Downtown businesses ponder alcohol crackdown

Downtown Huntington Beach business owners are expressing mixed emotions about the recommendations the chief of police has made to curb alcohol-related incidents.

A few believe Chief Ken Small is on the right path to stopping the riffraff in the area while others have concerns about a few of his suggestions.

Small discussed his approach during a study session Monday. He wants a new downtown business ordinance that would ban new bar and restaurant patrons during the last half hour of business, require "last call" be made no later than 15 minutes before closing and suggest businesses install and maintain surveillance cameras.

He also suggested using overtime funds for foot-patrol officers and banning the sale of alcohol from convenience stores in the area as ways to reduce alcohol-related nuisances.

"They're just a bunch of rookies or amateurs that can't handle their alcohol," said Stu Harold, an employee at Gallagher's Pub. "They're just obnoxious and stupid."

Harold, 64, said he's worked at Gallagher's long enough to see all kinds of problems, like fights several times a week and the harassment of employees. He believes Small's suggestion to prohibit new customers in bars and restaurants 30 minutes before closing time is a common-sense idea that would cut down on problems that erupt at the end of a night when people have already had too much to drink.

Luggatti's Italian Grill owner Susan Hamil sees some of Small's recommendations as detrimental to her business.

Hamil said her business, near Fifth Street and Walnut Avenue, already has difficulties competing with the other bars and restaurants closer to the heart of downtown. Having to turn away new customers half an hour before closing would hurt the restaurant, she said.

"What they're trying to do is stop all the nonsense on Main Street, but what it really does is hurt the people that are less corporate and family-owned," she said. "We're already one block off of Main Street, so that's hard enough to get people to come over here."

Hamil would like to see the city handle establishments on an individual basis instead of lumping them into a blanket law.

"Instead of imposing more restrictions on the people that are doing the right thing and following the rules, take some of their privileges away," she said, referring to problem businesses.

While many of the downtown bars have surveillance cameras that workers say are in use, Ron McLin, general manager of The Longboard Restaurant and Pub, said Small's reference to installing and maintaining cameras in the public area is vague and he wants clarification from the chief.

"Are the cameras supposed to be in every square inch and ... on all the time?" McLin asked.

He also said it isn't fair for Small to add restrictions on those who aren't doing anything wrong. What he would like to see is more officers on foot patrol.

"The city added 30 more restaurants but never upgraded the police system to cover the rest," he said.

Deville bartender Joy Olson has seen how rowdy the area can get on weekend nights and finds all the nuisances to be annoying. Olson switched her shift times to weekday afternoons after seeing all the fights and vomiting, she said.

"I'm from the Midwest, so I think it's really strict here," she said about the current rules downtown.

She would like to see more police walking around but believes there isn't much that the city can do to stop the nuisances.

"Some people just get so out of hand and switch at an instant," Olson said. "You get these big meathead-type dudes, something triggers it and they'll just start fighting. I don't know if anything can really help it."

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