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Waymakers O.C. works in Huntington Beach to reduce impaired driving

Manager Samantha Kinsella and server Ebony Gallegos, from left, at Baja Sharkeez in downtown Huntington Beach on Thursday.
Manager Samantha Kinsella and server Ebony Gallegos, from left, at Baja Sharkeez in downtown Huntington Beach on Thursday. The bar was recently honored for its efforts to reduce drunk driving.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Dan Gleason remembers a time when there was a different downtown Huntington Beach.

The area along and around Main Street has always been known for its bevy of bars and restaurants, but it hasn’t exactly always been known as a family-friendly environment.

“It was a destination to go and party,” the Waymakers Orange County Project PATH program director said. “You could be staying in a hotel in Huntington Beach and go down to the desk and say, ‘Hey, can you recommend a good place for dinner?’ There was a time when they’d tell you to go to Newport Beach.”

“They’ve really done a nice job in trying to address that … That’s changed. It’s a different environment.”

Waymakers has worked with numerous groups in Surf City since 2007 to try to facilitate that change, Gleason said. The nonprofit recently completed a two-year cycle of providing impaired driving prevention services, in partnership with the Huntington Beach Police Department, the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), Alcohol Beverage Control and local bars and restaurants.

The coalition, called Collective Impact, held a training seminar for local restaurant security staff at the Huntington Beach Hyatt on May 4. Interim Police Chief Julian Harvey attended, as did Mayor Kim Carr and about 70 local bar and restaurant representatives to learn the Zone Alcohol Practices for Security Staff program.

Waymakers provided the impaired driving prevention services through a grant from the Orange County Public Health Agency, Gleason said.

“A lot of times security is overlooked, in terms of the important role they play in reducing impaired driving,” Gleason said. “One of the things you learn in [responsible beverage service] training is that there’s some hard and fast rules. It’s illegal to serve an intoxicated person, or someone who looks like they’ve had too much. The way to avoid that is to train your security staff. If they see someone who’s trying to get into the restaurant, and it’s 11 o’clock at night and they’ve obviously been drinking for some time, then you don’t let them in.”

Gleason said the two main goals of the training are to educate the businesses to serve alcohol responsibly and to reduce their establishments’ liability.

Two Huntington Beach bars — Baja Sharkeez and Killarney’s Irish Pub — were honored at the seminar for their enthusiastic participation in a related rideshare campaign.

Manager Samantha Kinsella at Baja Sharkeez in downtown Huntington Beach.
Manager Samantha Kinsella at Baja Sharkeez in downtown Huntington Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Also at the seminar, Huntington Beach Police Sgt. Brad Smith was honored for his sizable role in promoting the impaired driving prevention and bringing together different organizations citywide to accomplish that task.

Smith said he was contacted by Waymakers in 2019 about dealing with drinking and driving and driver awareness. In 2014, he began working with a program called “Know Your Limit,” a DUI education and prevention program.

“That’s where we actually go out to bars in uniform, contact patrons as they’re drinking and educate them about drinking and driving,” Smith said. “Then we give them the opportunity to blow into our breathalyzer. A lot of times, people don’t know the effect that alcohol has on them [until they’re shown].”

Smith said the California Office of Traffic Safety liked the program so much that they made Huntington Beach police the official trainers for Southern California.

“When people saw my Huntington Beach patches [on my uniform], they’d go, ‘Huntington Beach, that’s the place where you go downtown to drink and to fight,’” Smith said. “We realized that Huntington Beach had developed that reputation … and that drinking and driving, drinking and fighting and just drinking too much in general all come together.”

He was intrigued when he heard about Waymakers’ grant. With the Collective Impact, the concept has been working together to reduce those problems. At the event earlier this month, local bar and restaurant representatives were gathered under one roof to talk about the issues and work together to solve them.

Smith said when local bars and restaurants call the police trying to deal with intoxicated patrons, those calls don’t count against that establishment. Additionally, they have been pushing the use of WhatsApp so the establishments can message each other to keep lines of communication open.

“We’re trying to work with the businesses, instead of trying to be adversaries,” he said.

Although Gleason said that the grant is ending, he hopes that the movement continues.

Carr hopes so, too.

“The goal is to have a good time for everyone, but not to endanger anyone,” the mayor said. “For me, it was refreshing to see the business community, our police department and Waymakers all come together with a common goal.”

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