Newport Beach enjoys quieter Fourth of July

Tiffany Sanchez relaxed on her patio on 44th Street off Balboa Boulevard in Newport Beach Wednesday sipping her drink and chatting with friends, a tranquil scene amid the revelry beginning to consume the neighborhood.

"It's extremely quiet this year," she said, at least compared to the past four years she's been in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, her younger neighbors blasted music and set up games of beer pong. Homes and guests were decked out in red, white and blue.

Quiet, in the case of Newport Beach on the Fourth of July, is always relative.

While in past years, Newport Beach police have closed down Balboa Boulevard from Pacific Coast Highway down into the Balboa Peninsula, this year they opted to keep car traffic flowing.

It's a risk, police officials acknowledge, but a sign of the city's goal to step away from the Mardi Gras atmosphere during the holiday the beach city has become known for in Orange County.

"As far as people watching, it's a bad thing," Sanchez quipped. "But at least I don't have a lot of strangers walking across my property."

Gary Wallace, whose backyard gate faces Balboa Boulevard, said he couldn't be happier that police opted to keep the neighborhood open to cars. His parents didn't have to trek down from Superior Avenue like they did last year, he said.

"I think it eases up on traffic on the Peninsula," he said. "I like the access it gives your friends to get here…I definitely want to keep the neighborhood safe but be allowed to have fun."

Police said it's a balancing act. Deputy Chief David McGill has lived in the city for years, but just joined the department three months ago from Los Angeles. He was the point man for Wednesday's enforcement plan.

"We're all nervous about Balboa [Boulevard] being open," he told about 20 police supervisors during an afternoon briefing. "I'm not going to close it if I don't have to."

McGill initiated several new tactics for police to use this year to keep the crowds under control. Motorcycle cops drove up and down the boulevard telling bike riders to stay to the side, while clusters of police stood in store parking lots and on sidewalks surveying the scene.

Police installed cameras in the area off Coast Highway and Balboa to monitor the area and brought in mounted police units, which McGill said serve as both a crowd control option and good public relations for visitors.

In the end, it comes down to common sense, Lt. Evan Sailor said during the afternoon briefing. Officers shouldn't arrest every person for every little thing, but should make their presence known to partyers who are a few drinks away from becoming a problem.

"They should be uncomfortable breaking the law," he told the supervisors. "The vision is that eventually some of you guys have the day off. This is how we get there."

Every Newport Beach officer has had to work the Fourth of July for the last 10 years, McGill said. He estimated between 230 and 250 officers were working the holiday, with police from Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine, Garden Grove and Orange helping out.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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