Police are experimenting with temporary surveillance cameras and new traffic controls to further tame West Newport’s infamous Independence Day parties.
People on historically rowdy street corners now will be watched from a monitor at City Hall and by officers on street patrol. And, for the first time in 10 years, Newport Beach police will allow traffic to flow in both directions on West Balboa Boulevard.
The idea is to end the Bacchanalia that city officials and homeowners have criticized for decades. Police are hoping to build their first year of violations from their Loud and Unruly Gathering Ordinance, which officials have called a success. Also, the fourth falls on a Wednesday this year, potentially keeping some visitors at home — or at least relatively sober.
“A lot of things are going in favor of us,” said Deputy Chief David McGill, the incident commander for the day.
By closing Balboa Boulevard in years past “we were almost condoning a party atmosphere,” he said. “It made it like a Mardi Gras.”
To “set the tone,” on Wednesday morning, McGill plans to start citing anyone who is jaywalking on Balboa Boulevard, and otherwise strictly enforce pedestrian and bike traffic. Closing Balboa Boulevard will still be an option if it gets out of hand, he said.
The shopping center at West Coast Highway and West Balboa Boulevard will be open this year.
“It sucked when they closed it all down,” said Curtis Foltz, 49, a mechanic at Chicago Bike in that center. “It killed our business.”
Another new addition is mounted police. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department will provide officers on horseback, giving police better visibility and an imposing presence.
The cameras are supposed to give commanders “situational awareness,” said Lt. Evan Sailor, who will run operations that day. If they spot a street with an escalating disturbance, they can call for reinforcements.
The added restrictive measures over the years have paid off, said Craig Batley, president of the West Newport Beach Assn. He estimates that crowds have dropped by half over the past 10 years.
“The idea was to stop the thousands of people being bussed in,” he said. “They didn’t belong anywhere. They weren’t invited to a party. They just roamed around.”
Not all of the planned changes were popular among residents Friday, especially the surveillance cameras.
“It’s an invasion of privacy,” said Chris Moore, 34, who lives on the usually raucous 46th Street. “It’s none of their business if we’re here having fun.”
But others weren’t too concerned.
Jeff Smith of Riverside was unloading firewood and Coors Light from his pickup truck, stocking up a vacation house for his family’s annual beach trip. He said he wanted an “even mix” of partying — not too wild but not too boring.
“I can’t wait for the show to begin,” he said.
Beginning about noon Wednesday, police will barricade Seashore Drive between 51st Street and 36th Street, and southbound numbered streets between Seashore and West Balboa Boulevard. Southbound Orange Street at West Coast Highway will also be closed.
As in years past, any violations within the Safety Enhancement Zone — a broad area generally between 32nd Street and 54th Street — will be triple the usual fine.
“We want our streets back,” McGill said.