Downtown H.B. visitors soon to be on camera

Huntington Beach residents and visitors will soon be recorded on camera in the downtown area after council members voted to allow police to purchase and install a surveillance system.

The action made by council members would allow the police department to reallocate $150,000 from within its budget to pay for and install these cameras.

The item passed 5-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper dissenting and Councilwoman Jill Hardy absent for the night.

"This is a public safety action that is necessary," Councilman Joe Shaw said. "I don't think it's intrusive. These are public areas. I believe we'll really be able to crack down on some of the crime that's going on downtown."

Harper disagreed with his colleague and said he's "concerned about the expansion of local government into our daily lives."

Surveillance cameras in downtown were first brought to the dais during the Feb. 4 meeting when Shaw and Councilman Joe Carchio brought it to the table.

During a June study session, Police Chief Ken Small presented a proposal to council members about video cameras and said they were a "very useful tool for law enforcement."

Carchio said they are only looking to install cameras in problem areas, such as the bike racks underneath the pier and alleys near Main Street and Walnut Avenue.

Capt. Russell Reinhart said since the department is understaffed this year, it will be "taking savings from personnel costs and moving that to operations so we can purchase this camera system."

"We're not cancelling anything or some other program," he said. "We've had savings since we were understaffed."

About five cameras will be placed around downtown with signs underneath them telling visitors that the area is under surveillance, Reinhart said.

"It's not required, but we want to do that," he said. "What we want to do is prevent crime. And if it doesn't prevent crime, the secondary benefit is it will help solve crimes."

The surveillance camera issue was one of three items passed on Monday to help curb crime in the downtown area.

Council members continued to crack down on the drinking issue in downtown by adopting a resolution that would tell police to formally protest any application for future off-sale alcohol permits in the area. It passed 5-1 with Harper dissenting.

Business like convenience stores can sell alcohol to the public that can be consumed off the property. In order to do so, an off-sale alcoholic beverage license must be approved and given by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, according to a staff report.

What the formal protest does is allow the police department to tell an Alcoholic Beverage Control hearing officer the impact of those types of alcohol sales in downtown.

And to address other issues that should arise from downtown, council members approved creation of a task force that would include a slew of community members, which passed 6-0, with Hardy absent.

"We've been down this road several times and everybody's got an opinion about downtown," Carchio said. "Everyone's got an opinion on how to solve the problems downtown. I'm just trying to give small suggestions on how we can do it."

The core group would consist of 12 representatives: five from the downtown neighborhood, three from restaurants or bars, one business owner and one each from the Business Improvement District, Chamber of Commerce and Marketing and Visitors Bureau.

Carchio, Mayor Connie Boardman and Councilman Jim Katapodis will also serve on the ad-hoc committee as liaisons.

"A strong quality of life for our surrounding downtown neighborhoods and for our public schools is crucial to the success of our tourist district," said resident Richardson Gray, who thanked Carchio for introducing the item.

Harper said he has seen too many policies regarding downtown Huntington Beach come to the dais and wants something put in place to end it.

"I've been on this council coming in three years now and I'm not sure if I've gone 90 days without an agenda item related to downtown," he said. "What we really need is something that can wrap it up and provide some closure. What we need in terms of policy is an ability to measure what we've done. And if we keep changing it this way and that way, it's impossible to determine which policy changes actually had an impact."

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