Task force digs into the problems of downtown

The Huntington Beach Downtown Task Force has its work cut out for it as it begins to tackle problems in the area.

Downtown residents told the 15 members of the newly formed ad-hoc committee at its first meeting Thursday that they're fed up with juvenile delinquents, drunks and loiterers.

About 30 people out of 100 in attendance spoke about what they have witnessed over the years.

"It's people going to the bathroom and having sex in my bushes, coming out at 3 in the morning [and] slipping in vomit to stop the people from doing that stuff, and getting in fistfights with them because [they think] I'm the idiot," resident Mike De La Cruz said.

De La Cruz said he doesn't think citations are enough and suggested that people behaving badly should be thrown in jail.

"Why make it pleasant for people to come down here and act that way?" he said.

John Salanoa, who moved to Huntington Beach from Hawaii 25 years ago, said downtown has lost its way and become home to a drug culture.

"It's out of control. It runs all of downtown and bleeds into our neighborhoods," he said. "I see the urine and the trash. …I do see the alcohol consumption and the fights. I'm glad we have this for us to speak up because I'm not willing to accept it anymore. We have to do something."

A few speakers suggested creating a civilian defense network, or neighborhood watch program, to monitor the downtown area to assist police.

After listening to the public, the task force began to identify the area's pros and cons.

Members identified the beach, Surf City Nights and the fire rings as positives. However, the highlights were outnumbered by the complaints:

delinquent juveniles, homeless people, motorcycle noise, public intoxication, parking violations, vandalism and an understaffed Police Department.

"There's so much input we've received from everyone, I feel we should tackle one area at a time," said task force member Ron Newman, owner of Sharkeez bar and restaurant. "Otherwise, we're going to be all over the place."

J.D. Shafer, task force member and general manager of the Hilton Waterfront Resort, suggested looking at what other cities have done to successfully address similar issues. He also said the community needs to "establish a culture of responsibility and accountability."

Member Susie Smith, who owns the Makin Waves salon on Main Street, asked why these issues keep repeating.

"It's not an isolated incident," she said. "It's happening all the time."

Councilman Jim Katapodis agreed with Shafer and said he supports the idea of zero tolerance.

"I like sending the message that Huntington Beach will not tolerate crime in the downtown area," he said. "We don't need those people downtown."

The next meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Main Street Library.

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