Making the Fourth safe

In the six years George and Rowann Turk have lived on the Balboa Peninsula, they've had eventful holidays on the Fourth of July.

One year they watched a drunken, naked woman run down their street and get Tasered by police, George said.

That was during a time when police still barred traffic from Balboa Boulevard near their house, something Newport Beach stopped doing last year as part of its effort to curb a party atmosphere flowing with alcohol.

"You'd just have seas of people everywhere," George said.

It was a much different scene Thursday around 9 a.m. when crowds of families gathered with young children and dogs to walk or ride their bikes up Balboa Avenue in Newport's Fourth of July Is For Families parade.

The procession ended at Channel Place Park, just off Balboa Avenue, where Councilman Mike Henn told a few hundred people that they were battling to take West Newport back for families.

"You're all part of a war," he said. "And you're winning that war."

Blocks away, at the Newport Beach Police Department's temporary war room, officers were preparing for the flood of violations and arrests they knew would start as the day progressed.

At Newport Beach's old city hall site at Finley Avenue, a fleet of Orange County Sheriff's Department vans waited for the first call asking them to take someone into custody.

A row of personnel with laptops were ready to process arrestees and send them to a nearby Sheriff's department jail bus used as a temporary holding facility.

Close to 200 officers were deployed on the peninsula in a concentrated enforcement zone where fines for anything from an open container to a party getting too rowdy could draw penalties triple the normal amount.

Newport police have made 119 arrests each year for the past two years on the Fourth, department spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella said.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, there were 18 arrests, a few behind last year's tally at that time, she said.

But the holiday isn't a one-day project for Newport police.

"This is a master plan that we've been working on for several years," Manzella said.

The department believes it's made enough progress curbing rowdy partying in recent years to begin changing some of its tactics.

Last year was the first year police decided they could safely open Balboa Boulevard to traffic instead of letting seas of people congregate there.

This year, police were able to slightly reduce the number of officers patrolling the peninsula, and many more of them will be mobile instead of having to watch hot spots for trouble, Manzella said.

"It allows us to have a leaner force that's more responsive to the community instead of acting like sentinels waiting for something to happen," she said.

Although there's no firm date, the department intends to keep pushing Balboa toward a family friendly atmosphere to the point that it can pull back even more enforcement.

"Eventually we'd like it to be a normal work day with maybe some hired extras and not a mandatory workday for everybody," Manzella said.

The Turks agree that partying has calmed down some, but the couple doesn't mind that it still makes an appearance after the morning's family events.

"They're both equally fabulous," Rowann said. "This is the place to be on the Fourth of July."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World