problem areas.

Other council members were concerned about protecting landlords, but police officials said they would not cite property owners who demonstrate that they took action to keep their tenants under control.

Rosansky and other leaders have tried to change west Newport's rowdy reputation. They convened a task force to tame July 4 revelry, and the red-tag idea came out of one of its meetings.

"Our goal here is to be a little more proactive," Rosansky said. "So when Fourth of July rolls around, they will already understand that that behavior is not acceptable."

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