Task force takes on parking structure

The Huntington Beach Downtown Task Force, in its continuing effort to tackle problems in the area, focused last week on parking safety.

The committee decided last Thursday to recommend that the City Council look into better security measures in the public parking structure, at Third Street and Walnut Avenue, and find a way to increase its use by downtown employees.

"People tell me all the time that they don't feel safe and it smells like urine," task force member Kim Kramer said. "It seems to me if we had some form of security in there — a person, a body — so people would feel safe going in … it might make a difference in terms of directing people toward our public parking facility."

The city has already begun to look into enhancing safety in the parking structure. Councilman Joe Carchio said city staff and electrical company Siemens have discussed improving the lighting at night, an action suggested at a previous task force meeting.

Task force member Domenic Iorfino suggested using unpaid reserve police officers to patrol the facility or possibly helpers like the high school teachers who used to monitor the beach during the summer before the citywide budget cuts.

Police Capt. Russell Reinhart said the helpers, called beach liaison officers, were employed by the city as part-timers. He said their service was appreciated because most knew the teens in the city, but he added that this would be only be a seasonal solution.

Reinhart said using reserve officers would be problematic as well. He said the seven people currently serving as reserve officers are busy assisting with investigations, and the city may not be in a position to bring more aboard.

The task force is also recommending that the City Council find a way to get downtown employees to park in the structure rather than in the surrounding neighborhood.

The committee looked at various options, including educating workers about the $20 monthly parking pass available for purchase and exploring whether employers would be willing to cover the cost.

Deputy Director of Economic Development Kellee Fritzal said the city sees an average of 300 employees a month applying for the discounted parking pass.

Kramer suggested giving out the parking passes for free. He said he and other residents are tired of being disturbed by employees returning to their vehicles after late-night shifts.

"I am tired, personally, and I know other residents are too, of getting woken up at 2 o'clock in the morning," Kramer said. "I got a late-night bar that's making money and sending out people, employees, drunks and everyone else, into our neighborhood."

Mayor Connie Boardman, however, wondered whether giving away city permits could be seen as a gift of public funds.

City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said the city co-owns the structure with Robert Khoury, who owns the properties in the 200 block of Main Street. McGrath said Khoury would need to be consulted.

The next Downtown Task Force meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Main Street Library.

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