Huntington Beach has been grappling for more than a year about how to cut down on rowdy behavior in its popular downtown area.
The problem got new focus in 2013 during a melee on Main Street that left shop windows smashed, portable toilets overturned and people pelting police with debris. More than 20 were arrested on charges ranging from vandalism to arson.
But last week, the Huntington Beach City Council decided against placing additional restraints on new downtown bars and restaurants that serve alcohol despite having supported the notion months before.
Council members voted 4-2 to deny a zoning change that would have required new eating establishments to close at midnight and stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Mayor pro tem Joe Shaw and Councilwoman Connie Boardman dissented in the vote. Mayor Matthew Harper was absent because he was on a trip to Huntington's sister city, Anjo, Japan.
"By … trying to implement this, we're adding to the problem," said Councilman Joe Carchio, who had supported the idea in July. Carchio had suggested a later closing time for new establishments to allow them to sell food and recoup some of the revenue they could have made from liquor sales.
However, after months of debate and pleas from members of the Downtown Business Improvement District and the Chamber of Commerce not to pass the alcohol restrictions, Carchio changed his mind.
"This is a horrible ordinance," he said last week. "It needs to go away. We need to let people do business the way they want to do business. We don't need to be in their lives any more than we are now."
Steve Daniel, a member of the Business Improvement District and owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store on Main Street, said the ordinance isn't needed because Police Chief Robert Handy and Lt. Kelly Rodriguez, who oversees the downtown, have helped improve the atmosphere.
Handy said the proposed zoning change for new establishments would make enforcement somewhat difficult for his officers by tacking on another ordinance for them to enforce, though he added that they would have found a way to enforce it had it passed.
"I'm not advocating that you don't do this, that this is a bad decision," he said. "I'm not asking for it because I don't know if that's the solution. I think some of the things we've done so far have had success."
In 2013, the City Council passed stricter rules for bars and restaurants, including not admitting new customers 30 minutes before closing, requiring last call no later than 15 minutes before closing and urging installation of surveillance cameras at the establishments.
This year, the Police Department had a 12-week trial "ambassador" program, during which security guards walked the downtown area and reported crimes to police via two-way radios.